Having a fear of failure can be crippling. It will hold you back from reaching your potential in every area of life: Where you could have success and peace of mind, you will have anxiety. That is why, if you do have a fear of failure (and you might not even know that you do), it is important to know that you can overcome it with some direction and a little hard work.
In this article, I will show you how a simple journal can become an incredibly effective tool to help you overcome your fear of failure and prepare yourself for growth, success, and peace of mind.
Do You Have a Fear of Failure?
First of all, it is important to recognize that we probably all have a fear of failure that we need to overcome in some aspect of our lives.
If you say yes to any of the following questions, you likely have a fear of failure, at least to some degree:
- Do you ever give up when things get tough?
- Do you wish you had more grit, determination, tenacity, or sticktoitiveness?
- Have you caught yourself getting jealous of people who have found success in the very thing you gave up on years ago?
- Do you find yourself wishing you had the success of other people?
The reality is that we probably all fear failure in some aspects of our lives.
But, if you’re afraid of failing, your chances of succeeding in whatever you undertake in life is greatly diminished.
It’s funny, successful people are almost never the most talented, smartest, or best-looking.
More often than not, successful people are simply the ones who never gave up.
But when you’re afraid of failure, it can be pretty tough to resist the urge to give up.
So what if I told you that there are things you can start doing today that would help you to get over your fear of failure and find success in whatever you’re doing, even when the going gets tough?
Well, there are.
If you never want to be frustrated with yourself for quitting again, you need a mindset-shift.
Have you ever met someone who thinks they’re a unique, little snowflake, sent by God to make life better?
There are a lot of them out there, so I’m guessing you probably know at least one or two.
And I think we can all agree that they are pretty annoying.
But did you know that when those people were first being told how special they were as kids, that was thought to be the best way to prepare them for success in the real world?
It’s pretty hard to believe now, but it’s true; twenty or thirty years ago, everyone thought the key to success in life was in positive re-enforcement.
The thinking went something like this: If we tell ourselves and our children how special we are, we will increase everyone’s self-esteem and we will all have the confidence to take on the world.
So, people started trying to convince themselves that they are unique snowflakes, and that the world needs them.
But, after two or three decades of this, psychologists now recognize that things are not quite so simple. Boosting your self-esteem doesn’t make you a better problem-solver, and it doesn’t prepare you to persevere when things get tough – which they inevitably will.
Instead, psychologists now talk about the importance of developing a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset. A growth mindset prepares you to overcome obstacles in your life, find more success and meaning and, ultimately, be happier.
It’s not a matter of skill or talent, or even luck. The most important factor for success is determination.
Developing a growth mindset is key for overcoming a fear of failure.
But how do you get yourself a growth mindset?
What is a Growth Mindset?
Before getting into how to develop a growth mindset and overcome the fear of failure, it is important to first say a few words about what a growth mindset is.
First of all, a mindset is the established set of attitudes a person has about any aspect of life.
A mindset is not about intelligence or skill; it is only about your attitude.
This means it is something anyone can change and improve.
While you can’t change how tall you are, you can still improve your chances of becoming a pro basketball player by improving your mindset.
In her book, Mindfulness: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck identifies a key distinction between the attitudes successful people have and the attitudes the rest of us have.
She calls them growth mindset and fixed mindset.
A growth mindset thrives on challenge. When you have a growth mindset, you see success as the result of hard work and careful planning, and you see failure as an opportunity to gain new experiences, to improve your abilities, and to expand your skillset.
In contrast, people with a fixed mindset think that intelligence, creative abilities, and character cannot change substantially. They see success as an indication of their abilities and self-worth, while failure becomes an indication of their inability to succeed.
With a growth mindset, success and failure aren’t tied to your identity and self-worth.
With a fixed mindset, however, they are.
Which mindset you develop can have obvious effects on whether or not you have success in life.
Dweck draws the following conclusions:
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. If you have only a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character — well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them. It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.
I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves — in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?…
There’s another mindset in which these traits are not simply a hand you’re dealt and have to live with, always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.
Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.
People with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity to learn and improve, so they are eager to try new things.
On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset see failure as exposing their inadequacies, and so they shy away from taking risks because they are afraid of failure.
How do you Develop a Growth Mindset?
Okay, so it seems pretty clear that a growth mindset is important for success. But how can you start to develop a growth mindset in your own life?
The answer is actually really simple. It’s so simple, in fact, that you just might miss it.
Here it is: Start journaling.
I told you it was simple. All you need is some paper and a pen.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. You also need to make sure you’re doing the right kind of journaling.
