How to Overcome Fear of Failure and Reach Your Goals

I hope you’re excited, my friends. This week we are diving into the light and cheerful topic of failure.

And more specifically, we’re exploring our fear of failure.

Super fun, huh?

And as strange as it sounds, I am super excited to talk about this topic with you today because it’s such a transformative and important concept.

You see, when you understand why you’re afraid of failure, and you learn the tools to look at your circumstance through a different lens, you’ll be ready to tackle any goal, opportunity, or dream that you can think of.

And that, my friends, is incredibly empowering.

So if you’re ready to overcome your fear of failure and start reaching your big goals, be sure to listen to this week’s podcast below. I think you’re going to love it.

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling to read the entire transcript.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE!

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL DISCOVER…

  • The three main reasons why we fear failure
  • The root cause of why we avoid failure
  • Strategies to look at your failure differently and start taking action

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

SUBSCRIBE AND REVIEW

Do you want to be the first to know when a new episode drops? You got it! Click over to iTunes, select “Listen on Apple Podcasts” and then click the “subscribe” button.

Also, if you’re loving the podcast, would you be a rockstar and leave me a review? Reviews help others find the show and allow me to share my message even further. Thanks, friend!

QUESTION:

What’s a failure that you’ve experienced that turned out to be a powerful learning opportunity? What are the strategies that you use to learn from percieved failures? Do you struggle with seeing failure in a different light? Let me know below!

Transcript: How to Overcome Fear of Failure and Reach Your Goals

Hey, friends! Welcome to episode 26. I’ve gotta tell you, you’re in for a treat today. Because we are talking about the light and cheerful topic of failure.

Super fun, huh?

And more specifically, we’re talking about our fear of failure.

Now, as strange as it sounds, I’m really excited to talk about this topic today because it’s such a transformative and important concept. So get ready. We’re going to the next level today.

How to Overcome Fear of Failure and Reach Your Goals

Okay, fear of failure. Why do we have it? What is it about failure that has us avoiding it at every possible cost? Because let’s be honest, most of us treat failure like the plague. We have no desire to experience it. And we don’t let ourselves get near anything that offers a potential threat.

Now, of course, we all have our different reasons for fearing failure. But as I’ve been thinking about this subject over the past few weeks, and working on it with clients, and reflecting on it in my own life, I’ve found that there are three especially prominent reasons why we’re so afraid of failure. 

Are there other reasons? Yes, for sure. But I also think that many different cases fall under these three main categories. So that’s what I want to start with today. The three main reasons why we’re afraid of failure.

The first is our fear of the unknown, which, in our overactive, primitive brains, always means the worst-case scenario. The second is our fear of what other people will think of us if we fail. And the third is fear of what we will think of us if we fail. In other words, what story will we tell ourselves – what negative self-talk will we tell ourselves – if we experience a “failure.”

So let’s talk about each of these for a minute. 

Fear of the Unknown and Worst-Cast Scenario

I’ve found that when I’m coaching clients who are working through their fear of failure, and I ask them what they’re worried about, their minds tend to go to each of these three fears at one point or another, and in fact, they usually do it in that order. 

First, they worry about what the worst-case scenario would be if they actually went after their dream, or they took the class, or they joined the program, or whatever. And generally, for most of us, our brain’s worst-case scenario has us in some version of jobless, homeless, no money, and living in a van down by the river. 

Worst Case Scenario Example

So, for example, maybe you really want to leave your job and start a new career, but the moment you even consider the possibility, your brain immediately goes into freakout mode. 

And because you’re facing the unknown, and because your brain can’t find any absolute certainty, it automatically starts telling you that this is a terrible plan. It tells you that you’ll never be able to find another job, that you will lose all of your money, that you’ll have to sell all of your belongings, and that you’ll end up homeless with no food and no place to go. 

Now, be honest, has your brain ever gone into some version of this story? Of course, it has! It has for all of us. 

