A sad boy with a paper labeled "F," failing to overcome a fear of failure

Do you have a fear of failure? Do you strive to be a perfectionist?

The thought of failure is so terrible that it sometimes prevents people from working towards their goals. The only solution to overcoming the fear of failure is to accept that failure is normal.

Continue reading to learn how to address this fear.

How to Manage Fear of Failure

Overcoming the fear of failure is a common internal struggle. Many of us avoid making big or hard decisions because we’re afraid of failing. Failing might mean not getting the job, not getting published, or getting romantically rejected. Sarah Knight explains that fear of failure often leads to inaction.

(Shortform note: In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Ronald Heifetz explains that failure is a part of life and argues that we need to change our definition of success. Instead of defining success as getting what you want, consider success to be any experience in which you learn something.)

Fear of failure can also sometimes manifest as perfectionism, says Knight. If you’re worried about everything being perfect, you’re more likely to procrastinate or spend too much time on something. She explains that while you’re busy trying to do one thing perfectly, the other things on your to-do (and must-do) lists keep piling up. 

(Shortform note: Some psychologists argue we’re in the midst of a perfectionist epidemic. Recent research shows that perfectionism has been steadily increasing since the 1980s due to a variety of factors, including more competitive education and job markets, higher standards of beauty proliferated on social media, parenting practices that emphasize the importance of achievement, and the rise of an increasingly individualistic culture. When people set unattainable standards for themselves, they experience more stress, anxiety, and in some instances, mental health issues.)

To address perfectionism and fear of failure, Knight recommends accepting that you aren’t perfect and that failure is possible. Knight argues that we all have limited energy, so it’s better to spend the energy we do have accomplishing our goals rather than wasting time being afraid that we won’t or that we won’t do it well enough. She adds that even if you do fail, it’s likely not the end of the world—there are very few scenarios in which your failure is a matter of life and death. 

(Shortform note: A less conventional strategy for addressing your fear of failure or imperfection is to face those fears directly by forcing yourself to imagine the worst-case scenario. This method, also called “defensive pessimism,” pushes you to visualize the negative outcomes that you dread. Although it might seem unsettling initially, this process can help lower anxiety and mentally prepare you for potential setbacks. Moreover, it gives you a chance to create contingency plans for those worst-case scenarios, transforming your fears and stress into strategic planning.)

Finally, if you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Knight explains that while the book is about how to get your own shit together, there’s no shame in asking for help, whether that be from friends or licensed professionals. Sometimes, telling someone you need help is the accountability you need to make the necessary changes. 

(Shortform note: According to a study from Stanford University, people often find it difficult to ask for help because they fear imposition or rejection. However, we often underestimate people’s willingness to offer assistance. The research suggests that people tend to think others are more likely to decline their requests or feel bothered by them than they actually are. Moreover, people want to help because helping others is an intuitive response that often leads to increased feelings of happiness and fulfillment for the helper. So, asking for help may not only help solve your problem but make someone else’s day better.)

Overcoming the Fear of Failure: Reframe Your Idea of Defeat

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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