Sometimes, it can be challenging to understand how certain people take on certain tasks or projects. From the outside, all we see is a confident person stepping up to the plate, ready for action. Even if we know the person pretty well, we are probably not with them in their private moments of doubt, worry, and fear. This can create the illusion that the only person who can risk failing is someone without any of those feelings and enforce to us that we aren’t capable of taking the chances we’re afraid to take.
While it’s true that some people naturally have a temperament more suited to trying new things, taking leaps, and pursuing their goals, that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn the skills to do these things, too. It just means that our path might be a little different. Your coworker, a confident speaker, and the first to take action, might have had to practice to become that way. There is no reason why you can’t build your confidence in yourself. That’s what is truly required to take risks: not that you won’t fail, but that you’re strong enough to recover from them.
Whether you have a history of struggling with failures (whether true or perceived), you are suffering from low self-esteem, or you’re not sure how to bounce back from setbacks, the idea of trying new things, or pushing yourself further, can be daunting. You might have people around you who have similar fears or the opposite; you might be asked, “Why don’t you just try?” or, “What’s the worst that could happen?” You may struggle to validate your own sense of uneasiness, not fully understanding why this is such an obstacle for you.
The antidote for a fear of failure is to have positive experiences with failure (yes, those exist!), and you may not have. Maybe growing up,
you were shamed or scolded anytime you failed. Maybe at work, you experienced a failure in front of others.
If you have experienced negative consequences as a result of failure, you start to avoid failing. Having unsupportive and critical people around us in childhood and later in adulthood can make us wary of failing. The idea of taking on challenges or projects where even the smallest failure is possible can feel intimidating.
When you feel bad about yourself, anything that goes wrong is absorbed as evidence that you deserve to feel the way you do. You have such a low tolerance to failure because you see it as evidence of your shortcomings, inadequacies, and weakness. When we look at failures as a sign of our inadequacies, it can eat away our self-confidence and self-trust. You blame yourself for the failure and think, “It must say something about me.” When people with a positiveself-image experience a failure, they experience it as an incident, not as a hallmark of a flawed personality.
How do you manage the times you fail? How do you cope with it? Often failure becomes a trigger for depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Unfortunately, that’s not because failure is depressing; it is because you don’t know how to cope with failure. You become self-critical, and you catastrophize when you fail, seeing these incidents as reflective of your life, your skills, your personality, your future potential, all of it. It can be hard to separate the pieces, reflect on them, learn from the mistakes, and at the same time identify the parts that were beyond your control. Instead, you drown in every negative piece of your experience.
By no means would I tell you that overcoming your fear of failure is as simple as snapping your fingers, but I will say that there are steps that you can take, and it is up to you to take them. We see many people at our therapy practice in Woodland Hills who are in need of guidance when it comes to improving their self-esteem and tackling their fear of failure. Everyone’s situation is a little bit different, but there are tools that can be helpful to anyone. Some of the steps you can take will come more easily to you than others, but they are all valuable. Feeling better and more hopeful is possible with help from an anxiety therapist in Los Angeles, CA for anxiety treatment via online therapy in California.
The goal is not to be fearless; the goal is to feel our fears and still take the actions we need to take. Ultimately, we have to reverse the avoidance but face our fears and learn to take risks.
This doesn’t mean that we go skydiving to overcome our fear of heights. It means we make a conscious and decisive effort to tackle our fears in steps. This process is called “exposure.” Using fear of heights as an example, we might start by walking on a raised platform, then going out on a balcony, then the top of a building, etc. We may want to use this same technique at the local swimming pool, jumping off higher and higher diving boards. Whatever the issue is, small exposures that increase over time to be greater, and more frequent exposures are a great tool to utilize.
This is the same thing with a fear of failure. Do things imperfectly. Pick something you don’t care about, and do it badly for a while. Laugh at yourself and how terrible your painting is. Get used to being bad at something and seeing that it doesn’t impact your life in any negative way. Next, do things that mean more to you, keeping in mind that the important thing is to do them, not to try to do them perfectly. Jump into things without doing the research; try new restaurants, pick up a new sport (racquetball is a great equalizer for situations like this), make a sloppy dinner. Suppose you enjoy the restaurant, great. If you don’t, you’ll see that you can survive the disappointment. If you enjoy racquetball, that’s awesome! You might be good at it or not, but that doesn’t matter. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t play it, even if you’re great at it. Recognize that you’re still fed, even if what you ate wasn’t perfectly plated or particularly fancy. Prove to yourself that you can survive – and thrive – in the face of new experiences, even if they’re negative.