You see, if we’re not being careful of our thoughts, our brains will do this all of the time. And although I’ve said this in past episodes, it’s worth repeating again; if your brain goes to this worst-case scenario, it doesn’t mean something’s gone wrong. It doesn’t mean that you’re making a wrong decision or that you’ll absolutely end up in that worst-case scenario. 

In fact, what it really means that you’re a human with a human brain. Your brain is simply trying to protect you. It is trying to keep you safe. It’s been doing a really good job of this for thousands of years, and because your new goal or the new job or the new idea that you’re considering is different from what your brain is used to, it’s doing the same thing now.  It’s afraid, and it’s trying to protect you by imagining the worst-case scenario so you stay with what’s familiar and safe.

Alright, so that’s number one. We are afraid of the unknown, which makes our brain jump down the rabbit hole into the worst-case scenario. 

Worry About What Other People Think

Now often times when we’re falling down that rabbit hole, we also start entertaining the second fear of failure, which is worrying about what other people think. And let me tell you, this is a big one. 

When we’re struggling with the worry about what other people will think, so many of us avoid putting ourselves out there to try something new. We squash down our dreams and our goals. And we’re often afraid to even be ourselves. 

And when it comes down to it, most of these fears stem from the familiar question: “what will people think?” We’re worried about being judged. We’re worried that people will talk about us behind our backs. Maybe we’re are worried about disappointing people we love.

And for so many of us, it is this fear of what other people might think that stops us from pursuing our dreams. So instead, we stay with the status quo. We do what everyone else is doing. We stick with what is “normal.” And we stick with what is safe. 

And I’m not saying it’s bad to take into account outside opinions, especially if that opinion comes from someone you respect and someone you have a close relationship with. However, that’s usually not who we are thinking about when we think to ourselves: what will people think?

Instead, when we think of “people,” it’s often just some vague idea of “them” or “they.” Or maybe it’s that one high school friendemy on Facebook or that colleague of yours you see during the weekly meetings. 

What Will People Think Questions

So whenever I find myself spiraling out in this fear about what other people think, I generally like to pause and actually answer that question. What will people think if I fail? 

Maybe they’ll think I am crazy for trying. Maybe they’ll think I am reckless for going after that goal. Or maybe they’ll think I am stupid because I couldn’t figure out how to do this thing or that thing.

Once I figure out what it is that I think other people will think about me (it’s very meta), I then get really honest with myself. And I ask, so what? So what if they think that? So what if they think I’m reckless? And so what if they think I’m stupid? So what if they think I’m crazy for trying? Is that actually impacting me? Does their opinion actually matter? 

Because here’s the truth: the only time their opinion matters is if you decide to let it matter. And we’ll talk about this more in a bit.

You Don’t Know What Other People Think

But first, perhaps the most mind-blowing thing about this second concern of “what will other people think?” is that you have zero ideas of what other people will actually think. ZERO. Unless someone tells you, “I think this about what you just did.” you don’t know. And even then you don’t really know, because they could be lying.

Do you know what you do know? You know what you think. And as I mentioned, that is the third component when we think about our fear of failure. What will I think if I fail?

What Will I Think If I Fail

Because here’s the deal… If you look back to the thoughts that you think other people will have about you if you fail, the reality is that YOU are the one thinking those things. You are the one thinking, “if I fail, it means I was crazy for trying.” Or “I was reckless for going after that goal.” Or “I was too stupid to figure out how to make it work.” 

You’re the one choosing these thoughts. You are the one telling yourself that story. And you are the one drawing that conclusion. 

But here’s the best news: you get to decide what you think every time. And we’re going to talk about this more in just a minute. 

The Worst That Can Happen Is A Feeling

But before we do, I want to explore one more crucial thing about these three categories. And this is perhaps the most freeing and life-changing piece of information that I can give you. 

So here it is: in every situation, the worst thing that can happen to you is a feeling. When you strip away all of your fears down to their very core, it all comes back to a feeling. Because as humans, we are driven to move toward pleasure and away from pain. 

Let me explain what I mean.

