We all have fear of something, even if we’re proclaimed yogis or consistent meditators or simply if we are just “being” as entrepreneurs, mothers, students, etc. No matter what you call it: agitation, anxiety, doubt, trepidation, upset, consternation — it’s all some sort of fear or dis-ease.
Some of us, of course, are bothered by fear more than others, and I’m going to help guide you towards practical ways to deal with and confront your fear, without pushing it away or stymying it. What I would like to address here is the universal fear of failure. Let’s not let it stop us in our tracks, force us to change course, recoil into non-action or procrastination, hide behind perfectionism, or paralyze us into a state of self-sabotage.
Again, fear of failure takes on a broad meaning, depending on your circumstances, personality, health, age, etc. Some people are afraid of not getting the job they’re after, others are afraid of not losing the weight they’ve been trying to shed for years. Others are afraid of failing in raising their kids properly or failing at cementing that next deal at work.
Whatever it might be, fear is often induced by a step into the unknown and not having the wherewithal to confront it with confidence and know-how. There’s also the chattering mind that wonders what others will think or say about us. Other peoples’ opinions have a surprisingly boundless effect on our ability to buttress fear.
Let’s take a closer look, so I can give you practical ways to actually move beyond your fear and into achievement, success, advancement or whatever it is that you seek. If you’d like to explore this idea further, have a look at my post “How to Eliminate Those Nagging Limiting Beliefs and Self-Sabotaging Behaviors.”
We Can All Admit: Fear Is Indeed Scary
Fear is scary. We can all admit to that. But fear doesn’t have to take front and center stage in your psyche. There are ways to allow that fear to enter your being, but then, by developing a conscious awareness of the fear, you can feel it... and then let it go.
Fear is sometimes a spontaneous reaction to something, like when a bike messenger comes barreling down the sidewalk straight towards you. There’s no way to avoid feeling afraid — you’d be crazy not to! But that fear quickly dissipates when the bike messenger swerves to the right and continues on his way.
Other kinds of fear can seep in and stick to you like glue. Those fears aren’t always as easy to shed immediately. Even more difficult are the fears that have stuck to you for years and years and have almost become a part of you. These sorts of insidious fears of failure are the ones that we’ve internalized and with the following tips, you might be able to start the process of ditching them.
Perhaps you've carried these fears of failure since you were a child, possibly instilled in you by your parents or another mentor figure. As children, we’re like sponges, and much of what we’re told — good and bad— we unconsciously incorporate into ourselves and unconsciously make our own.
If you were told you were good at sports, maybe you excelled in sports. If you were told you couldn’t learn a foreign language to save your life, perhaps you developed an unconscious dread of ever picking up a foreign tongue.
Discover Those Repetitive (Often Harmful) Beliefs
Rewriting your story is not as hard as you might imagine (or fear). Creating a new story — more true to the present day — is a matter of practice. Nothing more. The stories that many of us carry with us from our youth are often false interpretations of who we are today. They’re old, repetitive stories, like CD players set on endless repeat.
Why do we carry these stories around with us? Oftentimes because we don’t actually realize that we’re attached to them. The stories follow us around in our unconscious mind, and we react and behave accordingly. By tapping into our present state of mind, we can clear our thoughts, access repetitive beliefs and begin the process of rewriting our stories according to conscious, deliberate choice.
Rewrite Your Story Through Visualization
First, I’d suggest identifying a pattern of belief that’s behind your veneer of fear of failure. This pattern of belief is often a knee-jerk reaction — something you most likely never consider on a conscious level — a reaction in response to an event that you played out time after time.
Perhaps, for instance, when someone makes a seemingly critical comment about you, you immediately shrink into a state of inner negative judgment, beating yourself up for being so foolish. When in reality, you were anything but. Often, the dismissive beliefs of others have absolutely nothing to do with you, even if the comments appear directed at you.
These sorts of knee-jerk patterns of belief create downward spirals of inner negative thought structures that when faced head on, we can actually defeat and re-wire, so to speak. By not believing these negative thoughts, we can re-assign them a new meaning, which then we internalize and let seep into our inner beings and carry on with our day-to-day.
If it’s not negative self talk, it might be that you’re afraid of failing at securing a mortgage, for instance. Try to rewire your knee-jerk-reaction thought patterns by visualizing yourself confidently discussing the loan with the bank. Go through the whole scenario until you come to the end when you actually see yourself walking out of the bank, loan signed.
