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Tackling Fear of Failure

The level of fear can be prohibitive depending upon how we evaluate previous failures or disappointments. If in our evaluation of a past failure we believe that it was a disaster as opposed to an unfortunate outcome, it follows that a person is more likely to have strong fears accompanying any rising aspirations or desires to set a goal. These strong negative associations with previous unsuccessful attempts can take on a life of their own and become predictors of the future – predictions that feel so real and founded that they override rational thought and ambitiousness, ultimately immobilizing a person.

Overcoming a fear of failure — a climber leaps from one rock to another across an expansePerfectionist tendencies can also contribute to a fear of failure, inasmuch as the expectations are so high that they are simply unattainable. The perfectionist is actually a harsh critic in disguise, generally a learned way of relating to ourselves, a personality characteristic passed onto us from someone in our past. When we are caught in fear, the critic seems to get more than its share of airtime and exacerbates any feelings of inadequacy making it more likely that we will back away from a goal.

Affect phobia, literally the fear of feeling, gets in the way. It is the dread of feeling the painful effects of the degree of anxiety that we imagine we will be flooded with should we fail, make a mistake, or fall short. If we were to tease it apart, fear of failure may be better described as the avoidance of incompetence. At least in the moment, it seems much more sensible to avoid exerting oneself than be engulfed with feelings of inadequacy. The problem is, time spent in fear is time lost doing what you want to do.

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.
— William Shakespeare

Ideas to consider...

If one thinks that it should be easy, then firstly, there must be some kind of misperception, and secondly, the thought in itself sets us up for an increase in anxiety because the notion that it should be easy makes accomplishing something hard appear even harder.

What often gets overlooked is the prospect that we will gain an increased sense of competency simply by engaging in the process of trying to achieve. We tend to focus on the level of anxiety that we will feel if we fail, and we do not pay attention the personal growth that happens when we put ourselves through something difficult regardless of the outcome.

The acquired knowledge, experience, and confidence is then transferable to other situations where we have to dig deep, increasing our capacity for risk.

Emotions serve a purpose in our lives, and we need a certain amount of stress in order to be motivated. While on the one hand, the emotional experience is frightening and it seems wise to avoid those uncomfortable feelings, on the other hand, they are just feelings, and emotions change and feelings pass. There is a good reason the catch phrase “this too shall pass” has had staying power. Recognizing that it is normal to feel discomfort, and an acknowledgement that it is a possibility that you will experience an intensity of feeling, can demystify the process and help prepare the mind to regulate emotions.

The anti-dote for anticipatory anxiety is asking yourself the question, “What is the worst that can happen?’ To put this question in perspective, ask yourself will anyone get hurt? If it is the pursuit of a job, then the worst case scenario is that you wouldn’t get the job and your situation would remain the same.

Overcome the fear by breaking down the goal into smaller, more manageable pieces. Viewing the goal all at once, as a finished product, makes the fear of failure soar to the surface. The smaller steps are less daunting. Start by making yourself just do one thing that gets you closer to your goal and then take a break.

Find ways to tame the perfectionist, it was passed on to you without your permission; there is no obligation to hang onto it. By becoming conscious of the ways in which it is destructive and robs you of peace of mind and opportunity, you can begin to develop thoughts that counteract perfectionism.

Each and every one of us starts out intrinsically motivated to accomplish tasks, our instinct is to move towards something that sparks our interest and try to master it. Any of you who have witnessed a baby stack items will have a vision of what I am talking about; the baby is driven to do this on his/her own volition. Our instinctive, spontaneous drive to achieve ebbs and flows over the course of our lives; so much so that in times of overwhelm and fear, it can feel as though it has disappeared altogether. Allow this notion to restore some faith - intrinsic motivation is at the heart of the human experience and with some emotional support you can be reconnected with that drive.

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