Here are seven simple tips for using a journal to develop a growth mindset and overcome the fear of failure in your life.
1. Write Down Your Weaknesses and Failures
One of the most important things you can do to develop a growth mindset is to admit you have weaknesses.
Now, this can be easy in theory. Anybody can say, “I’m not perfect.”
But that’s not what I’m talking about.
You need to be specific.
I recommend that you write down 100 different specific weaknesses.
Trust me, it’s not easy to sit down and write out 100 weaknesses on a piece of paper. It makes you feel vulnerable.
But that’s the point.
If you have even a bit of a fixed mindset, writing out such a long list of weaknesses will almost certainly make you feel insecure.
But it is an important exercise. It is much easier to overcome your fear of failure when you have named those failures.
To be able to look at the finished list and identify the areas of your life that you need help with or need to improve upon can be the the most liberating thing.
You see, what’s really holding you back from success is not those 100 weaknesses, but your fear of having those weaknesses (and thus your inadequacies) exposed.
But once they’re written down, you’re already exposed. There’s nothing left to lose.
And that is freaking liberating.
2. Brainstorm Ways to Improve Your Weaknesses
Now that you have your list of 100 weaknesses, you need to look at that long list and tell yourself the following words:
This is not a list of my inadequacies. It is a list of areas in my life that I have the opportunity to improve.
Just as writing the list can be liberating because it helps you overcome your fear of being exposed, so also reviewing the finished list can be encouraging because it can help you to objectify your weaknesses.
Once they have been externalized on a document, they are no longer simply in your head. They are no longer a part of you.
Instead, your weaknesses become external to you. They become things you can look at and analyze. To overcome a fear of failure, it is important to to begin to see your weaknesses and failures as distinct from your own identity.
This means you can now begin to look at the list of weaknesses as opportunities for improvement.
3. Get Curious
You might have noticed above that one of the main differences between those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset is how people think about learning.
People with a growth mindset value learning. They look for any opportunity to learn new things and to improve their skillset.
If you have any aspects of a fixed mindset, you will probably have a hard time thinking of your failures as opportunities for learning. This is because, for you, your failures are indictments of your inadequacies.
But once you have your list of weaknesses written out and you’ve begun to think about this list as a set of opportunities to improve yourself, you need to get curious.
You need to go through the list one by one and begin answering the following questions for each item:
- Why do you think each item you entered is a weakness and not a strength?
- What concrete steps can you take today to improve upon this weakness?
- What plan can you put in place to help you improve upon this weakness in the long-term?
This will take a long time to accomplish, but I’m telling you, it is so worth it.
If you actually follow the steps I’ve laid out so far, you will begin to see a difference in yourself.
You will be more excited to take on new things. You’ll feel more confident, and you will begin to have success.
In short, you will watch yourself begin to overcome your fear of failure.
4. Hold Yourself Accountable
To successfully develop a growth mindset, you need to put a system of accountability in place.
Not doing this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.
You need to recognize that we all have aspects of a fixed mindset. And we have reinforced this mindset countless times every day for our entire lives.
If you don’t put mechanisms in place to hold yourself accountable to your new growth mindset, you will almost certainly revert back to a fixed mindset.
When you actually fail at something one, two, or six months down the road, you will want to take the failure personally. Your first reaction will be to feel exposed as inadequate.
So you need to fight to establish your growth mindset as your new ‘default’ position.
It takes a bit of work and a lot of commitment, but you can do this.
You need to commit to documenting your successes and failures every single day for the foreseeable future.
When you document your successes and failures every day, no matter how small they might be, you put yourself in the habit of viewing them as external things. You begin to break the bond between success/failure and your self worth.
5. Make an Action Plan
Reflection on where you’ve come from and where you are is essential, but if you want to develop a growth mindset going forward, you will need to find ways to practice having a growth mindset.
One good way to practice having a growth mindset is by committing to take on one task you expect to fail at every month and to document what you learn about yourself and how you are going to improve on your weaknesses.
If you do this, you will begin to see your fear of failure melting away and a new, confident self emerge. You will begin to find success in areas you previous thought you could not, and you will, ultimately, find greater peace of mind.
The fear of failure is crippling in every aspect of life. But many of us don’t realize it at work in our lives. And, if we do, we often don’t know how to overcome it.
But you don’t need to be held back by your feelings of inadequacy. By focusing on specific strategies, you can use a journal to develop a growth mindset, overcome your fear of failure, and begin a journey to a more confident, successful you today.
Now I want to hear from you. Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email if you’ve tried any of these techniques. I would love to hear how they’ve worked out for you.