7 ways to manage the fear of failure

Olga Garrido

When facing any change or perhaps especially in the world of entrepreneurship, the fear of failure is one of the most paralyzing. You may be risking your patrimony or your work reputation and the idea may make you feel a certain vertigo. We will not deny that failure is a possibility; according to statistics, only one in four companies survive the first year of life. So, without wishing to be pessimistic, if you’re thinking about starting up, you’ll most likely have to look at success as the least likely outcome. However, this article is to encourage you to do so, to take the plunge as if you don’t try, you’ll never know how far you could go. The idea is also not that you don’t have to be afraid, but that you accept it as natural and know how to manage it. Here are seven ways to help you get there:

  1. Question your beliefs around the concept of failure.

Ask yourself and answer honestly: What are you specifically afraid of? What do you think you can lose? What is the worst thing that can happen to you? Which has been your worst failure to date?

You remember, don’t you? Remember then that you did it, that you survived and that now you are here working on yourself and facing a new change with courage and decision. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as you pictured it at first, maybe it wasn’t as catastrophic as you thought at first, but it sure brought you experience and more wisdom.

In psychology and coaching, we don’t like to talk about failures or negative results, but about unexpected situations. You never know if a failure may hide an opportunity behind it. You know what they say that when a door closes a window opens and if we listen to the Rolling Stones: “you can’t always get what I want, you get what you need…”.

  1. Have confidence in your project, but above all, believe in yourself.

In this case we have to remember the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy, which tries to make predictions about the future based on our beliefs, so that we can then make decisions and act in such a way that this prediction becomes a reality, for better or for worse. This way of acting is summed up in a great way in Henri Ford’s quote: “whether you think you can do it or not, you will be right”.

In short, believe in yourself, keep the connection to the present and be optimistic about your project. Follow your intuition and above all do not take everything personally, keep in mind: you are not your “failure”, sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control that can make the results we get are not as satisfactory as we wanted. Accept it and persist.

  1. Start small, plan for quick wins.

The law of inertia says that a moving object will keep moving, so much of the effort will be in getting going, then everything becomes easier.

Keep the dopamine up. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitter hormones that make up the happiness quartet, as it influences the feeling of pleasure. This substance is released when we receive a reward and consequently helps to keep motivation up. So, go ahead and plan simple, short term tasks that facilitate quick wins. Keep “start quick and fail cheap” as your mantra. I’m not just talking about money, take into account the time you spend on your project, don’t stop enjoying the experience and plan how to reward your self during the whole process.

  1. Normalize the error.

Despite in many occasions, the world is far to be perfect neither humans are perfect, we wait for results to be perfect. This, besides being boring, is unrealistic and the surest way to frustration. And no, I am not saying that being a perfectionist is bad, on the contrary, I believe that, in its right measure, the ambition of continuous improvement is healthy and necessary. Just don’t let perfectionism slow you down or even block you.

In this case, one technique I propose is to quantify the error, that is, if 100% is your ideal situation, expect a 10, 20 or 30% error. Or the other way around, predict a 90, 80 or 70% success rate, you can leave margin for improvement afterwards. For example, imagine that you have to finish a job in a week, give yourself a day or two of margin. Or if you have calculated a budget for your holidays and you can afford it, calculate 10% for those unforeseen events that may arise. Quantifying will help you rationalize and not panic in the face of adversity.

  1. Look for support and examples.

You can always learn from the experience of others, that will save time, so read books, but above all socialize, search for role models, expand your support network. Find a mentor, someone who has already succeeded or, why not, failed so can provide you with valuable learning. And delegate as much as you can, why do you think companies invest millions of euros in having the best professionals and advisors? Well, because nobody can do everything alone. Yes, doing everything yourself may make you feel in control of the situation, but that will simply be an illusion. Doing this, will multiply your chances of failing because of your lack of experience or because you will be more distracted, since you will have to deal with more issues at once. Focus on what you know how to do well and direct your resources to it (mainly your time which is limited).

  1. Review your success stories.

Reflect on your past experiences, especially those that represent the achievements of those you are most proud of, and ask yourself: what skills did you put into practice? what aspects of yourself made a difference? how did what you did help others? what did you do that you originally thought you would not be able to do? what fear did you overcome?

Think about it when doubts make appearance.

  1. Focus on learning.

Since our first experiences, many of the lessons we learn are by trial and error. Mistakes are key to our learning process. How about keeping a journal? A journal can serve as a travel companion and give you the opportunity to record your opportunities for improvement and your learning. It will allow you to be confronted to your thoughts on and organize your ideas. On the other hand, if you don’t achieve what you originally planned, you may still have a good story to tell (or even something to show to those who come after you). What do you think?

I hope this post has been useful to you and provides you with useful tools to know yourself and manage your internal language and emotions better.

To finish I would like you to share your thoughts with me, so I´ll ask you a question, included in the famous book “Who moved my cheese” by Spencer Johnson:

And what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

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