In 1983, Steve Jobs debuted one of his biggest commercial failures, the Lisa computer. Named after his daughter, the personal computer was a spectacular flop. The Lisa was expensive, slow, and unreliable; it sold only a few thousand units. Jobs was disappointed but not discouraged. His days of bold moves ‒— and big failures ‒— were far from over.
Time and time again we see this pattern from successful people. They fail, keep trying, and press on to do remarkable things. Overcoming our fear of failure opens up a new world of opportunity.
Here we’ll discuss proven strategies to reduce fear of failure.
Proven strategies to reduce failure
All of us are familiar with the emotions that accompany the fear of failure. We’re worried about embarrassing ourselves and falling short of expectations.
It’s always been this way. At school, we’re taught to prize high grades above all else. And research suggests this enduring obsession with scores limits our potential — university students perceived their grades as a reflection of their self-worth. By proving their competency to themselves and others, they felt worthy and valuable. To preserve this sense of self-worth, the students avoided failure.
What’s at stake? Missed opportunities for growth and learning.
About one-third of people delayed starting a business because they were worried about failing, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.
We’ve collected these three proven strategies to reduce your fear of failure.
Changing your mindset
To truly overcome a fear of failure, you need to change your mindset. One answer is to shift the focus to continuous learning.
Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck recognizes two mindsets: fixed and growth. People with a fixed mindset believe qualities like creativity and intelligence are bounded. But people with a growth mindset know these attributes can improve; they see setbacks as opportunities for learning.
Dweck recalls an experience early in her career when she gave 10-year olds a math problem that was intentionally too tough for them to solve. The children with a growth mindset took up the exercise with great enthusiasm; they loved challenges. But children with a fixed mindset believed their “core intelligence had been tested and devastated”.
Brain scans showed the difference between these two mindsets. The brains of people with a fixed mindset exhibited little activity when coming up against difficulty. They had disengaged, given up. On the other hand, brains that belonged to people with growth mindsets were lit up. They were “processing the error deeply and learning from it and correcting”, explains Dweck.
“So get over yourself, make a decision, measure the results, and adjust properly. Being wrong doesn’t make you a fraud. Nobody is perfect. Losing is just a part of the game.
For Jobs, he used the lessons from Lisa to create what would eventually become one of the most important devices in the history of personal computing, the Macintosh.
Entrepreneur and author Tim Ferris has made millions by trying new things. Known for the best-selling book The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferris embodies modern success. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t dealt with failures.
Ferris found a powerful way to pursue new projects without being hemmed in by the fear of failure, a method that still accounted for everything that could go wrong. It’s called fear-setting.
Visualizing the “worst-case scenarios,” says Ferris, helps you take action to overcome your fear of failure.
- First, create a list of all the things you’re afraid to do, maybe it’s starting a business or changing career paths.
- Next, define everything you’re worried will happen if you make that move.
- List how you can prevent each of those undesirable outcomes from happening.
- Write down what actions you will take if your worst fears do come true, consider exactly how you can repair the damage.
One practical example is a SWOT analysis, usually part of a broader business development strategy.
Accepting failure is inevitable
Failure is a part of the human experience. As we’ve seen with Jobs, even the most celebrated people get things wrong.
In How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned from Things Going Wrong, Elizabeth Day writes:
“…we will all experience failure at some juncture in our lives…instead of fearing failure as a calamity from which it is impossible to recover, maybe we can build up the muscles of our emotional resilience by learning from others. That way, the next time something goes wrong, we are better equipped to deal with it.”
And when we do fail, research shows we can improve the situation by being kind to ourselves. Kristen Neff, Associate Professor at the University of Texas, suggests that people who show self-compassion are more willing to take risks and learn from their mistakes.
“Research shows that self-compassionate people not only have greater self-confidence, but they are less likely to fear failure and are more likely to try again when they do fail, and to persist in their efforts to keep learning.”
How do we practice self-compassion? Be nice to ourselves.
Consider this, if a good friend shared her disappointment, how would you respond? She didn’t land the dream job or much-needed investment. You’d likely offer encouragement and support. So why are you hard on yourself when you struggle with the same challenges?
Expecting to avoid failure altogether is not always realistic. Sometimes, things won’t go as planned.
By using these proven strategies to reduce your fear of failure, you begin to transform your life. You’ll see failures for what they are they are: stepping stones on the path to success.
Bronwynne Powell is a marketing manager at Chanty — a simple AI-powered team chat. This powerful and free Slack alternative is aimed to increase team productivity and improve communication at work. With a background in journalism and branding, Bronwynne Powell writes about how technology helps businesses improve productivity in the digital age. Feel free to connect with Bronwynne on LinkedIn.