Fear of Failure

by | Sep 12, 2022 | Insights

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The fear of failure is so great that it’s been studied closely by researchers and earned itself the official name of Atychiphobia in the process. But still, despite all efforts, why some people sabotage themselves in the name of fear while others don’t still remains a relative mystery.

So powerful is the fear of failure that it can eclipse all will to succeed. The stifling worries can cloud our thoughts. And completely pointlessly. This is completely counterintuitive.

What Causes Fear of Failure?

A learned coping mechanism

Fear of failure may develop for many reasons, ranging from growing up with critical parents to bullying or a traumatic event. For example, suppose you’ve ever failed at something and felt humiliated or upset. In that case, these emotions may have stayed with you far beyond the initial incident.

High stress and traumatic experiences are linked to various mental health conditions, and fear of failure is no different.

Trying something new requires not only bravery but also a baseline of comfort and ease. It’s to this ‘safe space’ that some people can return during times of high stress, anxiety, or when experiencing doubts. And there, they can reorient, reenergize, and wait for the clouds to pass.


Holding yourself to perfectionistic standards is self-limiting, stifling creativity before it has even had time to bloom. And, since it’s a standard that’s impossible to reach, you’ll always feel as though you’re falling short. Ultimately, the result is low self-confidence, doubt, and crippling fear.


Failure happens. It’s an inevitability of life. Some people can accept that fact, and others have a harder time. For the latter, a failure reflects upon who they are as a person rather than circumstance.

How do I Know if I have Fear of Failure?

We all dislike failure, but when that aversion grows into fear, it can affect our lives. Knowing the warning signs and symptoms can help us to pinpoint the cause of fear and lessen its control over us.

Possible signs you fear failing:

• Inexplicable reluctance to perform simple tasks at work, home or school.
• Bouts of anger or irritability.
• Anxious about being judged by others.
• General sadness or depression.
• Pessimistic (negative outlook on life).
• Chronic procrastination.

If any of the above resonates with you, it may be time to face your fear of failure.

Why the Fear of Failure Doesn’t Serve you

That many of those who fail are not defeated. Instead, they quit. Their fear leads to missed opportunities.

The theory that fear hinders success is even backed by science. At the end of a study undertaken on how fear affects our mindsets, researchers concluded that reducing fear of failure would reduce performance-avoidance goals, defined as a person attempting to not fail rather than trying to succeed. In other words, focusing on failure lead to failure, while a growth mindset leads to success – it’s as simple as that!

How do I Stop Being Afraid of Failure?

Begin by identifying the source of your fear so that you can combat it effectively. In addition, some people benefit from a backup plan that functions as a sort of psychological ‘safety net,’ allowing them to take the leap with less hesitation.

However, ultimately, the best strategy is to live in the moment, adopt a positive mindset, and be open to learning along the way. Accepting that failure can be a learning opportunity rather than an end-of-story moment is crucial to continued growth, success, and putting paid to your fear of failure once and for all.

How I Overcame Fear

There is something special that has worked for me, and I would like to share it with you. Since day one, I’ve been worried about my life plan. What if it doesn’t work out? What next? These thoughts swirled around my mind, occupying my thoughts and clouding my emotions.

That is until one day, while reading a book, by chance, I stumbled upon this Psalm:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about those words, but they made my fear melt away. The clouds dissipated, and I can see clearly since having read them. I believe it may be the simple thought that someone out there has my back. And that if I have to, I can lean on them.

Here are some books that I’ve found helpful on my journey to combatting my fear once and for all:

• Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers
• Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
• Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh

While these wonderful books won’t have all the answers, they do offer a valuable insight into fear. And it’s by understanding fear that we stand the best chance of beating it.

Finally …

Fear of failure can cause us to freeze. We pause our ambitions, often unconsciously, and sabotage our chances of achieving our dreams. What’s more, the worries leading from fear can warp our view of the world and our place in it, causing us to adopt a negative perception of ourselves, further feeding into the cycle of try-fear-fail.

Fortunately, we can overcome our fear of failure by facing it down and adopting a fresh mindset. Step by step, you’ll feel lighter in not only ambitions, but also in your day-to-day life as fear is replaced by motivation and hope. In other words, you have nothing to fear but fear itself.

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