Try to find a middle-ground thought pattern — not one of your greatest fears — and every time that situation arises, try to rewire it with a new pattern of belief, one that builds you up, rather than knocks you down. As you work on that (or those), you become more familiar with and open to this practice. Rather than focusing on your fear of failure and what might instigate it and keep it alive, try to instead visualize a new you in this situation.
Turn Fear of Failure into Mind Profit
Fear of failure also doesn’t have to entail failure. I like to look at what might be interpreted as “failure” as a lesson. As so many people have said, and Thomas Edison encapsulated so succinctly: “Every failure is a lesson learned about your strategy.”
So many business people have used this clever turn of phrase to do exactly what I’m suggesting we do on a grander scale: change our belief system. Instead of beating up on yourself for “making a mistake,” turn that so-called mistake into a powerful lesson.
It’s a switch of your mind, almost like tricking your mind, and yet it’s a deliberate effort to rewire your mind’s former go-to victimization. All ostensible mistakes are undeniable and exceptional lessons because you can learn from them and absorb and profit from that knowledge.
I’m not talking about positive thinking here, which is also a benefit to rewiring your mind, but rather of actually altering how you view your day-to-day so-called “failures.” In doing so, you can help train your mind to not fear an outcome, but to rather anticipate an outcome with a new set of eyes. By doing so, you can then accept the outcome, no matter “good” or “bad” and either way, the outcome will represent an indispensable lesson.
Just to be clear, I’m by no means suggesting that you live a life of mediocrity. Have goals, dream big — just learn to “roll with the punches” in adapting to alternative outcomes (i.e., “failures”) as stepping stones. As cliche and perhaps banal as it might sound, mistakes are there for us to learn what it is that we don’t want so we can better know what it is that we do want.
Sit Quietly With Your Mind
Finally, I would suggest learning to sit quietly with your mind, and I mean this metaphorically. You could “sit quietly with your mind” as you’re taking a walk through the woods or even down a paved city street. If you’ve never meditated before, or even if you’ve dabbled in meditation, I would strongly recommend taking at least 10 minutes per day to connect with emptying your mind.
When trying to sit with your mind, try to use only nose breathing. Deep breaths in through your nose and even longer breaths out through your nose will help facilitate a calming throughout your entire body. As you might have noticed, when we’re tense or in a state of fear, we tend to use short, shallow, very quick breaths through our mouths, which then stimulates our sympathetic nervous system’s flight-or-fear response.
The stress response is fantastic if you need to escape an accident or run away from a predator, but in normal everyday situations, we don’t necessarily need to activate this hormonal response. Deep abdominal breathing combined with a quieting of the mind can not only help you temporarily stop the chattering mind, but also assist you in times of irrational stress.
By “sitting quietly with your mind,” you create a space for the mind to actually expand, rather than restrict — as most often happens — with all those limiting, monkey mind, chattering, judgmental, critical beliefs. We all have them, and by learning to quiet the mind with a daily 10-minute practice of meditation or even walking quietly, we can help free up space for impulses, expansion, softness, hesitation before knee-jerk reactions.
Don’t get me wrong — meditation isn’t easy. When I sit, I sometimes can never make my chattering mind shut up. Other times, I can possibly clock two minutes of a quiet mind. Every day is different, and some days it’s easier than others, but I do see a cumulative benefit.
Try for yourself — there are so many online resources available, and so many teachers ready to lend a hand. Some of my favorites are: “The Book of Awakening” by Mark Nepo, and “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron.
Conquer Your Fear, Conquer Your Life
It’s easy to tell a friend or loved one to visualize a different outcome, to look upon a so-called “failure” as a lifelong lesson, or to take up a short daily practice of quieting one’s mind. It’s quite another to actually do all this yourself to fend off any fear of failure.
Perhaps set a goal for yourself — try taking these steps within a month-long period. That way, it doesn’t feel so potentially oppressive or frightening. There’s a wonderful quote to end with by the Zen Master, author and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh: “Enlightenment is when a wave realizes it is the ocean.”To learn more, download my Free Ebook “3 Steps to Feel Great Right Now Regardless of Your Circumstances.” Get started mastering your mind and transforming your thinking.