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How to Overcome the Fear of Failure?

The subconscious ways Fear affects our actions and what can be done


Illustration by Freepik storyset

Adam Smith in his book “The Bravest You” identifies Fear of Failure as one of the top fears that are holding us back from success.

The Fear of failing at something is no.1 on the list of reasons why people don’t set new goals or try new things. A survey conducted by Linkagoal found that people fear failure much more than they fear ghosts! Another study conducted in 2018 found that 33% of Americans do not start a new business because of the Fear of Failure. While the cost of Failure has rapidly come down over years, psychologically we still perceive Failure the same way we used to perceive snakes and tigers.

The Invisible Influence

One of the challenges with Fear of Failure is that it operates at a subconscious level. Since many times this fear is invisible to us, many of us don’t even know that it’s affecting our actions. It’s like we are groping in the dark and no idea what is tripping us. This would explain why people stop taking action on fitness, financial, and career goals despite having high intent and need.

While there has been a lot of talk around fear of failure and how people faced and conquered it, the steps to breaking it is not very clear. The solution seems intuitive to the individual, different for each person, and usually, people have to go through the process of trial and error to figure this out by themselves.

Can there be a better way to do this?

Can we give people a torchlight so that they can at least have an idea of what is tripping them?

Illustration by Storyset

The Fear Cycle

At Konvos, we work with people across different age groups and backgrounds to understand how emotions operate inside our minds and how it affects our actions. Based on our research, we realized that a structured way of looking at our complex emotions is to understand the relationship between the triggers, emotions, self-talk, and actions.

The Fear Cycle

While this Fear Cycle simplifies our emotional process to an extent, it is useful because we now have tangible variables to control our emotions. For example, let’s say you have a fear of ghosts. Now, an old haunted house can trigger your fear. You will then start feeling anxious, nervous, and jumpy. And if you are a little aware of your Self-Talk, you will observe your inner voice asking you to walk or run faster, to leave the place ASAP. You getting away from the house is the action inspired by your fear. Of course, in reality, all these happen in few seconds.

A little pause on our inner experiences can help us be aware of these critical aspects of emotion.

Now, that we know this, we can do multiple things to de-escalate a fear. Let’s take your Fear of Failure —

1. Triggers — You could start identifying the triggers that remind you of failing and be more aware of them. For example, whenever you think of a deadline for a presentation, you might worry about how failing at it could be disastrous to you. What can be done? Tagging your fear by a name is a good place to get started. For example, whenever I have to make a customer call, I call the nervous energy “Jumpy Jack”. I would say to myself — “Jumpy Jack, just relax. I know why you are nervous. Come back later when I have more time”. This is a CBT-based technique to depersonalize emotions in order to distance them.

2. Emotions — While being mindful can work for some, for others, it could be too much to handle. While not fighting the emotions can help, not everyone is privileged enough to achieve this level of control initially. So telling ourselves re-affirming statements like “I know it's bad, but I have gone through worse and can come out stronger” can help give us some emotional relief. A warning though — positive re-affirmations alone have a very short shelf period.

3. Self-Talk — Now this is an area where we could do a lot. While saying “ I don't care about failing” a million times is not going to make much of a difference, there are more intelligent ways to use our self-talk. Can you identify the kind of self-talk that escalates your fear? Can you be aware whenever you say negative things to yourself? Can you identify symptoms in your body and mind when you go through this emotion? We could use various “Reframing” techniques to change the game. For example, “what would you advise yourself from a friend’s point of view?” is a simple third-person reframing technique that could help you change the way you see a problem, helping you to distance your fear. Konvos self-talk training app uses 96 of such Reframing techniques to help you reduce the power of your negative emotions.

4. Actions — Having specific actions-based self-talk statements can help greatly. Usually, when you are feeling fear, the mind space to think of new ideas or the energy to attack the fear intuitively is low. Having specific constructive self-talk-based actions ready for such situations can greatly help. This helps you get out of the Fear Loop. For example, tennis superstar Novak Djokovic focuses specifically on serving aces every time he lags behind in a big game. Serving aces is something he practices a lot during training and when he’s down he focuses on this activity till he gains control over the game.

source: Facebook. An example of Reframing

A key element of breaking our overwhelming fears is practice. Get started with our interactive rituals to practice breaking your fear of failure.

The Paradigm Change

One of the biggest issues with changing our mindset is that we can’t solve the problems the same way we created them. If thinking and rumination are how we got stuck with fear, we can’t do the same and expect something different to happen. A paradigm change is needed. We need specific action-based interactions with our invisible fears for us to have control over them.

The biggest challenge we have with difficult thoughts and emotions is introducing new thoughts to replace existing ones. If not practiced in advance, this strategy seldom works. This is why rumination creates more rumination causing an endless Fear loop. At Konvos, by changing the paradigm from thinking to trigger-based action, we enable you to practice effective ways to self-regulate and self-manage.

Conclusion We learn almost all our emotional habits from our environment. Since this is subconscious we don’t know if we are learning the right or wrong emotional behaviors.

There is an underlying structure to our emotional challenges. Mental frameworks we all share can sometimes turn our minds against ourselves. We can use the same patterns to break our mental barriers. Instead of isolating people with mental barriers, we can use a shared struggle towards problems as a way to bring people together.

Try our Self-talk training app to get better control of your emotions.

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