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3 Things You Can Try to Counter the Fear of Failure

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3 Things You Can Try to Counter the Fear of Failure

The fear of failure can be a crippling block to success.

Have you ever experienced it?

I certainly have! In fact, I would say that it has sometimes been a major inhibitor to my progress at times and has also prevented me from excelling in areas where I should have naturally been proficient.

That’s one of the reasons why I’ve made it a major subject of study from a personal point of view. I’ve found some ways of trying to combat the issue, some have worked others have not. 

I think it’s such a major subject of interest (and continues to be) that I’ll be dedicating several posts to it.  (You can read the first post about this subject from a few months back here.)

What is the ‘fear of failure’? (Tweet this!)

I wanted to answer this from an authoritative point of view, so I undertook a Google and ‘Ask Jeeves’ search asking this exact question.  It was quite difficult to find a definitive answer, however I did find this quote on Wikipedia which does seem to provide some useful guidance:

“Atychiphobia (from the Greek phóbos, meaning “fear” or “morbid fear” and atyches meaning “unfortunate”) is the abnormal, unwarranted, and persistent fear of failure.” (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atychiphobia, accessed 30.8.13).

Analysis of this statement does seem to bring up some interesting conclusions. Apart from the fact that the Greek name for this fear is called ‘Atychiphobia’, the definition has some curious adjectives included within. ‘Abnormal’, which I take to mean irregular or outside of the norm. ‘Unwarranted’, which could be put another way as ‘unnecessary’ or ‘unfounded’. Then there is ‘persistent’, another way of saying something that is progressing continually or unabated.

What do these adjectives say to you? Well, I’ll tell you what they say to me. They are saying first of all that the fear of failure is not something normal and therefore, by implication, irrational and not a true reflection of reality (I’m not taking from this that people who experience FOF are abnormal. I consider myself one of these people and I’m just as average as the next guy!) I’m also thinking that FOF is indeed unnecessary, that those who are afflicted by it probably underestimate their skills and abilities. They are just allowing their own, largely unfounded fears to undermine themselves.

Finally, the persistence of FOF suggests to me that this fear is self-accentuating. In other words, it all comes down to a continual mind-set of beliefs that sustains FOF. However, it is perfectly possible and plausible to my mind that this persistence can be halted and the FOF mind-set changed completely.

My online search threw up some other good information as well. In particular, I was able to find out a professional psychologist’s view on FOF – Guy Winch PhD. This is certainly useful to know from a medical point of view (seeing as FOF has a medical term attached to it as stated above.) If you consider that your fear is a medically-diagnosable ‘phobia’ and want some pointers with how to deal with it, then check out the link below for more info (please note, any clinical issues are way beyond my knowledge level and the scope of this Success Psychology article!):

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201306/ten-signs-you-might-have-fear-failure

For those who of us who do not suffer a chronic phobia (that should really be treated by a licensed medical professional) but still feel that FOF can periodically affect our progress, there are things that can be done to overcome that fear at times when in can be an issue. The article below (from Mindtools.com) has an interesting analysis of FOF, with some useful pointers that can assist to combat it – such as clear goal-setting and positive thinking:

http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/fear-of-failure.htm

Three Ways to Deal with FOF

From a personal point of view, I have found the following three methods useful in confronting the Fear of Failure which you can try for yourself if this is an issue for you:

  1.  ‘Paranoia’ vs. ‘Pronoia’ – this is one I picked up from Jurgen Wolff recently in one of his MAD sessions (I have also featured it in an article I’ve written for ‘Skills You Need‘ in their ‘Rhubarb‘ section. You can check out the article by clicking the link here.) ‘Paranoia’ is basically the mind-set where we think everything is against us (again, we are not talking chronic, clinical conditions which need medical treatment.) A lot of people tend to go through life thinking the world and life in general is against us.

 A good way of countering this is to change this mind-set completely. Instead of thinking ‘paranoia’, why not try a state of ‘pronoia’ instead. Imagine if everything and everybody were working in your favour? How much more confident would you feel? How much easier would it be to take action? How much more likely would it be that you would succeed? I have started using this one more recently, and have certainly seen some improvement in the way I think about my projects and goals.

