How to Overcome Fear of Failure?

Failure is not only common but necessary on the path to ultimate success. If we fear it too much, we will stop ourselves from trying to reach our goals in the first place. Here are five tips on how to overcome it;

  1. Be specific

Define what “failure” really means to you. For example, “I’ll totally freeze up in front of the class during my final presentation and get an F.”

Once your fear is sufficiently narrowed, it becomes much easier to understand it. It might even sound so far-fetched that it starts to seem silly, or even if it is likely to happen, “failure” may not be as catastrophic as you originally thought.

  1. Answer your “what if” question

Often, we’ll voice our worries with “what if” questions. These what-ifs are meant to be rhetorical, but to get over your fear of failure, go ahead and answer the question.

When you really answer the “what if” question, you come out the other side with a plan, which instantly makes things less scary.

  1. Stop visualizing success

Conventional wisdom says to make success yours by visualizing it. For example, to get your dream job, visualize putting your feet up in the corner office. Right? Not so much. A series of studies by psychologist Dr. Gabrielle Oettingen found exactly the opposite. Counterintuitively, when study participants visualized getting a job, the less likely those things were to happen.

Our positive visualizations are idealized versions of our goals. With this idealized image in mind, we’re not motivated to dig deep or focus our energy. Indeed, the more positive the fantasies, the less effort we invest in bringing them to fruition.

Oettingen pioneered a technique you might have heard of: mental contrasting. So in addition to picturing the achievement of your goal, also visualize the obstacles that stand in the way.

  1. Slow down

Shooting for the stars is admirable, but sometimes you have to cool your jets. Setting a punishing, sky-high goal seems like it should fire up your motivation but all it causes is procrastination and doubt.

So instead, set a goal about the process, not the end result.

  1. Failing is not the same thing as being a failure

When we claim to fear failure, what we truly fear is being a failure, which feels like something permanent and irredeemable. If you’re wearing the invisible “I’m a failure” hat, of course it’s hard to muster up the excitement and motivation to pursue your dreams.

By contrast, the experience of failure is temporary and changeable and even more importantly, universal. It doesn’t feel good while it’s happening but you always learn something, you know you’re not the only one who’s gone through this and you usually get the opportunity to regroup and come back smarter, stronger, and more versatile.


Oettingen, G., & Mayer, D.. The motivating function of thinking about the future: expectations versus fantasies.. Journal of personality and social psychology. 2002.

Oettingen, G., & Wadden, T. A. (. Expectation, fantasy, and weight loss: Is the impact of positive thinking always positive?. Cognitive Therapy and Research. 1991.

Kappes, H. B., & Oettingen, G.. Positive fantasies about idealized futures sap energy. . Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2011.

Article By: Catherine Ng’ang’a.

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