The only way to overcome your fear of failure

fear of failure: face your fearsWe all have experienced some fear of failure during our lives.

✔ The anxious feeling that creeps up sometimes of not being up to the task, but knowing we have to perform anyway.

✔ That irrational fear that now people will find out that you are not as good as they thought you were.

✔ The first time you had to give that important presentation, or that interview for a job you really wanted, or the conversation with a client you needed to close.

Giving in to this fear has a paralyzing effect. Instead of being at your best, the way you want to be, you usually perform very near your worst, damaging your chances of success. It seems really important to know what to do when fear of failure shows up in your mind.

The short answer is: there is only one way of dealing with your fear of failure, and that is to face your fear.

Of course, there’s a long answer to go with that, to explain why facing your fear is necessary, and how you do it.

We’ll start with a short story from our own experience, where facing the fear was literally the only answer that would lead to success.

Lean into the danger

Rather late in life we learned to ski. At the time we lived in the French Alps and we had some time for private lessons. Iris, one of the authors of this article, was afraid of the slopes, afraid of losing control and falling. For a long time, there was no progress towards skiing with freedom. Not for want of trying by both teacher and pupil…. But Iris persisted, because it seemed an important personal growth goal to achieve to overcome that fear.

As those of you who ski or walk in the mountains will know, to be safe in skiing or walking you have to do something counterintuitive. You have to lean into the valley, towards where you fear to fall. You have to let go of your idea of where you think you have control. You have to trust that control will follow when you do what you fear.

So, what makes it possible to do that? The answer is surprisingly simple.

One day, our friend the mountain guide said something that he had said many times before, but this time something clicked. “Face your fear’, he said. “Without looking and really seeing what is there, you don’t see where you go, and what is more: without looking and really seeing you cannot know what is real and what is not. When you face your fear, you will see what is there.”

Face your fear and see what is really there

Well, there you go: nothing like the physical reality of your life to be taught a lesson you cannot ignore. You cannot ignore it because the results are immediate and undeniably evident. When you face your fears, you will know what is real and what is imagined. And you will be able to act accordingly.

This sounds easy, and it is if you are able to do it. But the ways of fear are manifold and facing your fear requires (besides what we already told you in Failure teaches Success) the practices of inner peace and rational understanding of what your fear does to you. This will enable you to overcome your fear of failure and be able to act with freedom.

What is fear and what does it do?

So what is fear? Not the physical process, but what does ‘fear’ mean? The literal origin of the word fear gives it away; it evolved from the late English word faër. This means anxiety caused by the feeling of danger.

The consequence of this feeling of danger is that your mind focuses on seeing the danger. You look, but what you see is not alone what is there. What you see instead is all the ways you could possibly fail.

The expectation of failure is one of the modes of expression of fear. Failure literally means: cease to function. No wonder one feels fear. Yet, is it real? To determine the reality of the fear you have to face the fear.

✔ Is what you fear real?

✔ How do you know?

Especially posing that last question is really important in the process of facing your fear.

What do you need to face your fear of failure?

Just by looking, observing, and determining what it is you really see, a certain amount of calmness comes to life in your mind. This acts like a spark in the darkness. With a little bit of the right training you will start to trust the ‘spark’ and follow its light.

‘Right training’ in this case is not ignoring your fear of failure, but at the contrary learning to deal with the physical aspects of it. This is called relaxation in action. In order to be able to do this, you need to know the level of safety and control you require to take action in a relaxed manner. After all, it is your fear.

Ask yourself: what do you need to be able to look your fear of failure in the face, and see what is really there? What will give you enough safety and control to take the appropriate actions to achieve your goal? Facing your fear means finding your own answer to these questions. (A little help never goes amiss – a good coach can lead you to your answers).

Once you are able to face your fear, you will see what is really there, and what you need to successfully overcome your fear of failure and perform at your best. It’s not easy – but it’s the only way.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

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