7 Ways To Reduce Your Fear of Failure

Apr 04, 2021
Created by the author — Original image from Pexels


I purposely didn’t use the word “overcome” in the title. I’m not going to sell you slogans to magically rid yourself of the fear of failure. It’s far easier to tell someone else to “just do it” than to live by it yourself.

I’m starting an exciting new journey but can openly admit I’m terrified of where it will take me. The toxic mix of adrenaline and cortisol pumping through my bloodstream has triggered many waves of panic. I worry I’m making a mistake and will set my life on the wrong path.

It would be easy for me to stop and go back to playing safe.

But I calm myself down, I take back power from my fears, and keep driving forward despite them. If I wasn’t afraid then there’d be no courage in what I’m choosing to do and deep down I believe in myself. We’re humans with emotions so there will always be a time where we are our own worse enemy.

I don’t have a button I can push to fix everything but I use different techniques to prevent my mind from paralyzing itself. These techniques can help you through tough times too.


#1 Stop throwing the second dart

I’m bombarded with people talking about mental strength and grit on social media. You’d be forgiven for thinking other people seize the day and don’t let irrational fears hold them up. In a stressed state, I label myself as mentally weak and this triggers shame and makes me feel even worse.

We must remember we only see the highlights of people’s lives. We have no idea what battles they are fighting internally and there’s no reason to be ashamed.

The Buddha taught this as the first and second dart. The first dart is the natural fear we feel when we’re about to make a big change in our lives. Our fight or flight response is triggered and the associated hormones. We cannot stop this first dart so there’s no point in worrying about it.

The second dart is in our own hands. Do we in a fit of shame throw it at ourselves and make ourselves feel worse or do we let go? We accept the damage from the first dart and use our hands to heal instead of hurt ourselves.

When I start feeling shame about my mental state, I always tell someone. Saying it out loud seems to make me realize how weak my argument is for beating myself up!


#2 Count your battle scars

I was rejected from over 30 graduate jobs.
I’ve been on many dates that led nowhere.
I’ve had dozens of injuries I thought I wouldn’t recover from.

Fear of failure has been a constant companion throughout my life. Yet I’ve failed so many times already and I’m still standing! Whenever I’ve believed something could ruin my life, it never actually has so it doesn’t make sense for me to keep thinking in this way.

Consider your own life and think about all those times you thought something would break you and it didn’t. Draw strength from knowing even if you fail, you have proof you’re going to be ok.


#3 Don’t create poppy cutters

I remember when I was searching for a graduate job and my friends were slowly getting offers. Some of them had multiple companies who wanted them and were scared of making the wrong choice. They’d come to me for advice despite knowing I’d kill to be in their position.

I tried my best to be a good friend but I can’t deny it made me feel more insecure.

These kinds of situations can easily make someone resentful and they end up adding to the stress rather than reducing it. You can’t blame them though, it’s like going to a homeless person with your worries about whether to buy a 5-bedroom or 6-bedroom house. Think first.

Be compassionate about who you turn to with your fears. Go to someone who can be objective or has already succeeded in what you hope to do. It’s hard for people to understand your concerns if part of them is envious.

In a field of poppies, the tallest ones are cut to make sure the field grows at the same rate.


#4 Separate your results from your identity

I’ve made the mistake in the past of considering myself a “success”. I’m not. I’m an ordinary person who sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails just like everyone else.

Using the noun makes sense for objective tasks; runners are people who run and writers are people who write. But don’t reduce your complex multi-dimensional existence to the single word of failure or success. It’s too binary and is only concrete within our own heads.

If you define yourself as a success then any risk you take will be putting your whole identity in peril. Can you still call yourself a success if the thing you’re worried about fails? Will other people consider you a failure?

Ironically, the people I know who are most afraid to fail are the ones who have a history of success. When you can separate individual adventures from your overall identity it makes it much easier to let go.


#5 Find a successful “failure”

At a dinner with friends 5 years ago, we discussed what we’d like to achieve by 30. In our naivety, we all agreed if we weren’t yet millionaires then we’d have failed in our careers.

This is madness compared to the general population and in reality, none of us are going to make it. Our perception of how well we are doing is distorted by what we see on social media and our peer group’s views. People set unrealistically high standards then beat themselves up when they don’t reach them.

The truth is few people have enchanted lives where everything follows their master plan but they persevere and find happiness in a way they didn’t expect.

If you’re scared of your marriage failing, seek out stories of people who had loving second marriages.

If you’re worried about your business failing, seek out stories of people whose second businesses soared.

If you’re stressed about being promoted slowly, seek out someone who was promoted slower but later skyrocketed.


#6 Visualize the worst-case scenario

Dale Carnegie is famous for teaching to influence people but “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” is easily my favorite of his books.

He tells the story of Earl Henry who was terminally ill but didn’t know how long he had to live. Earl determined the worst-case scenario would be to die tomorrow and decided to buy a casket. He then proceeded to book a flight and travel around the world with this casket. Instead of worrying, he embraced the news and lived the best life he could

Maybe you won’t get your promotion. Maybe your company won’t change the world. Maybe you’ll speak and get laughed at.

The question you need to ask yourself is what would you do if the worst happened? I try to visualize in detail what I’d do in these scenarios from a pragmatic approach. Live in this world for a while in your mind and you might come to realize it’s not so bad. There’s always options and the opportunity for good luck.


#7 Imagine what happens if you fly

The world can be a scary place, lots could go wrong but never forget a lot could go right too.

Whenever I catch myself unloading to a friend about all my worries, I stop and pause. Then I switch it up. But if I get it right then this could happen and wouldn’t that be incredible.

If you’re always thinking and talking about failure, you leave no room for thinking about the good stuff. I’m shifting my lifestyle now and I could have both more money and more time. I might be able to take long trips abroad and pick up hobbies I dropped because I was too busy.

Whatever you’re afraid of, remember to think of the happy path. The route where everything falls into place and the risk you are about to take leads to more joy in your day-to-day life.

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”
Erin Hanson

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.