Fear of Failure

by | Apr 17, 2001

Fear of failure — you hear psychologists on “Oprah,” and elsewhere, talk about it all the time. What actually is it? Fear of failure is simply what it self-evidently appears to be. It is the fear of not achieving your goal or value in some context — specifically, the context of competence or efficacy (either […]

Fear of failure — you hear psychologists on “Oprah,” and elsewhere, talk about it all the time. What actually is it?

Fear of failure is simply what it self-evidently appears to be. It is the fear of not achieving your goal or value in some context — specifically, the context of competence or efficacy (either in general, or at some specific task). Sometimes, though perhaps less often, people fear failure in the interpersonal realm of relationships, as well.

Fear of failure can be rational or irrational, or have mixtures of both as emotions often do. When you experience a fear of failure, it’s important to acknowledge it to yourself. It’s also important to point out to yourself good objective reasons, if any exist, to expect success in the upcoming instance; and also to remind yourself of past successes.

Keep in mind that this technique only works as an ongoing monologue within yourself. There’s virtually no such thing as one-shot-deal psychological change. You obviously can’t point out your successes one time and expect the fear of failure to go away. If you try to escape this basic fact of human nature, and seek out nonexistent psychological shortcuts, you will lose out on the possibility of any genuine, realistic self-change.

Fear of failure is a problem only the extent to which you subconsciously (or even consciously) let it stop you from pursuing an objective that is life-serving and important to you. Psychologically, the more you let a fear become the primary factor in determining a course of action (or avoiding a course of action), the more that fear starts to overtake you. The bridge phobic, for example, finds that the more he avoids bridges, the bigger the phobia becomes. The same principle applies to irrational fear in general, not only phobia.

You also lose respect for yourself, just as you would properly lose respect for somebody else with talent and potential whom you saw consistently avoiding steps to advance his life because of neurotic, out-of-context fear. Don’t let fear ever take the driver’s seat. At most, keep some rational fear in the back seat. But your thinking, optimistic-yet-realistic mind must always be in control of your actions.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

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