Negative Feelings

Let’s say that you want to write a book. Let’s say that you set a goal for yourself, and you really want to get started. But you have this fear holding you back. 

You keep thinking of all the worst-case scenarios that might happen. You’re worried about what everybody will think about you. And you’re worried about what you will think about you. 

But when you really stop and think about it. And when you ask yourself “so what” after every excuse you give, it always comes back to avoiding a negative feeling. 

Let me play it out for you. This might be what your brain is saying as you consider going after a goal. I’m going to use the example of writing a book, but you can put in any goal that you want as you think about it in your situation.

Avoiding Negative Feelings Example

So you think to yourself: I really want to write a book. This would be so awesome. I think I’m going to make that my “impossible goal” for the year. By December 31st of this year, I am going to write a book.

But then your primitive brain starts sneaking in. And it thinks, but what if I can’t do it? What if I spend all of this time working on the book and it doesn’t work? And what if I shop around for publishers and editors and I pour my heart and soul into this book, and nobody will publish it for me? Then I will have wasted so much time and people would know that I just couldn’t cut it. 

And I suppose I could do self-publishing… But what if I put the book on Amazon and I get horrible reviews? What if people just tear it apart because it’s the worst book ever? Or worse yet, what if nobody ever reads it? It would mean that I not only have wasted an entire year working toward a worthless goal but also that I’m a total failure for trying.

I would be absolutely humiliated and feel so much shame for going after something that I can’t do.

Do you see how this plays out? Your brain goes straight into the worst-case scenario, it jumps to what everybody else will think, and then it jumps to what you will think. And when it comes down to it, the worst thing – the very worst thing that would happen to you – would be feeling humiliation and shame.

Reality Check

But let me remind you, that this is the worst-case scenario. How often does the worst-case scenario actually happen? Pretty much never. Yet we still avoid it, because we are not willing to risk the chance of experiencing humiliation or shame. So instead, we play it safe. And we don’t go after that goal. And instead, we’re stuck with wondering whether we could ever do it.

Feel your Feelings

But when you stop and think about it, what are humiliation and shame? They’re feelings. They are simply vibrations in your body. 

In fact, take a minute and create a feeling of humiliation or shame in your body right now. Can you do it? What does it feel like? 

For me, my face gets a little bit hot. I get a rush that runs through my body. My chest gets tight. And sometimes I get a little bit nauseous. That’s humiliation and shame. That is what is keeping me from going after my dreams. Feeling my face get hot, a rush through my body, a tight chest, and a maybe little nausea.

You Can Feel Any Emotion

And today I’m here to suggest that you, my friend, can feel anything. And when you are willing to feel anything, you are able to go after your goals with so much more confidence and openness.

Let me give you another example. Maybe you want to go all-in on a side hustle of yours. You’re super passionate about it, you know you have something incredible to offer, and you really want to get it out in the world to help others. But then your brain starts going into the worst-case scenario.

You start thinking to yourself, what if I can’t get any customers? What if people tell me that this product is junk? What if I can’t get anybody to buy it? Or what if I invest a whole bunch of money into the product, and I reach out to a bunch of potential buyers, and nothing happens?

What if I lose a bunch of money and a bunch of time? People will think that I just can’t cut it. People will think I should have stayed with my other business that was safer. And people will judge me for being reckless. And worst of all, I will feel so disappointed in myself. I’ll feel inadequate and incapable. And I’ll feel super embarrassed.

But again, even if this does happen…even if you do go all-in on your side hustle and it doesn’t pan out the way you expected, the worst-case scenario all comes down to a feeling once again.

The worst-case scenario is feeling disappointment and inadequacy. It’s a sinking feeling in your stomach and a heaviness across your chest. That’s it. And you can feel that. You can do that. Because you are capable of feeling anything.

You Get to Decide How You Feel

Now, of course, these feelings don’t feel great. It’s not like, “Yay! I love feeling shame.” But the first point I want to make is that you are capable of feeling these emotions. And they’re not going to kill you.

But here’s even better news. You get to decide how you feel. 

