Fear of Failure
I asked my client why don’t you try?
He said- “If I fail, it will bring more disappointments, shame and embarrassment”
Well, do all successful people never face failure? The path is same, few have courage to walk on them.
We live in a cut throat competitive world obsessed with the rat race..A world where the first parameter of judgement is our achievement and failure is not an option and has become a source of stress
The fear of failing can be immobilizing. It can cause us to do nothing as we anticipate disappointment, and therefore resist moving forward. But when we allow fear to stop our forward progress in life, we're also likely to miss some great opportunities along the way.
Also when we are fearful we refrain from taking a charge for doing something because we do not want to take on the responsibility
Where Does This Fear Stem From?
Success Equals Respect- The competitive, success- driven world out there reinforces that our value and respect is directly proportional to our accomplishments. Failure is always seen in a negative light hence we don’t want to experience it. Apart from that, we have very set parameters for success. We have been socialized in such a manner that there are certain characteristics that define success and failure.
For doctors their children are successful when they are doctors. An engineer is considered to be successful when he is placed in a top company with a certain pay package.
If we take academics - Success is considered to be getting 99% or even 100% and failure looks like 40% or below.
Disappointment- Fear of failure stems from fear of judgement.We fear failure also because of the expectations that are placed, which if left unfulfilled would lead to letting down ourselves and others. So because of this fear we want to be on the road taken not the road less travelled. We want to be in the safe cocoon of convention and conformity because not being part of the herd mentality can lead more criticisms and pressures of judgements.
Perfectionism- Perfectionism is defined as a personality trait characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards. Their self worth is based on achieving success in all their endeavours. According to the model given by Vera Békés and her colleagues of McGill University, about “perfectionism diathesis-stress”, the effects of stress from failure on depression are highly intensified for those individuals who possess higher levels of vulnerability to perfectionism.
How do we overcome fear of failure?
Shift in Perspective- We need a shift in perspective when we are defining success and failure. What if that individual is happy with scoring that 40% while a 99% is unhappy in losing that 1%. There’s a psychological base to this: Thinking about how things could have been, possible outcomes that did not happen but can be imagined, are known as counterfactual thoughts and there are two related constructs attached here:
Upward counterfactual thinking- Where our thoughts are focussed on the better possibilities or how things could have turned out to be more favorable for us
Downward counterfactual thinking- Where our thoughts are focussed on how things could have been much worse
So depending on our thought process, that loss of 1% can be perceived as a failure and 40% may not leave us feeling as disappointed as we assume
Individual Differences- Who really decides what is the starting point and end point of this so called race? When can we say that we won the race as there is always someone we can find to be better than us.. It is only when we reach the top where we feel we have achieved the ultimate goal that we realize that there is something even beyond that which we would want to achieve and then again we start running in a different race. So how can we be in a race when we do not have a defined finish line?..When we all lead different lives, have different experiences, victories and challenges so how can we all be in the same race? Rather it is us on a different path where we set our goals for ourselves.
Failure is the stepping stone for Success- We make good decisions based on our experiences and we gain experience from our bad decisions so if that setback helped us to become better why do we fear it?..Isn’t our failure also an important part of our journey of reaching where we want
We can take inspiration from Thomas A. Edison “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” -
Self awareness- Once we are aware of our core beliefs, what does success, happiness, failure mean to us then we would have more clarity of thought and not stick to other people’s definition of success. We will be able to differentiate when we are fulfilling goals for other’s happiness and when we are doing it for ourselves. We need to understand that majority of the times this fear arises because we fear letting down of other’s expectations. It has more to do with others rather than what we want.
Equipping ourselves to face setbacks- The only way to not fail is to not do anything hence failure at some point of our life is inevitable. We can manage that fear by considering all of the potential outcomes of our decision. If plan A works then what will I do, if it doesn’t then the alphabet has 25 other letters so plan beforehand how will we cope with it if a different scenario happens or what alternative are available to us?
When we are playing a game then we do not take failure on a large scale level because it does not mean the end and we are aware that we will get more opportunities, why is it different on other areas of our life like exams, interviews, relationships etc.
Building confidence- Building a strong self helps us not be influenced when other people label us as a failure because at the end of the day it is their perception..Having a high regard for self helps us to be more objective when we receive criticism. We take it as constructive feedback rather than a personal attack on our self esteem.
We get excited about every step the child takes. It’s an attempt so why is it that now we label certain attempts as failure?
Do we say a child is a failure because he started walking in a late age. Because he kept falling?...That’s his learning process.
So what changes when we grow up?