Starting an ambitious project always comes with a feeling of fear and uncertainty. Facing a new adventure, we cannot help but wonder, whether the path we have chosen is the right one, whether we will succeed or fail. It is quite normal to ask questions before taking an important step in our life.

Unfortunately, many people get lost in uncertainty and let the doubt take hold, and end up giving up before they even start. Paralyzed by a fear of failure, they do not hesitate to rationalize and invent reasons to postpone things, reasons not to act.

However, taking action is the only path to the success and accomplishment of any project. Failure to act is to condemn yourself to failure. Ironically, with the fear of failure, what we dread so much ends up happening, inevitably.

Finding a way to overcome this fear is thus crucial if we want to progress and achieve the goals that we have set for ourselves.

What is fear of failure?

Failure being a negative event, experienced in a more or less difficult way, it is natural to be afraid of it and not to wish to relive the same thing. Fear of failure can be characterized by: low self-esteem and the idea that you will not be successful; a perfectionism of success and how to achieve it; self-sabotage to avoid trying again; comfort in not getting involved in new risky projects.

In case of fear of failure, the fear of failure is so great, both in important assignments and in daily tasks, that the person suffering from it often overcompensate, block, or postpone any kind of action.

Although everyone reacts differently to it, a fixed pattern is noticeable. People with a fear of failure set the bar very high for themselves and want to meet both their own expectations and those of others. Every task, therefore, entails pressure, creating an unreal fear. This is reflected in negative thoughts that are also detrimental to self-image. The realistic view of one’s own abilities and strengths completely falls apart.

How does fear of failure arise?

As mentioned above, fear is a natural response of the brain to the senses. When the brain perceives something as a danger, rational thinking is switched off by the brain and the amygdala takes over.

The amygdala is an almond-shaped nucleus in the brain that makes connections between the senses and emotions. It allows the person to react in certain dangerous situations without having to do anything. The so-called fight, flight, or freeze reaction then prevails.

Although fear of failure can have a major impact on people’s daily lives, it is not recognized as a psychological problem.

Signs of fear of failure

People who suffer from fear of failure will almost always speak negatively about themselves and their potential. They believe that if they do something right, they owe it to pure coincidence and not to their own abilities. Fear of failure can also manifest itself physically, for example, red spots in the face.

Often people with fear of failure undergo a behavioral transformation. They are very driven but also quickly agitated. Others are more likely to get shy and retreat. When performing a task, they often proceed unstructured and lose themselves in the details. They get distracted very quickly and struggle to complete a task as it is never “good enough” for them.

Different forms of fear of failure

Positive fear of failure

People with a positive form of fear of failure experience a certain drive in addition to a feeling of stress. As a result, they can work very actively and concentrate to complete a task or assignment.

Usually, the result is positive, but that is why this form is not really seen by some as fear of failure. Yet these people also experience a constant presence of tension and negative thoughts.

Negative fear of failure

In this form, the task is seen as something that should be avoided or as something that is already doomed to fail.

People who suffer from this form of fear of failure are so preoccupied with their fear that they no longer have a view of what to do. They have a hard time focusing and begin to panic more and more, sending them into a negative spiral. As a result, their performance is often substandard.

Active fear of failure

With an active form of fear of failure, people work extra hard and want to get the best possible result. They do not allow themselves peace or relaxation and can no longer distance themselves from the task or assignment.

Passive fear of failure

People with passive fear of failure do not believe that their efforts will do make any difference and that is why they avoid the tasks assigned to them. Sometimes the assignment is not even carried out at all, which can make them appear uninterested.

When does it occur?

Academic and professional settings

Here, fear of failure has to do with studies. Fearful students are afraid that they will not pass an exam, task, speech, and so on. When they prepare at home, they usually feel ready, but when the moment comes when they have to act, they get blocked through the fear and nothing succeeds.

