The fear of failure is one of the most significant obstacles to personal success, and, indeed, each task, each test, each risk, and each challenge always has the opportunity to fail. But if people suffer from fear of failure, this can become a considerable burden. Those affected are no longer in a position to realize their full potential at the decisive moment, or they resign beforehand for fear of mistakes, criticism, or rejection.
The fear of not meeting (one’s) expectations obscures everything and leads to complete paralysis. This is the beginning of a self-reinforcing vicious cycle. The good news is that the downward spiral can be broken, and the fear of failure can be overcome. The negative: But it won’t be easy.
- Panic attacks.
Nothing else works. The degree to which the fear of failure is pronounced can usually already be seen in the symptoms. These often occur long before the actual task or challenge. It is enough to think of an exam, a presentation, an appointment (and a basket), and a conversation with the boss to trigger an absolute panic. Fear of failure – makes us doubt, hesitate, freeze and look for excuses.
Worried, they then complain about an example about
- Nervousness and physical tension.
- Pressure in the chest and shortness of breath.
- Loss of appetite
- Fast heartbeat
- Gastrointestinal problems and diarrhea.
- Thoughts of flight (escapism) and the strong desire to break free from the situation.
These physical and mental symptoms can eventually lead to mental blocks (including fainting) and attention and concentration problems. However, self-sabotage is the far more significant consequence: we prevent ourselves from moving forward and remain permanently below our means.
But there is also an opposite reaction to fear of failure, expressed in exaggerated ambitions and actionism. In this case, those affected tend to be perfectionists and try to overcome their (subliminal) fears through the high need for control. Therefore, the consequences are no less harmless: they range from the classic symptoms of stress, through compensation through alcohol and drugs, to exhaustion.
Fear of making mistakes
- However, in psychological practice, the term is also used synonymously with fear of making mistakes, a cognate spirit of the fear of failure.
- In extreme cases, atychiphobia leads people to avoid all plans and actions, not to take risks, and not be able to fail.
- Those affected must realize that errors are human and can always occur.
- Most people know this on an intellectual level.
- However, your challenge is to process this knowledge emotionally and intuitively – and thus free yourself from unnecessary feelings of guilt and fear.
- In severe cases, psychotherapeutic treatment may be necessary.
Causes: How does the phobia of failure arise?
By definition, the fear of failure is the fear of not achieving the desired or expected performance in a given situation. One could also say: that behind this is the concern for uncertainty and the certainty of one’s fallibility.
- Quite a few psychologists suspect the causes of fear of failure in childhood. It is often attributed to a lack of recognition by parents and a lack of consideration in education.
- Children learn that they will be marginalized if they do not meet expectations. Or they feel inferior, stupid, ugly – in short: unworthy.
- However, other causes of fear of failure lie in later socialization, the cultural, social, and personal environment.
- They are closely linked to the individual value system.
- In many countries, errors and failures are still very negatively associated.
- In Germany, for example, anyone who files a claim for insolvency with a company or who fails professionally is often considered a failure.
- Whereas in the US, the perception is entirely different. Here, the initial failure is part of an entrepreneur or professional’s experience (literally).
- You have learned a lot from this, and therefore it is a good step forward on the road to success.
This immediately leads to another cause: your definition of success.
Quite a few people are your fiercest critics, and you don’t allow yourself any mistakes.
They have exaggerated expectations of themselves – or their environment – and ignore that failure, failure, or failure is usually nothing more than a matter of opinion.
Fear ultimately comes from all of the above sources, which are often – but not constantly – reinforced by shaky self-confidence and a lack of self-worth.
Therefore, the fear of failure is often not primarily the fear of mistakes but failure.
- To disappoint the expectations of important people.
- Not to satisfy the demands of others.
- You are not meeting your own (too high) expectations.
- I am not being recognized socially.
- To important people.
- Not corresponding to the image one has of oneself.
Ultimately, various fears can play a role here. What they have in common, however, is that they are usually not even aware of the people affected by the fear of failure. But this is precisely the first important step in overcoming the fear of failure. We recognize that failure is an essential part of life and learning. And that our fears are often unrealistic or unfounded, especially concerning the possible consequences.
Once the fear of failure has been recognized and accepted as a personal problem and the possible causes identified, the next step to overcome it is to question the motivations and fears:
Will my friends and family think I’m a failure if I don’t achieve specific goals?
Do my setbacks play such a significant role for other people?
Why is the recognition of these people so important to me?
- The answers to these questions show, at best, that the fears are unrealistic and the result of distorted perception.
- The truth is that we are capable of much more and more than we trust ourselves.
- The most significant creative limit is the restriction in our minds.
- Imagine what you would do if you weren’t afraid if failure was practically impossible and there was always 100% reinsurance …
- They practically never exist – for any of us.
- The difference, however, is that some dare, others fail even earlier.
- Take a few minutes to see your past achievements.
- Remember the success stories and projects you have already completed as vividly as possible.
- This way, you can compare vague predictions about your failure with proven success and prove to yourself: I can do this after all! I’ve done this before.
- Imagine what the successful completion of the task ahead of you will be like as precisely as possible.
- How will it feel? Focus not on the risks but the potential benefit and the resulting opportunities.
- Put yourself in the situation and anticipate success – emotionally.
- This can significantly reduce the fear of failure.
Write a success journal; this advice belongs to point 2: Visualize success. But it helps tremendously – especially against future fears of failure: Keep a success journal.
- Admittedly, this works in the first place: Making a journal entry regularly every day scares many people.
- But you don’t have to write novels either.
- You must write down all the positive experiences and successes of a day to remember them later or recognize patterns.
Assess the consequences
- The fear of failure paralyzes.
- But only because the possible catastrophe seems so great in the imagination.
Work against this distortion of perception and sharpen the blurry focus again:
- What are the actual consequences? Are they realistic? How likely are breakdowns, failures, and setbacks to occur? And would they be that bad?
You should also get an external review (from friends) when in doubt.
- Fear of failure creates stress and panic, making it impossible to think clearly.
- In this case, you can help focus on the physical effects of fear of failure and counteract them with classic relaxation exercises, such as autogenic training, meditation, or movement.
- When the body relaxes, fear often subsides.
Establishment of rituals
- You can also counteract the acute fear of failure with rituals.
- Whether it’s a consciously enjoyed cup of coffee, a walk around the block, a short breathing exercise, or something else entirely:
- Such rituals can serve as anchors that ground them and bring them back to the basis of the (actual) facts.
Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.