Before we can even talk about this topic, I have to be crystal clear about something that A LOT of people have confused. Failing does not equal failure. You can fail at something, but that does NOT make you a failure. Failing makes you grow faster. If that just made your head hurt, this is a must-read for you.
So, what is this Fear?
Notice how when we start anything new, especially those big ambitious things, that feeling shows up. It is a mix of excitement with a bit of fear. It may come in the form of fear of failure, the fear of success, or you might be lucky enough to have BOTH!
At this point, many people get swallowed by uncertainty, gobbled up by doubt, and just quit. Seth Godin refers to this as “the Dip.” Sometimes the dip is a sign that we need to move on to other things quickly. Other times, it is a nudge that we need to double-down and go all-in, which can make this feeling amplified.
It is when the fear starts growing that most people become paralyzed. The beast procrastination and its partner perfectionism show up, making us feel stuck. Sound familiar?
The ONLY path out of fear is through it. To go through it, you need to take action. If you choose not to take action, you are choosing to fail, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Finding a way to overcome this fear is beyond crucial if we want any possibility of success.
How does fear show up in our bodies?
The most recent fMRI imaging brain research shows that fear and other stress appear to be “whole brain” activators instead of one or two areas as many had previously thought. (For those interested in geeking out on the science, like me, the images showed activation in the amygdala, the insula, and the dorsal anterior cingulate. The regions modulating fear include the medial prefrontal cortex, the rostral anterior cingulate, and the hippocampus)
Simply put, fear has a physiological response in your body. Almost everyone experiences failure in life, as early as a child. Few people learned to walk without ever falling. During our lifetime, each of us fails at something. Humans are learning beings. We remember the failure and work to avoid the negative feeling associated with it. We will go as far as to self-sabotage to avoid stepping out of our comfort zone and facing even the potential of failing.
Fear of failure has a familiar pattern. People who fear failure set the bar very high for themselves and want to meet their expectations and those of others. That same high bar is what has made most of us super-high achievers. The bar, if left unmet, brings on a rush of negative thoughts, chipping away at self-image and flooding in doubts. Does this sound like anyone you know?
As mentioned above, fear is a natural response. When the brain perceives danger, your rational thinking goes out the window, and the amygdala takes over. You have likely heard of this described as the fight-or-flight reaction.
How does fear of failure show up in real life?
People who fear failure will almost always speak negatively about themselves or their potential. This negative talk may be spoken out loud or by that infamous inner-critic. Fear of failure brings behavioral changes too. The person most impacted is typically very driven. Some people suddenly find themselves becoming agitated quickly, while others get shy and retreat. When performing a task, it is not unusual that they find themselves going down the rabbit hole of details as a distraction.
How do you overcome it?
It all starts inside.
The first thing to help you is to work on mindset and always remember that failing does not make you a failure. It is the opposite. Failing is the fastest way to learn what does not work. Many of us grew up in environments where failure was not an option. Only years, or even decades, later we came to realize no one makes it through life without failing unless they live in a protective bubble and do nothing.
Instead, the more we put ourselves out there and fail, the faster we learn and the more we grow. That also means that the more we put ourselves out there, the more we succeed too. It is a win-win except for that danged ego of ours.
Grow your confidence.
The best way to overcome failure fears to have self-confidence. First of all, you have to have REALISTIC goals. There is so much that goes into this, but you will erode every bit of your self-confidence without it.
Identify the purpose in all that you do.
Know your “why.” Your real why. Knowing your “why” will inspire you to keep taking action, the right next steps. Without your real “why,” most people will not push through and complete their goals.
Dream big, start small.
To achieve your goals, they must be REALISTIC. Setting out to conquer Big Hairy Audacious Goals that cause you to step way outside your comfort zone can quickly feel overwhelming.
When attempting something complex with multiple moving parts like starting a new business, new career, or new family, we can get overwhelmed before we even begin. It begins with confusion which breeds doubt that leads to overwhelm and even paralysis. Breaking down big goals into tiny actionable steps that can be taken in order, getting us into action is a great starting point.
New Level, New Devil.
Fear knocks on our door when we embark on significant changes in careers or relationships, deciding to start a new business or other life changes. When we find ourselves on the verge of something that has the potential to change our lives or the lives of others, fear not only knocks but kicks in the door. In those moments, we are standing firmly outside our comfort zone, stepping towards the future. Most people I have worked with still feel a certain level of fear of failure before every significant event, large pivot, the big speech, or important moment in life. It is part of being human.
As you level up, you will find more obstacles in your way. You may have heard the old saying, “new level, new devil.” These are the times when you need to realize that what you are about to do is important and that you need to lean in and give it all you’ve got.
What do professional athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, and actors have in common? They know the value of coaching. Those who have stepped the furthest outside their comfort zone see the value of having someone helping them level up and help them work through these times.
The more you act, the more you progress. You will always have another chance to do better and achieve more. Practice makes progress.
Until next time, Let’s Do This.