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Overcoming a Fear of Failure
Atychiphobia is a fear of failure.
How to overcome your fear of failure.
Atychiphe Ancient Greek ‘tuchè’, meaning ‘luck’ or ‘chance’, and the negating prefix ‘a-‘, together meaning ‘misfortune’, and ‘Phobos’ meaning fear or panic.
The fear of failure is something that we have probably all experienced at some point in our lives. It’s a protective thing, something that keeps us from taking dangerous risks. In many ways, all phobias stem from this basic drive for survival. For some reason, however, in some people, this sensible, understandable behaviour, becomes extreme, persistent and life-limiting.
It’s useful to reflect on the idea that many of our behavioural responses evolved during a time when humans were struggling for survival on some long-lost savannah. The responses we developed then served us well when we were uncertain about what was lurking in the grass, or just at the edge of our settlement. In fact,, because our ancestors had such self-preservation instincts they were the ones who passed their genes on to us.
Although we now live in a very different environment, we still have the deepest seated behavioural mechanisms of our very successful ancestors.
So, we can consider a fear of failure as something that stops us from taking risks, or stepping out of and particular comfort zone.
Comfort zones are, well, comfortable and can induce inertia which results in stagnation. It can be argued that life is about taking risks and, by definition, facing the risk of failing.
Those folks who have Atychiphobia are not just risk averse, but are immobilized by any situation, idea or environment which presents even the slightest chance of failure.
Whilst there are numerous phobias, there is a commonality to phobic responses. These include raised heartbeat, laboured breathing, hyperventilating, tenseness often to the point of immobility and uncontrollable panic. Body chemistry runs amok with adrenaline driving this cycle of fear. At the same time, the mind is working hard to create worse-case scenarios of what could happen which serve to feed the fear.
Sufferers of Atychiphobia are not really helped by statements such as…
“Failure is feedback” or “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.
Indeed, many non-Atychiphobia sufferers, those of us who are simply scared about failing, may not be served by such apparent platitudes, no matter how much the self-help gurus and coaches like to use them.
The challenge is that there is a perception that failure is more obvious, or even more public, than success.
This perception can be fostered during our formative years in school, where the idea of “failing” tests or exams become even more cemented. The potential humiliation of having the lowest score in the class test becomes the source of future attitudes to risk.
Education systems often exist by creating definitions of “good” and “failing” students.
As a teacher trying to get learners to recognize that not having the answer is far more exciting than simply knowing it was an uphill struggle.
If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” - Ken Robinson
In a society where we are seemingly rewarded for succeeding and for striving to reach our potential (whatever that is) it’s not that surprising to find many of us (in different contexts) seeking the comfort of the comfort zone.
Fearing the fear of failure itself.
Failure can be felt as a kind of “exposure”, displaying weaknesses, something those ancient savannah dwellers inside of us are very wary of.
How do you know if the fear of failure is getting in your way?
Seems like an obvious question, but the “signs” may go well beyond feeling stressed and procrastination.
Here are some things to notice and may signal that it would be good for you to take some action.
Feeling a sense of hopelessness about the future.
Continually worrying about doing the “wrong” thing.
Very concerned about what others will think of you if you are seen not to be doing well.
Easily distracted. Being taken off task by irrelevant or unimportant things.
Avoiding any task or people associated with your projects or stated goals.
A whole “host” of physical symptoms which will prevent you from working towards a stated goal or on a stated project. These symptoms can include fatigue, insomnia, headaches, digestive issues, and joint and muscle pain. The same symptoms are associated with chronic stress.
6 things you can do to help you overcome the fear of failure.
Think about your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Try to understand where your fear of failure is coming from. Do you have any specific experiences from your early home, school or working life when a “failure” resulted in ridicule?
What were the attitudes of those around you in your formative years to risk-taking, trying and possibly failing.
When we set goals we are encouraged to focus on the positive outcomes we want. However, we also need to consider the potential risks of any venture. Considering them in a balanced way may help you preempt them, and plan for them.
Ask yourself what would be the worst possible outcome of failure.
Would you survive?
Quite likely, you’ll discover that, while perhaps unpleasant, you would survive your imagined worst-case scenario and continue to move forward.
Revisit the statements like “there is no such thing as failure, its all feedback” and explore what they really mean.
A chance to learn and grow
A challenge that can be met and overcome.
A temporary glitch.
It’s also important to “own” your results so that “you” can change your tactic, approach or preparation.
What is success to you?
Many people seek to define their success in terms of comparison with others. They want to be “as good as” or “better than”. The problem here is that they are inviting that comparison which makes failure more of an issue.
By owning your own success you know that your are your own benchmark. “You are doing better this week than you did last week” is a more useful way to talk about your progress.
If you don’t do as well this week, in comparison to the previous one, you can start to honestly look for possible reasons within your own resources.
When you are using others as your benchmark its all to easy to fall back on the excuse that “they” are obviously smarter, brighter, more able that you.
Remember, you ARE worthy of Success.
If you are working through your fear of failure, you are also working through the thoughts you have about yourself. So work on turning those perceived shortcomings about yourself into a consideration of your strengths and talents. In doing so you will automatically start to define areas for self-improvement.
Learning techniques which can calm and centre your mind and body will really help.
When you start to feel fear or anxiety taking hold bringing your mind to the present can stop the thoughts and feelings escalating and spiralling out pf control.
Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and meditation are all wonderful ways to decrease stress. At the same time, place more emphasis on your diet, sleep, and exercise to get your body in its best state.
Mindfulness practice will also help you manage your thoughts and your self-talk so that your mind ceases to become a whirlwind of negative self-talk or worries about what “has” happened in the past or “may” happen in the future.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapies and Mindfulness Approaches have proven to be useful in exploring your fear of failure, and indeed other phobias.
The usefulness of these techniques is that they help you deal with the inter-connected triad of Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviours.
Each element in this triad is linked to the others.
Your thoughts affect your feelings which in turn influence your behaviours. Similarly, your behaviours affect your thoughts and your feelings.
Understanding the nature of these elements and how they are linked within your psychology can bring you the ability to better manage your mind.
Thanks for reading.
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