Everyone periodically feels uncomfortable about falling short of a standard, but some of us exaggerate the risk and anxiously avoid situations where we have no guarantee of success. Tragically, many who fail to deal with their fear of failure accomplish less, and regret the loss.
If you fall into this group, can you turn things around?
Fear of Failure Test
Try this test: Answer true to any items that generally describe you, and false to any items that generally do not.
- I’m afraid to fail.
- I play it too safe.
- I’m afraid of choking before a group.
- I worry about making mistakes.
- I’m afraid of disapproval.
- I worry about looking incompetent.
- I dread I won’t do well enough.
- I lack confidence in my abilities.
- I feel anxious when uncertain.
- Others will evaluate me negatively.
Answer true to one or more of the items, and you have isolated an area, or areas, that you can profitably work to change.
Each item represents a different but excessive feeling of apprehension and dread about evaluation over performances in academic, work, social, and other personally relevant areas. The items you endorsed as true may have different meanings to you. However, they all represent self-improvement opportunities.
Now, let's look at an angle for turning things around.
Building a Self-Improvement Perspective
Error is an inevitable part of life. That is why pencils have erasers.
We can define failure as falling short of performance standards. In academic, work, and interpersonal relations, exceeding expectations normally has positive consequences; falling short can have negative consequences. One of the negative consequences is secondary procrastination, in which you put things off where you expect to fail, thus creating a vicious cycle.
You can eliminate a fear of failure in areas for self-improvement and view your efforts as experiments to discover what works, what doesn’t, and what lies in between. Through thoughtful experimenting, you can discover what to emphasize and what to avoid in your life.
Can you convincingly take the position that there is no failure, only experiments that prove productive to a lesser or a greater degree? Perhaps. However, rather than define failure out of existence, let's accept the word for what it technically means and not fear the concept. Instead, you can experimentally act to widen the range of your constructive experiences.
Tips for Overcoming Anxiety about Self-Improvement
Here are five tips to move from fear of failure habits to an experimental perspective:
- Pretend to work as a scientist. A scientist tests many promising ideas in the process of finding solutions for challenging problems, realizing that many trials may be needed before the picture is clear. Unlike some scientific studies that have terminal points, self-improvement is something you can do over a lifetime.
- As with any useful scientific study, you start with a question: “What actions do I take to get past fear of failing?”
- Few things in life go as smoothly as we hope or as badly as we might expect. Undertakings that include uncertainties—even those with reasonable positive expectancies—can have unexpected complications as well as unexpected pleasant surprises. Expect variations and fluctuations in your performances, and you won’t be disappointed.
- When you fall short of what you set out to do, what does this mean? It means that you fell short of a standard against which you evaluate your performance.
- People who fear failure, adhere to high standards, and claim to value human worth and dignity, often have trouble answering this value question: If you value human worth and dignity, then how do you justify adhering to personal standards so strict that they exclude you from experiencing worth and dignity? Your answers to this question can start you on the path of separating your global worth from your individual performances.
Accepting failure as part of a self-improvement process can be especially useful for those who are too hard on themselves and are afraid to try out new ways of thinking, feeling, and doing because of evaluation fears, anxiety over uncertainty, overly restrictive inhibitions, and so on. An experimental self-improvement approach for discovering what works, and what doesn’t, in combatting anxieties, is a platform for advancing healthy personal interests where anxiety and fear of failure ordinarily interfere.
For more guidance on how successfully to combat anxiety, click on: The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety (Second Edition)
© Dr. Bill Knaus. All Rights Reserved.