Social settings

Fear of failure also occurs in the social field. Socially anxious people have a hard time making contact with others and are very uncomfortable in a social event. Often, they suffer from low self-esteem. They are very worried about what other people think about them. As a result, they will avoid certain situations or start behaving in a socially desirable way. This behavior can push them to do things that they actually do not want themselves.

Talent and skill-intensive events

Anyone who suffers from motor fear of failure believes that his or her motor skills will negatively affect performance. This is mainly reflected in creative assignments such as drawing or painting but also in activities such as sports. Usually, it is possible to carry out the assignment, but the fear of failure often puts a brake on the process.

How to deal with someone who is afraid of failure?

It is especially important that you acknowledge the feelings of the fearful person. Try to understand why the person is experiencing so much anxiety and let them know you are ready to help. Do not keep the person in question away from situations he or she is afraid of.

People with fear of failure must confront their fear because this creates self-confidence and growth. It is not easy for someone who suffers from fear of failure to talk about their fears. When they do, it is important that you listen. This makes them feel less misunderstood and can possibly help you to put some things into perspective.

How to overcome your fear of failure?

Adopt a positive mindset

The first thing that needs to be addressed is the mindset. So, turn negativity into positivity. Failure is a learning process; because things did not work out this does not mean they always will not. It is also recommended to create a checklist per assignment. Such a list is a useful tool to avoid anything overlooked and thus avoid possible guilt. Fearful people tend to want to do too much at once, it can help to divide tasks into subtasks and thus create a calm state of mind.

Be confident in yourself

The best way to overcome the fear of failure is to have self-confidence. First of all, you have to define your objectives well, and remain realistic. Maybe you are afraid of failure because, deep down, you know the goals you have set border on the impossible. Refocus on your strengths and qualities and make the right decisions. Do not hesitate to enrich yourself by asking for advice from people who have succeeded in the same kind of initiative.

To build your self-confidence but prepare for failure. By doing this, you will have already anticipated the worst and will know exactly where you are going and what to do if failure occurs.

Identify the purpose of your actions and tasks

To be able to overcome fear, it is important for us to determine the reasons that push us to act and to determine what are the stakes and their consequences on our existence. To realize the importance of the task before us is to give meaning to what we are doing. This feeling will allow you to take action and overcome the invisible barriers that can block your way.

Why should I take this action? What is the purpose and why is it important to me? Answering these questions will help you quickly find the motivation and courage to take action despite any feelings of fear you may have.

Dream big, start small

To achieve your goals, it is important not to set barriers and limits on yourself. However, setting out to conquer ambitious goals can quickly become frightening.

Faced with the complexity of a task, we often do not know where to start or how to go about it. Thus, the confusion and doubt will start to become more and more imposing until it paralyzes us and prevents us from moving forward. The best way to deal with this situation is to task small steps towards the goal.

No matter what project you are about to embark on, break it down into small, easily achievable tasks and focus on completing each one. One after the other.

By doing this, you will reduce the stress that can come with an important project and you will be able to progress much faster.

Give your best with every step you take, always keep in mind the destination you want to reach, but never let it become an obsession. Learn to appreciate small victories, celebrate them. They will guide you to the end of your path.

Use your fear as a compass

Fear often arises when we are about to start something new, something important that has the power to move us forward and that requires stepping out of our comfort zone. No matter what you do, you will always feel a certain level of fear of failure: before every big event, before every big project, before a speech, an exam, etc.

An actor will always feel fear before going on stage, an artist before sharing his or her work, an athlete before the start of the competition. It is human nature.

These are the times when you need to realize that what you are about to do is important and that you need to act and do your best to be successful.

However, no matter the results, what really matters is doing your best. You will always be able to improve over time, correcting the shortcomings that have kept you from achieving the results you wish you had.

The more you act, the more you progress. You will always have another chance to do better and achieve the result you want.

Nate Douglas

Nate has worked as a nutritionist for over 14 years. He holds a Master's Degree in dietetics from the University of Texas. His passions include working out, traveling and podcasting.