This is a good start, because – through repetition – I’m slowly starting to adopt the sub-conscious mind-programming where I tend to look at everything through a positive ‘lens’. This includes any events or occurrences which might be otherwise seen as set-backs as being, in actual fact, ‘re-direction’ to something better. This certainly is a massive morale booster, if nothing else!

  1. Another great technique I’ve used in the past when facing a daunting task where the FOF factor could be quite high is known as ‘chunking down’ (again, one I learnt from Jurgen a few years back.) If the task is big and you think you might not complete it, break it down into manageable ‘chunks’. By this, we mean breaking the task into logical steps or sections with the aim of focusing on the completing the first successfully before moving onto the next. (I’ve used this as a planning process in some of my 30 day challenges. The latest for September includes a ‘chunking’ plan – click here to view it.) The great thing about the ‘chunking’ process is that you can always promise yourself an exit route as you work through your chunks. If the task is too much or it’s not working for you, you can always walk away and try something else. Invariably, though, when you do start on something and use the ‘chunking’ approach, it can become strangely addictive as the whole project builds up a momentum and you want to see if to its logical conclusion.

I used this method several years back when I wrote my first novel ‘Dragon Line – Son of Prophecy‘ under the pen-name ‘Owen Law‘ (a draft of it is available to view on Booksie.) The story was planned in great detail with the plot, characters and sequence all mapped out. The story is a bit like a saga, so there was a lot of cover. A little daunted, I nevertheless planned how I would chunk the task of actually writing the novel, ensuring that I set myself of producing at least a thousand words each session. Although the actual task of writing the novel took over a year, it seemed like the entire novel was written in no time. (In fact, it was over 300,000 words! I have to split it down into two novels – ‘Son of Prophecy’ and what is now its sequel – ‘Return of the Bear.’)

  1. Just do it! Sometimes the best way to confront the fear of failure is to just go ahead and do the challenge anyway. This is really all about taking the bull by the horns and getting on with it! It’s amazing how confronting the task you fear the most and going head-long into it can quickly cause the fear to dissipate. I’ve been there and done it myself, worn the t-shirt etc.

For instance, I recently worked as a trainer at a major sporting event in the UK. One of the things we had to do in this role was speak in front of classes of up to 150 people. These big training sessions always took place in a large hall with a PA system provided. (Although I had spoken in front of large groups like this before, such as school assemblies, this was still a daunting thing for me to undertake.) Guess how I confronted it? I put myself forward to do one of the presentations and ‘grab the bull by the horns.’ I was fairly happy with the content of the presentation and I’d already watched a colleague using the PA to do his presentation – and this guy was a natural. So, I decided to take the mike and do just that. And you know what? It worked. In fact, another colleague commented to me afterwards that I sounded just like a camp-site compere (I didn’t know whether to take that as a complement or a joke!) All the same, I did it and felt a lot better for having done so afterwards! I certainly considered it a great success.

Action Steps:

Based on what I detailed above, you could do the following next time you feel as though the fear of failure is creeping up on you:

  1. If you feel as though things are going against you, try altering your mind-state from ‘paranoia’ to one of ‘pronoia.’ in other words, instead of thinking how everything could go wrong, think instead how it could go right. Imagine that everyone and everything is on your side. Really believe it and convince yourself that you can’t fail. As always, your subconscious will do its level best to manifest a successful conclusion in reality. (A fuller version of how to apply this strategy is included in the Skills You Need article here.)
  1. If a task seems too daunting or challenging and this is turbo-boosting your ‘fear of failure’, try breaking it down into manageable ‘chunks’. This means separating it into ‘bite-sized’ chunks which are easier to complete. You can set yourself small deadlines for the completion of each task and maybe even reward yourself when you have done so. It’s also a great way to give yourself a ‘get out clause’ if you feel you need to! (There’ll be more on ‘chunking’ in a future blog post. However, if you want to find out more about this and other great strategies, check out ‘Focus: use the power of targeted thinking to get more done‘ by Jurgen Wolff.)
  1. If you are about to undertake a challenge or take a major step that could contribute towards the achievement of your goals, try and avoid spending time prevaricating or procrastinating about the task. Alter your mind-set and just say ‘To hell with it! I’m going to do it anyway!’ Then, just do it and see how you get on!  It works for me!

What do you think about these actions? I’d love to hear what you think. Maybe you have used some other methods of confronting FOF in the past? If so, have they worked for you? Please feel free to share your feedback and ideas in the comments section below.

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