Overcoming Fear of Failure to Achieve Difficult Goals

Overcoming Fear of Failure to Achieve Difficult Goals

2 Quotes you might never forget are #1 “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” ~Theodore Roosevelt – and “I failed my way to success.” by Thomas Edison


Advancing your career, starting a business, doubling sales revenue, losing weight, running a marathon, quitting smoking, going back to school, and saving more money are all challenging goals that can be pretty intimidating. It’s so intimidating that just thinking about it is enough to make most people hesitate or even back off entirely from even starting the goal. But it is possible to overcome the fear and become part of the select group of people who actually do achieve their difficult goals.

A big issue here is the common misbelief that the more difficult your goal becomes, the higher the possibility that you could fail. When the truth is, the more difficult your goal, the better your performance is likely to be. That’s because difficult goals give you a jolt; they stimulate your brain, push you out of your comfort zone and excite you emotionally all culminating in you delivering your best performance. But all that notwithstanding, a sizeable group of folks are still fundamentally afraid that if they attempt a difficult goal they might fail.

“What happens to me if I fail at this goal?”

Getting past the trepidation requires rewiring the way we think, and it starts with the simple question: “What happens to me if I fail at this goal?” A simple question, but not an easy one, and truthfully answering it requires a deep look into some of your inner mental processes. When I ask this question to the individuals and organizations Leadership IQ works with, I generally hear responses like:

“People will think I’m weak and couldn’t hack it.”

“I’ll be exposed as someone who talks a good game but can’t deliver.”

“People will be disappointed in me.”

“No one will ever believe in me again, and I sure won’t believe in myself again.”

“I’ll die from embarrassment.”

“If I can’t do this, it means I’ll never be able to do anything.”

“It’ll mean that I’m not as smart/talented/skilled as I like to think I am.”



The obvious problem here is that all these responses use serious and highly-charged words like “never”, “always”, “only” and “die”. And, when we assess the actual facts, we find these words tend to be overstatements that fall into the categories of interpretations, assumptions, emotionally-charged extrapolations, castastrophizing, irrational beliefs, or whatever else you want to call them. The thing they typically are not, are proven facts.

Fear can be healthy, you just have to disprove the negative statements that got you there

Now, all of this is not to say all fear is unhealthy. Certainly, from an evolutionary perspective, a fear of sabre-tooth tigers kept us alive. But there are times in this modern world where our fear reactions get pointed to something quite abstract, and perhaps even imagined. If you fail in your goal to escape a sabre-tooth tiger, you will almost certainly be dead minutes later. But if you fail in your goal to increase your savings this month, you’ve got at least a decent chance of still being alive 30 minutes later. The fact is, most of the repercussions we face if we fail in achieving our goals are not going to kill us. And, not only will we not actually die of embarrassment, we might not even have cause for any embarrassment.

However, we are human beings, not computers, so we can’t just flip a switch and say, “Feeling like I’ll die of embarrassment is irrational, so I’ll just stop feeling that way.”  Instead, we’ve got to debunk these thoughts in our head, just like if we were an attorney cross-examining a witness. So we’re going to take each of these fear statements, or whatever your personal fears are, and, one by one, ask ourselves if we can find any examples that might provide evidence to the contrary of what we said.

Let’s take the example: “If I fail to achieve my goal, I’ll die from embarrassment.”  Can you find any examples in your life (or even someone else’s life) where you failed to achieve a goal but didn’t die? And to take it a step further, can you find any examples where any embarrassment you felt was far less than what you were expecting? Now, by virtue of your being alive and reading this right now, I’m guessing you found at least one example that refutes the belief that “I’ll die of embarrassment”. And the same can be done with each of the responses listed above.

Once you’ve finished that exercise, it’s time to rewrite those fear statements. You’ve debunked them so now turn them around into something a lot more encouraging. For example:

“If I fail at this goal, people won’t think I’m weak. In fact, they may even rally to my defense.”

“If I fail at this goal, people will still believe in me.”

“If I can’t do this specific goal, it has no bearing on my ability to tackle other difficult goals.”

For the great conclusion of this article, click HERE.  This article is originally written by Mark Murphy, Founder & CEO of Leadership IQ, a top-rated research and consulting firm that delivers employee engagement surveys and leadership training and development to the world’s most successful organizations.

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