Fear of Failure: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Have you ever avoided applying to a job because you assumed you wouldn’t be hired?

Have you ever not asked someone out since you thought they’d say “no”?

Yesterday I had a client say, “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist.” This stuck with me and got me thinking about the fear of failure. Why do we let our fear of something that hasn't happened get in the way of our happiness? Why does our anxiety feel more real to us than the goal we’re trying to achieve?

Before I awakened to my truth, I played small. I avoided taking action on things even if they seemed like a “sure bet.” No matter how amazing the goal or painful not achieving it was, I didn’t move. I felt stuck, unconsciously wishing to continue living in my potential just in case things didn’t work out. Eventually, I learned that the fear of failure ensures failure.

How it works:

When we have a fear, we focus on what we DON’T want to happen rather than on our desired outcome. It’s like driving on a highway, if you keep looking at the cement divider, you’ll crash into it. To get to your destination, you have to look ahead.

Why we do it:

As children, our fears keep us safe. We assign meaning to events in order to make sense of the world. It’s necessary as our brains try to make rules around things to give us a feeling of certainty. As children, it protects us. As adults, it limits our growth.

For example, if a child touches a stove and gets burned, he might assign a few meanings to it:

  • Don’t touch a hot stove
  • Avoid stoves entirely

Same protection in the short term, different outcomes in the long term.

The fear of failure is no different. It's a protective measure that no longer serves you. And, much like the driving example, we attract whatever our inner dialogue says. We find evidence that our fear of failure serves us. Why? Because we’d rather be right than be happy. We’d rather believe that our assessment of the world is correct. We would rather bring in the same people and relive the same events than think that our core beliefs could possibly be wrong.

But they are. And it’s time to embrace that.

  • What’s the cement divider you’re looking at instead of the road ahead of you?
  • How has it protected you?
  • What action would you take if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Share your story in the Comments section below or email me at Amita@AlignedHolistics.com