Coach's Corner

Fear of Failure

Perfectionism: refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.

It starts with a sudden worry about the future and quickly becomes an onslaught of “what if” scenarios. It takes over your mind as you try to complete your projects and sometimes creates panic when you start to turn your expectations into perceived reality. Fear. Of. Failure. It’s a conviction that you’re not going to achieve the outcome you should. Have you asked yourself what that outcome should be though? Fear of failure is a looming problem that most people experience throughout life. It can shock you just as much as it can bring you to a paralyzed state of negative self-disapproval. Luckily, the fear can be overcome, but it will take some practice in topics you might not expect.

Perfectionism is a self-created conviction that nothing but a perfect result is acceptable. It tends to grow from one of the brain’s automatic solutions to circumventing the fear of failure. This is why the two topics are so closely related. The more you stay stuck in your thoughts that everything you do doesn’t meet the mark, the more you hinder your ability to grow and become confident in who you are. That’s why the brain creates this idea that something can’t be good if something is imperfect. It sways the attention from the fear to something the brain believes should be attainable. The problem with perfection is that it usually exists as an intangible thought and can never be achievable. It’s an unclear vision in our minds that we don’t add objective metrics or attainable goals to. Perfectionism is so illusory that the impossibly high standards we create don’t generally give us something to achieve at all, but instead, something to eventually despise.

Think about a skill you want to improve that will help you in life. Remember that “will help you” can mean anything from making you smile more to giving you greater potential to succeed at work, with relationships, or in your mind. Focus on a skill that is rewarding for YOU. What does achieving this skill look like to you? Does achieving the skill mean no room for additional growth or improvement? What opportunities might achieving these skills open up for you? These questions are designed to help you enter a growth mindset and eradicate the idea that “perfection” is necessary. You’ll want to examine potential to defeat the fear of failure. There is a fine line between wanting to achieve a great outcome so severely that you wind up starting to fear failure and setting goals with benchmarks that build growth. Walking that line can sometimes cause you to sway towards the “what if” scenarios that rarely carry actual logic. You’ll want to train your mind to practice self-compassion in these moments.

Self-compassion is stepping away from negative or irrational personal fears while mindfully reducing self-judgment and thoughts of inadequacy. In other words, it is stepping into the logic of being human and understanding that humans, by nature, utilize experiences and mistakes to grow. The art of self-compassion is difficult for some to allow because prior experiences often lead us to never show weakness, appear unable, or accept inadequacy. The ability to enter into a self-compassionate mindset stems from the logic of a growth mindset. One feeds into the other and both will lead to powerfully positive results.

Once you can get yourself to a state of self-compassion, the repetitive cycle of fear (those looming “what if” questions) starts to break, and you will naturally be able to engage in healthier conversation with coaches, mentors, leaders, and peers that will empower you to improve. You’ll start to notice that you can ask more precise questions because the fear of those questions creating judgment on you won’t exist. You’ll see that learning new information will help you tackle actions towards goals more effectively, thus reducing the fear of failure altogether. Self-compassion isn’t an allowance to become lazy but a desire to grow with stronger intentions. It creates action because the freedom and happiness to want to learn cannot be thwarted by the dissatisfaction of fear or perfectionism. Simply put, it creates balance and positive desire.

When trying to enter a pattern of self-compassion, ask yourself these three mindset-shifting questions:

  1. What advice would I give a loved one if they were experiencing my situation?
  2. What does that advice tell me about my current fears?
  3. What will learning look like for me with this experience?​​​​​​​

The next time you notice that fear of failure is getting in your way, take a step back and think it through. All fear is a source of something unknown (the “what if”). Your goal should always be to see that entering a state of paralytic fear means falling out of a growth mindset. Anything outside of growth will create imagined ideas about perfection and cause the fears to grow. If you can trigger your mind to react to these extended moments of self-doubt with a vision that involves self-compassion, you’ll quickly defeat the burden and find yourself taking the right leaps in no time.

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