From the Magazine

6 Tips to Help You Overcome Your Fear of Failure

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Worried that you won’t measure up? Surveys show it’s one of our biggest collective fears! We’ve tapped mental health experts psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D., psychotherapist and 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do ($7.89, Amazon) author Amy Morin, and psychologist Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., who specializes in the treatment of fear-based anxiety, for their advice on boosting your confidence and defining success on your terms. Find their proven tactics below. 

Believe in Yourself 

Before trying something new, it’s natural to ask ourselves, ‘What if I fail?’ Hendriksen says simply answering this question can help you to identify concrete steps for coping with any curveballs you might encounter. For example, if you volunteered to teach a knitting class at your local library, but were turned down, could you make the same “stitch pitch” at your local Y? Answering those “what ifs” with “I wills” removes a key source of fear: uncertainty. Says Hendriksen: “Just having a plan reduces anxiety and makes us feel prepared for anything.”

Give Yourself Permission

We all make mistakes, and allowing yourself to do so builds resilience, Hendriksen explains. Say you talked to someone new at a party, but called him by the wrong name as you chatted. Instead of sinking into a deep, dark hole of embarrassment, reassure yourself that it happens to everyone. “This creates a positive feedback loop,” says the How to Be Yourself ($12.87, Amazon) author. “If you stumble, you know you’ll pick yourself back up.”

Reward Your Courage

When you’re beating yourself up over a perceived failure, it’s easy to forget one vital fact: You were strong enough to try. “Reward yourself whenever you try something scary, such as speaking up in a meeting,” urges Morin. 

It could even be something as simple as treating yourself to a gourmet coffee! “A reward for trying reminds you that you’re courageous, which helps you overcome fear the next time you’re striving toward a goal,” Morin says.

Savor the Silver Lining

Reframing a negative situation in order to mine positivity from it is proven to boost confidence, confirms Manly. If a work project falls short of your expectations, for example, just ask yourself what you’ve gained from the experience. Did you meet new colleagues? Learn valuable lessons? Then maybe it wasn’t all bad. 

Explains the Joy from Fear ($13.76, Amazon) author, “Reframing helps nourish a positive attitude, so you can leave the past behind and say to yourself, ‘Onward and upward!’”

Celebrate the Journey

Take the pressure off your shoulders by setting a goal that’s centered on your process and not the end result, advises Hendriksen. For instance, instead of aiming to win a photo contest by year’s end, restate it as, “learn all I can about how to take the best photos.” Says Hendriksen, “You simply can’t fail when the goal is gaining valuable skills.”

Smile at the Future

Believe it or not, allowing ourselves to imagine the worst-case scenario is one of the most effective ways to overcome our fear of failure when it comes to our biggest goals. “In most cases, the worst outcome isn’t that bad after all,” says Manly. 

If you dream of writing a novel, for example, you might think the worst thing would be that not a single person will read it. That’s not realistic, and even if it were, you’d still have all the “fans” who really matter in the loved ones who will always support you. 

Says Manley: “Putting the ‘worst case’ in perspective shows you that ‘failure’ is often something that’ll help you grow and ultimately succeed.”

This story originally appeared in our print magazine. 

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