Let’s start by talking about our attitude to failure.
People with a growth mindset are not put off by the possibility of failure. Even if they are afraid to fail, it doesn’t stop them from trying to reach their goals and learn new things. It may seem only natural to be afraid to fail for a number of possible reasons. When we fail at a particular activity, it may sometimes feel as though we have failed as a person. We may worry that others may judge us in a negative way. We may fear rejection from people who are important to us. We may associate failure with feelings of shame or embarrassment. Normally, fear is a mechanism for self-protection, helping us to avoid potentially negative situations. However, when we are afraid to fail, it can lead to self doubt and stop us from trying. And if we don’t try, we cannot succeed or grow.
Fear of failure may have a number of possible origins. Perhaps our parents or other significant adults were judgemental, demeaning or hyper-critical of us during our childhood, causing us to develop a negative, fearful mindset. Perhaps we are perfectionists, afraid to damage our image. Perhaps there have been traumatic or embarrassing events in our past which have caused us to be afraid of failure.
Whatever the reason, when we are afraid of failing, we are more likely to give up, or not try at all, unless we feel we are guaranteed success. And with this fixed mindset, we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed at new things in life. Where this attitude prevails in organisations, it is likely to lead to stress, shifting of blame, covering up of mistakes, and stifling of creativity.
So what can we do to tackle fear of failure so that it doesn’t stop us from trying new things, taking risks and allowing our brains to learn and grow?
First, we need to acknowledge it. Most importantly, we need to recognise that it is almost inevitable that we will fail from time to time, but that failure is not necessarily a bad thing. There is no need to fear it, because it is through failure that we learn and grow. It is better to try and fail, then keep trying until we succeed, rather than doing nothing and never progressing. Looking at it another way, the more we fail, the more we succeed.
Next, ask yourself ‘what is the worst that can happen if I fail’? Very often, once we confront our fears, even the possible worst case scenario is not as bad as we might have first thought. Try tackling your negative thoughts by visualising yourself succeeding. You may find that this exercise will diffuse your fear and allow you to take more risks. Another possible strategy is to break down your bigger goals into smaller chunks. This may make the goals less fear-inducing and you can build on each small success as you move towards your final goals.
But always remember: we learn the most when we are at the edges of our comfort zone, when we stretch ourselves. And that involves taking risks. Sometimes it is just a case of making that conscious decision to ignore the fear of failure niggling away at us: accepting that we might fail, or that we might be rejected, and going ahead and trying anyway. And, if we do fail, then getting up and trying again, until we succeed. Our brain is like any other muscle in our body; it needs to be worked and trained in order to grow. The more we keep trying, the stronger we become.
Why not try stretching yourself this week? Try setting yourself one goal every day that you are not sure you can achieve. They may be small or large goals, but whatever they are, by trying something outside of your comfort zone you will be growing your brain and setting yourself up to succeed. If you fail, treat it as something to learn from, and keep trying. If you don’t fail - great! Well done! You achieved something you didn’t think possible. Either way, you are working from a growth mindset, and that will stand you in good stead for everything you want to achieve in the future.