Where does my fear of failure come from?
Do you have a dream you want to make a reality, yet all you ever do is just…well…think about it? Or do you find yourself churning with anxiety whenever you need to make an important decision?
Fear of failing or making the ‘wrong’ choice often lies at the heart of these patterns. For freedom-seeking professionals this can be an incredibly frustrating state to be in. On the one hand there’s a part of you that wants to feel confident and create change: whether it’s a healthier work/life balance, applying for a promotion or feeling more authentic in the work you do. You know how much this would bring you and yet you’re stuck in the fear of doing the ‘wrong’ thing.
I hate my fear of failure
A few years ago, I worked with ‘Amy’, a talented HR Manager who was feeling anxious, burned-out and knew something had to change. When I first started working with Amy, I noticed that it wasn’t purely the fear of failure that was keeping her stuck. It was the constant conflict between the part of her who wanted change and the part who wanted to keep her safe from failure that. She was resentful and angry with herself for feeling the way she did.
In other words, Amy was suffering from what Mark Manson describes as the Feedback Loop from Hell:
“You’re so worried about doing the right thing all the time that you become worried about how much you’re worrying. Or you feel guilty for every mistake you make that you begin to feel guilty about how guilty you’re feeling”. Mark Manson – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F…
Exhausting, isn’t it. You’ve got your fear of failure and you’re harshly judging yourself for having it in the first place.
What’s the antidote to the feedback loop from hell? Understanding and self-compassion. Once we understand why we get so worked up about failure or doing the wrong thing we can see the purpose this fear of failure is trying to serve. From there, fear of failure loses its sting.
Ways of understanding fear of failure
Here’s my tidy summary of where your fear of failure may be coming from, so you can offer yourself a new level of self-compassion:
- Your unconscious mind is responsible for 90% of what you think, feel and behave. I know, it’s horrifying. We think the rational brain is running the show, but usually it’s not. Your unconscious mind is concerned with your physical and emotional survival. It’s far less concerned with the higher ideals you might hold about what brings you joy, fulfilment and meaning.
- When you make decisions, change usually follows. Change means uncertainty according to your unconscious mind, which is naturally resists. Even if the status quo looks, feels and tastes kind of bland and unsatisfying, at least it’s safe.
- In childhood you may have experienced moments where you experienced failure and it was really, really tough. You probably didn’t have the perspective of processing ability of an adult and you may interpreted that failure as something more threatening than it needed to be. That moment may have planted unhelpful beliefs like “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t deserve to be there”. This means that your unconscious mind will have been working even more diligently to make sure you don’t put yourself at risk of failure again.
- We also live in a society where failing is largely deemed unacceptable. Failure is rarely publicised even though, of course, it happens all the time. Instead, people paint a warped view of success (that it comes overnight, without any struggle). This is only amplified by the harsh critical voice of the news and social media, where only the shiniest parts of us are welcome.
Given the way the mind works and the impact of our conditioning, is it any wonder that so many of us are loathe to risk failure? I hope you can see the part of you that fears failure is simply trying it’s very best to keep you safe. The good news is that it’s possible to install new, supportive beliefs about failure that will enable you to take action and create the changes you want in your life. An important part of this process is cultivating more confidence in your ability to deal with change and uncertainty.
Journal prompts to help fear of failure
Try these journal prompts. Don’t judge, just let your pen flow:
- What does my fear of failure want to say to me today?
- What does it mean to fail, according to this part?
- What do you want to say to it in response?
- What new beliefs would help you navigate the risk of failure with more ease?
Here’s my favourite for you try out, by way of a mantra or affirmation: “there’s no failure, only feedback”.
Want to explore working together?
If you’d like to explore further support with overcoming fear of failure then feel free to book in to your free, 45 minute Clarity and Confidence Call.
February 10th, 2022