It is human nature to choose the path of least resistance and least risk. Fear of failure may keep you in your comfort zone, which might sound good, but lead to stagnation, preventing you from investing in what you care the most about. This is why a solid knowledge and evaluation of your values can help you to combat your tendencies to let your fear guide you. Time and time again, you will find that your values are more motivational and lead to more rewarding actions and habits. Being aware of your value system is a great way to motivate yourself to push through your fear of failure. For example, you might be afraid of public speaking, so you avoid it at all costs, worrying that you’ll mess up your words, or tell a joke no one laughs at. But then, your best friend asks you to speak at her wedding. According to your fears, you won’t want to. But when you look at your value system, you will realize that your strong friendship is something very important to you. The idea of making your friend happy is probably a stronger desire than your nerves about giving a speech. This doesn’t mean you won’t be nervous on the day; most wedding speeches are given by people holding a piece of paper in their shaky hands, so you can expect that you’ll be in a similar position. If you are able to return to who you are and who you strive to be in your heart, you will find that you are able to do far more than you imagine.
Not every step you take to work through your fear of failure will go smoothly, and that’s okay. It is to be expected that you will struggle with this work at times. To make sure you keep
going, you have to show yourself kindness.
There is no sense in approaching your fear of failure, losing your nerve, then beating yourself up about it. Instead, speak to yourself the way you would talk to a loved one. Reflect on what the fear was and why you think it overtook you. Tell yourself that your emotional experience is valid and that you don’t have to get everything right the first time.
Leave yourself space to explore what you feel and how you feel about it, whether that involves attending therapy, meditating, journaling, or setting aside some other sort of time in which you can process your experience.
If you want to create a self-care box to pull from in these times, feel free! Whatever it takes to make sure that you are going to be kind to yourself no matter what. Struggled with your fear today? Have a bubble bath, anyway. Didn’t volunteer to work on that project at work? Order your favorite takeaway meal and speak to yourself with sympathy about why you held back and why you don’t want to do it next time. If you cannot explore these thoughts without self-defeating thoughts, you may want to get guidance from a therapist. Sometimes, we need a neutral party to help us see in ourselves what others see, including our worthiness of self-care, self-love, and self-compassion.
We often attach meaning to our failures. For example, “I failed, so that means I am not good enough.” In redefining failure, we reframe it as an intersection instead of a stopping point.
Far too often, we give our failures and shortcomings far more power and weight than we should. It is okay to pause and reflect on your failures, but then you must decide to keep ongoing.
Once you are able to come to terms with continuing on in the face of adversity, you will be able to view failures as learning experiences. Each failure is a message, or clue, about where you are in relation to where you want to be, or where you thought you wanted to be. At times, you will determine that you don’t need to push any further. At other times, your setbacks will serve as signposts on a longer journey. When you have redefined your failures as information exchanges, they will lose their power. Depending on the circumstance, you may find them fun or funny.
I’m sure this sounds like something you’ll never be able to do, but it gets easier once you start to look at things this way. Failure comes in all shapes and sizes; we fail to get up on time and are late for work,
we fail to gain acceptance to our dream school, we fail to make our marriage work, and so on and so on. While it can sound cliche, most of what occurs in our lives are interconnected with what has already happened. In this way, some of our failures have led to some of our joys. Overcoming our failures also teaches us about ourselves and what we are made of far better than our successes do.
Above all, our failures can serve to highlight to us what is important. We may try something that makes us realize how much we truly want it when we fail to succeed. This experience may give us more resolve. We may also try something and realize how little it mattered that we failed, and gain a new appreciation for what we do have, or what we are going to pursue next. Failing also gives us the opportunity to lean on and connect with our loved ones and our communities, perhaps learning more about them and allowing them to understand us better in the process.
Once we learn to manage our fear of failure, many more opportunities open up to us. Overcoming this fear doesn’t mean we’ll never make mistakes again or feel embarrassed. It means that we are not afraid to try. We aren’t afraid to grow and learn. We are able to stand up for ourselves, show up for ourselves and our loved ones, and meet each day with curiosity rather than worry. In this way, we can live as our authentic selves, no matter what challenges and setbacks we face. When we are able to overcome our fear of failure, we have already succeeded, because if our fears hold us back so that we never try, we’ve already lost. Taking the first step is success in and of itself.
Here at Embracing You Therapy, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 15-minute phone consultation with one of our Client Care Coordinators.
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