5 Ways to Overcome Fear of Failure

Last week we talked about six ways we self-sabotage and one reason why: fear of failure. This makes a lot of sense—who doesn’t want to avoid humiliation and defeat? But how to move forward and take that leap of faith? Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen offers five ways to move away from fear and toward your goals.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #139

Method #4: Roll back the pressure. “Go big or go home.” “Nut up or shut up.” Or, if you’re Ricky Bobby, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Shooting for the stars is admirable, but sometimes you have to cool your jets. Setting a punishing, sky-high goal seems like it should fire up your motivation, but all it causes is procrastination.

So instead, set a goal about the process, not the end result. Instead of, “Get 100,000 users to download this app I created,” try, “Learn all I can about launching a new app.” Instead of “Get my dream job by April,” go for, “Attend three networking events a month.” Aim for experiences: learning, trying, mastering, rather than just a quantitative endpoint. Indeed, if you aim to experience, you can never go wrong, plus you come away with truly valuable knowledge. And that is never a failure.

Aim for experiences: learning, trying, mastering, rather than just a quantitative endpoint. 

Method #5: Remember the difference between failing and being a failure. When we claim to fear failure, what we truly fear is being a failure, which we perceive as something permanent and irredeemable. WIth the possible exceptions of Betamax and Enron, this almost never happens.

By contrast, the experience of failure is temporary and changeable. It doesn’t feel good while it’s happening, but you always learn something and then? You get the opportunity to reinvent yourself. From Bill Clinton to Martha Stewart to General Motors, our culture loves a good redemption story.  

To wrap up, failure isn’t an end, it’s a stopover. Even if we do fail, we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and recount what we learned in the process, like how having sexual relations with that woman or taking private jets to a government bailout might not have been the best move.

So specify what you’re afraid of, answer your what ifs, visualize your obstacles along with your successes, and go easy on yourself. Failure won’t stand a chance.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.