Every single day, and with every single experience, you get to decide how you feel about it. You get to decide how you think about that failure. And today I want to suggest, that maybe you don’t look at it as a failure at all.

Because you are the person who gets to decide when you failed. 

It’s Only Failure When You Give Up

Now, in my opinion, failure only happens when you give up. It’s only failure when you stop working toward that goal. 

Just because it took you longer to write that book. Or just because your side hustle didn’t take off as quickly as you expected that it would, it doesn’t mean that you failed. It just means that you need to do some course correction. It means that you need to learn from the experience, make some tweaks, and try again. It’s all part of the process.

And this goes back to one of my favorite quotes, which is that you are either winning or you are learning. You are never failing. The only time that you fail is when you quit. And even then, I would say it’s not necessarily a failure. Because you can always pick it up again. You can always start again.

The Ball is in Your Court

In fact, the most empowering thing about this situation is that you get to decide how you think and feel and act in every situation. You get to decide what each of these experiences mean to you. 

And when you decide how you want to think about the situation, you also get to decide how you feel about it. You get to decide whether you feel shame because you completely messed up and didn’t reach your goal by your original timeline. Or you get to feel a sense of pride, because you took a chance, you learned a ton, and you’re excited to take what you learned, adjust your sails, and keep moving toward that end goal. You get to decide.

What if it’s Not a Failure?

So really, hear me on this. What if you were able to look at your perceived failures in another way? What if you were able to see them as opportunities? Or what if you could see them as a lesson? How might you show up differently in that situation?

Let’s try something, shall we? I want you to think about the last failure that you experienced. It can be a big failure or a small failure. It doesn’t matter. Maybe you failed to follow through on getting to the gym 5 times this past week like you wanted to, or maybe you failed to reach your 2019 goal. Whatever it is, think about the last failure you experienced. Pull that up in your mind right now.

Think About a Past Failure

How does this failure feel in your body? What are you feeling? Is it frustration? Disappointment? Shame? Embarrassment? Name that feeling, and then describe how it’s feeling in your body. Is it a heaviness? Is there a tightness in your chest? Or is it hot or cold? What color is it? How does it feel?

And now that you’ve identified how it feels, I want you to pause and consider what you’re thinking. What are you thinking about this failure? What are you making this failure mean about you? Are you thinking, “I knew I couldn’t do that. I’m so stupid for even trying.” Are you thinking, “clearly, I’m not good enough to reach that goal.” Are you thinking, “ should have known better, I never reach my goals.” Take a minute and identify what it is you are thinking about that situation.

And then I want you to tune in and ask yourself, what do I do when I’m feeling this way and thinking this way? What do I do when I’m feeling disappointed because I’m thinking to myself, “I should have known better, I never reach my goals.” 

Do you shut down? Do you stop working toward your goal? Maybe you distract yourself with social media or getting a snack or online shopping. Do you find more reasons to reinforce your belief that you never reach your goals? Do you search back to your past to find more proof that you can’t reach your goals? What do you do when you’re thinking and feeling this way?

Reinforcing Your Belief

And similarly, what don’t you do when you’re thinking and feeling this way? When you’re thinking to yourself, “I should have known better, I never reach my goals.” And you feel super disappointed, what don’t you do? My guess is that you don’t keep working toward your goal. My guess is that you don’t think about new ways to approach your goal. And I’m guessing you don’t reach out for help or for advice on how to move forward and get over this hurdle. Instead, you throw in the towel.

And do you know what else you’re doing? You’re proving your original thought true. You are proving the thought that “I never reach my goals” true. Because not only did you not reach the goal by your original timeline, but you also start spinning out in procrastination and negative thought loops without taking action or finding different ways to move forward.

Take a Moment and Reflect on This Concept. It’s Everything.

And I know this is a lot of information coming at you all at once. But I do want you to spend a little bit of time thinking about this. Really tune in to a time that you had a perceived failure. What are you making that failure mean about you? How are you feeling? How are you showing up when you’re feeling that way? And is it serving you? 

