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Fear of Failure: Its Effects On Your Goals
If you’ve read the past two posts, you know that I’ve been ruminating on New Year’s goals ~ and why most of us never seem to achieve those goals. The first step, which we all seem to overlook and which I feel is bigger than any “actionable strategy” that we cook up, is to spend some time addressing our emotional core surrounding our goal(s). In my first post, we looked squarely and clearly at the issue we’re trying to change and took complete ownership of the situation we’ve created (translated another way: Not Blaming Anything or Anyone, including ourselves). Then we unearthed our underlying or subconscious beliefs surrounding our goals ~ viewpoints we weren’t even aware we had (i.e., I’ll always have to work hard; I’ll never meet the right guy; I’ll always be struggling with money.) Then we examined ourselves to see if we had any unrecognized emotional benefits as a result of not making a change, or if we might even be addicted to our struggle.
After examining all of that, take another moment right now and think about your goal. Still feeling stuck? What might be stopping you from moving forward?
Are you feeling the pangs of fear, perhaps?
Identifying our fears
Approaching a goal without acknowledging, identifying or sitting with your fear is like driving a car with the emergency brake on, trying to get somewhere consciously but unconsciously these negative feelings slow you down.
Stay with this feeling for a moment. What could be fueling this fear? Fear of Failure? Or perhaps even fear of Success?
Fear of failure
In today’s driven society, failure is often seen as unacceptable. We are encouraged to innovate but avoid making “mistakes”. When we fail, we may be threatened by some sort of punishment from employers, parents, significant others. This negative experience can lead to a fear of failure ~ it’s no wonder that most people are inclined to play it safe. Fear of failure is often disguised in many ways. For instance, fear of failure walks hand in hand with a fear of criticism. How often do you ask yourself: What will people think if I fail? Will they ridicule me? Will they label me as a failure? In the meantime, the pressure to be perfect leaves us tip-toeing through our lives or coasting on automatic pilot, feeling safe but stagnated—and not quite alive.
Fear of failure may also take the shape of procrastination. Do you wait until the last minute, so you have an excuse if you do fail? In doing so, you create the failure you hope to avoid.
Fear of failure can manifest as over-reaction. Are you angry or defensive? If you are afraid of failure, you might notice your reactions seem harsher than the situation merits. Is your fear causing you to react instead of respond to life?
Whatever way it comes to you, fear of failure tends to stop you starting at all, or gives you the reason to give up very early in the process.
Fear of success
On the flip side, fear of success is an equally potent trap. Logically it seems impossible to fear becoming successful but the prospect of attaining our goal can often trigger unexpected side effects. Thus it’s not fear of success itself that is the problem but rather fear of the side effects of success.
For example, let’s say your goal was to lose about 25 pounds and you succeeded. What kinds of reactions might you experience as a result? Perhaps people will notice and will comment about it. Other people might ask you for diet advice. You may feel you need to continue with a diet and become obsessed with your nutritional choices and that if you went off the diet, you would gain everything back. You may become more attractive to others and thereby attract more social encounters (wanted or unwanted). Overweight friends might become jealous. Your family may resist or try to thwart your changes. Anything else you’d like to add to this list?
The effects of fear
Whether your fear is the fear or failure or the fear of success, when you (even unknowingly) avoid working on your goal because of a hidden fear, you automatically reinforce the avoidance behavior. So in essence, you reinforce the habit of non-achievement, so as time goes by, it becomes harder and harder to get yourself to take action
Releasing ourselves from being powerless: Feel the Feelings
To release yourself from fear, you need to understand why you held onto being powerless for so long. As we’ve explored previously, there may be payoffs for holding onto less-than-successful realities and failing to change. An article in Psychology Today offered some fundamental questions to help you understand why, including:
• What do I hope to get out of pretending to be powerless?
• What do I get to avoid?
• Who do I get to punish or love?
• What emotion am I not willing to release?
• What guarantee am I holding out for?
• Am I manipulating with self-pity?
• Am I feeling better than or less than?
• What am I afraid of losing if I succeed?
Another key to releasing yourself from powerlessness is to feel your feelings. Sit with your goal(s) again. What emotions are coming up? What then do you do with that feeling? For even greater clarity, ask yourself: what were you taught to do when you felt fear or any strong emotion? Not many of us were taught to feel our feelings. When we don’t feel our feelings, that feeling recycles itself back into our selves and re-emerges stronger and more destructive. When we repress, we hold down this energy that wants to come out, which means we are not allowing ourselves to be in the state of flow. If we allow ourselves to feel the feeling, we can move into a state of acceptance; when we are in a state of acceptance, we are not struggling. As we repress negativity and emotion, we expend a lot of energy; we are actually making ourselves tired.
By repressing feelings, we are also not allowing ourselves to be in truth. If we lie to ourselves, we have nowhere to go. Be in truth about your feelings without succumbing to the mind’s fear of what’s happening and allow your courage to emerge.
Now, are you ready to make your dreams come true?