Because I’m guessing that it’s not. Call it a hunch, but I’m guessing that beating yourself up and thinking that you’re a failure is not moving you forward.

But again, there is good news here. Because I want to suggest to you that this experience you’re thinking about is not actually a failure at all! 

In fact, what if you believed that this failure is just one bump in the road? What if it’s an opportunity to learn? What if that failure was supposed to happen in order to teach you something as you reach that ultimate end goal? Because in my opinion, this seems like way more likely of a situation. 

Reframe Your Failure

So now I want you to think back to that same experience. Think back to that same perceived failure. But now, I want you to ask yourself: “How is this experience perfect?” “What lesson can I learn about this experience to help me move forward?” “How can I apply this lesson to my situation now?” And really spend some time thinking about these questions. 

Grab Your Free Workbook

And as a side note, I made a free workbook to go along with these questions. They’ll help you take a perceived failure, think about it in different ways, understand what you’re making it mean now, and consider alternative viewpoints that will serve you better and get you moving toward that end goal. So if you want to grab that workbook, just head to the show notes at imbusybeingawesome.com/episode26 – all one word – and it will be waiting for you.

Recent vs. Past Failures

Now I do want to note that if this experience – this perceived failure – is fairly recent, it might be a little bit more difficult for you to see the situation through a different lens. It might be more challenging to see that situation as an opportunity for growth and learning. And that’s okay. 

You might first try this exercise with a failure that happened farther back in the past to really help you understand how you can look at it differently and uncover those lessons. 

But if you are working through a more current failure, give yourself some grace. Think to yourself, “there is a lesson in here somewhere, and I’m figuring out what it is.” 

You may not feel gratitude for the experience yet, but you can remind yourself that there is a lesson here. So really tune in to what you’re telling yourself. What are you making this situation mean about you? And how are all of those thoughts making you feel? 

Allow yourself to feel that feeling. Describe it. How does it feel in your body? And are these thoughts and feelings about the situation, about that perceived failure, serving you? And if they’re not serving you, how might you think about the experience differently? What is the lesson there? Because I promise you – there is one waiting to be uncovered. 

Get Outside Perspective

Again, if this is a new concept to you. Or if you’re working through a big obstacle or something that really threw you for a loop, it can be hard to see the circumstances as anything but a “major fail.” and that’s okay too. That’s perfectly normal. 

And in fact, it’s in situations like this that it’s really helpful to get that outside perspective. So if you are working through a situation like this, I would love to help you. Just head to imbusybeingawesome.com/freesession and sign up for a free 30-minute coaching call with me. We’ll talk through the situation, we will uncover what you’re thinking about it and what you’re making it mean. And we’ll uncover some of those lessons within the experience that will help you move forward and look at the situation in an entirely different light.

Learning Experience

I’m telling you, doing this exercise of looking at your past failures – both big and small – is really an illuminating experience. It helps you to think about your life in an entirely different way. And you learn so much about who you are and what you can do.

In fact, as I was thinking about this podcast and what I wanted to talk about today, I was considering some of the failures that I’ve experienced, and the ways that I like to think about them differently.

My Small Failure

For example, just recently, I have been exploring the world of Facebook ads a little bit. I’ve been doing research into how you run them, when it’s good to use them, what types of ads work better than others, etc. And there’s a lot of information to learn there. There’s really a science and an art to it. 

And the first time I ran a Facebook ad, it was horribly unsuccessful. I didn’t know how to target specific demographics, I was pretty much targeting everybody on Facebook, full stop. It was ridiculous.

Now, once I finished that first ad campaign, I was super tempted to just throw in the towel. I was thinking to myself, “clearly, I am not meant to do Facebook ads. Clearly I don’t know how to do this. Clearly this was a complete failure.” Not surprisingly, these were not helpful thoughts. They were making me feel incredibly discouraged and I was not finding the lessons within the experience.

Small Failure Lessons

But then I stopped and paused. And I asked myself, what are the lessons here? How is this experience perfect? What went right? And when I turned that situation on its head, and I looked at it from a completely different angle, I learned quite a bit. 

First of all, I was proud of myself for actually trying something new. And second of all, I learned a lot along the way. I did uncover more information about how to actually target my ads so I’m not trying to reach all of the humans in the world. I learned more about which ads work better in different situations. And I learned that running Facebook ads is a bit of trial and error and tweaking and changing things until you find what works for you. So it’s not a failure, it’s just learning and changing and trying again. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Large Failure 

And another experience that came up for me was quite a bit bigger. 

So when I was working toward my dissertation and I was just about finished with it, I was applying for a grant that provided sixth-year funding. The PhD program I was in was a five-year funded program, and if you weren’t done with your dissertation by year six, you didn’t have funding anymore. You could still continue, of course, but you weren’t getting the funding. 

So I worked on the grant  and I put in a bunch of work, and as you might guess, I didn’t get it. And I was super, super disappointed. I had worked so hard on that application, and I really thought that I was going to get it. And I was also feeling super stressed about how I was going to pay my bills while also finishing my dissertation. And I really saw this situation as a fail.

Large Failure Lessons

But when I look back on this experience, I now see it in an entirely different light. And in fact, I look back on it with a little bit of pride. Because when that experience happened, and I knew I wasn’t going to get the funding the following year, I doubled down. 

And instead of finishing it over the course of the sixth school year, I finished it by December — in four months. And I was doing it while also adjuncting courses at another University and I got a job working part-time in administration. 

So I got incredible teaching experience, I gained really useful administrative experience, and I finished my dissertation six months ahead of time. 

And perhaps most powerful of all, I learned that I can do really hard things. I learned that when I put my head down, and I do the work, I can do it. And that’s a lesson that I remind myself of almost every day. 

And if you ask me, that’s about as far from failure as you can get.

Your Challenge This Week

So again, I challenge you this week to look back and choose a handful of perceived failures that stand out in your mind, whether they are recent failures or far back in your past. And I challenge you to think about the lessons embedded within those experiences. Ask yourself, how is this perfect for me? How did this experience help me move forward? And how can I apply these lessons to my life today?

Because remember, the worst thing that can happen is a feeling. And you are so strong, my friend. 

And because you can feel anything, it also means that you can do anything. You’ve just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other, learning from your experiences, and moving forward one step at a time.

Rethinking Failure

So I hope that this episode helps you think about your past a little bit differently. I offered a survey on Facebook and Instagram recently, and I asked people what the number one thing was that was preventing them from pursuing their goals. And one of the responses that came up over and over was the fear of failure. It was the fear of the worst-case scenario, the fear of what other people would think, and the fear of what they would think about themselves.

But again, what if failure only happens when you stop trying? And what if all of your past perceived failures were actually experiences that taught you something about yourself or your situation? How might you look at that experience differently? 

Maybe instead of feeling fear or embarrassment or shame or discouragement, you instead see a past filled with courage and bravery for trying new things. Perhaps you see a past filled with curiosity and innovation. Maybe you see a past filled with incredible growth and self-development.

And I also hope that this episode helps remove some of the discomfort you might have around the idea of failure. I hope it helps you realize you can go for it. You can try new things. And you can take that leap. Because you can feel any emotion. And as the quote goes, you’re either winning or you’re learning, and both options are so beautiful.

6 thoughts on “How to Overcome Fear of Failure and Reach Your Goals”

  1. Thank you for going in depth on such an important topic which is keeping many including myself from achieving our dreams and reaching our full potential. Will be putting some of these great tips to practice!

  2. I love this post. I love that you say it’s only failure if you give up. I definitely used to have that fear of what people would think especially when I first started my coaching business.. I thought that people would judge me and say, well, her life’s not perfect, who does she think she is to be coaching other people? Thankfully I got over that pretty quickly. I focused on the life I wanted to create.

    1. Thank you, Wendy! And thank you for sharing that pearl of wisdom. I love your approach of focusing on the life you want to create rather than what other people think. SO good!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top