5 Signs You May Have Fear Of Failure

Everyone hates to fail. I have never met anyone who enjoys failing. We all dread it (I think). But for some people, failing presents such a significant threat to them that their motivation to avoid failure exceeds their motivation to succeed. I am one of those.

If you love planning, goal-setting etc as much as I do, you know how exciting it feels to sit down with a fresh planner or notebook and a hot cup of tea or coffee to map out your fab new life.

And if you love goal-setting as much as I do, you likely know how frustrating it feels to find yourself sabotaging your fab new life every chance you get!

If you are a perfectionist like me, you know very much that you always strive for perfection and flawlessness in everything in a bit to avoid failure.

And you also know how to procrastinate on tasks or avoid doing certain tasks if you are not sure you’d do them well– to avoid failing at it.

Everyone hates to fail. I have never met anyone who enjoys failing. We all dread it (I think).

But for some people, failing presents such a significant threat to them that their motivation to avoid failure exceeds their motivation to succeed.

I am one of those.

No matter how many times I have failed at something, I have still not mastered the “art” enough to know what to do without first falling apart and making the failure all about me, who I am, my worth and all.

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”
– Michael Jordan

So I try to avoid it.

This fear of failure causes me to unconsciously sabotage any chances I have at succeeding in any task, in a variety of ways.

According to Psychology Today,

“a fear of failure is essentially a fear of shame.”

People who have a fear of failure are motivated to avoid failing not because they cannot manage the basic emotions of disappointment, anger, and frustration that accompany such experiences but because failing also makes them feel deep shame.

I always wondered why I couldn’t follow through with my plans and I spent hours and hours scouring Pinterest and personal development experts on Instagram to find the answer.

But it wasn’t until I realized I had failure all tangled up with my self-worth that I was able to stop self-sabotaging.  The problem didn’t have anything to do with failure itself, the problem was that I was hellbent on avoiding failure.

Failure is:

” a lack of success in doing or achieving something, especially in relation to a particular activity.” — Collins Dictionary

“is the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success” — Wikipedia

You can see that none of these definitions says anything about the individual’s identity, self-worth, intelligence, etc.

But most of us use our failed attempts to judge our intelligence, self-worth and all. We make it about our identity so that it cripples us. So we try to avoid it.

Fear of Failure Might be born out of a “Fixed Mindset”

I learned from Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” that I had a “fixed mindset” rather than a growth mindset.

If you have a fixed mindset, things are either good or bad, black or white, you are either smart or dumb. Nothing in between. Nothing that allows room for improvement. But only emotions and thoughts that breed shame.

Because I saw failure as a direct reflection of my (lack of) self-worth, confidence, intelligence, hard work, etc.  I wanted it to be removed as a possibility completely.

I only did things that were guaranteed to succeed and the moment it looked like I might fail (or do something imperfectly), I abandoned it altogether.

And I still do this. But it is something I am working on.

To me, it was better to fail on purpose (by not trying or attempting anything at all) than to fail because I’d tried my hardest and still couldn’t get it to work (simply because it was less uncomfortable at the moment).

If I learned anything this year, it’s that fear is a normal part of life (I was not pleased about this realization).

But fear can be so sneaky that we don’t even realize it’s ruling our lives.

We tell ourselves stories and make excuses to justify our inaction, and they’re good. They’re really, really good! In fact, they’re so good that we can get to the point where we have NO idea we’re sabotaging ourselves.

Below,  I share some of the most common (and sneakiest) ways that fear of failure can show up in your life.

I hope it helps you become aware of how you might be sabotaging yourself in this light so you might begin figuring out how to change or overcome it.!

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5 Signs You Have Fear of Failure

1. You Worry…


Why else would you be afraid of failing, if it isn’t because of worrying? You are worried about so many things.

  • you worry about what other people think about you.
  • you worry about your ability to pursue your goals or the life you desire,
  • you worry that people will see you for who you really are (which is tied around your warped perception of you) and lose interest in you,
  • you worry about how smart or capable you are to handle a certain task and you avoid taking actions so you don’t have to prove to others if you are truly smart or not,
  • you worry about disappointing people whose opinion you value.

Action: Identify one area of your life that you have been ignoring or intentionally failing at because of worry and make a plan to risk failure or disappointments and begin taking action in that area!

2. You shrink your world

One way that we can manage our fear of failure (i.e. our fear of shame and humiliation) is to shrink our world or hide our true self, or lie to ourselves and others about who we are and what we are capable of,

so that we only do things we’re good at, things we can get good at quickly and things that are socially acceptable to be ‘bad’ at (like dieting and exercising).

By hiding our true self or shrinking our world, we can feel successful without having to leave our comfort zone and risk rejection.

The problem is that while it feels safe, it’s not satisfying. And by hiding who we are, we forgo opportunities to be challenged, to learn, to grow and to have a bigger impact on the world.

You might convince yourself you don’t want to start a business so you can never fail at it or be rejected by investors.

You might delay a creative project so you never have to be bad at it.

You might procrastinate on job applications so no one will ever say no.

You might convince people you aren’t good at something so you don’t dash their hopes.

You avoid showing up for anything so you don’t look unprepared

Hopefully, you can see that saving yourself from failure actually requires you to fail on purpose and limits your contribution, satisfaction and success.

Action: Identify one area of your life that you have been keeping small and make a plan to step into new possibilities, rejection included!

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
– J.K. Rowling

3. You procrastinate

One of the sneakiest ways that fear of failure manifests itself is procrastinating.

Obviously, procrastination does not protect against failure itself. But it does protect us from the pain of ‘true’ failure because it gives us an excuse.

If we procrastinate and then fail, we can console ourselves with the story that we would have done better if we tried our hardest (and it’s beside the point we never try our hardest because we’re scared it won’t be good enough!).

I used to do this all the time when I was at uni. The truth was, I was scared of the shame, hopelessness and humiliation I thought I would feel if I studied my hardest and it wasn’t good enough.

So instead of studying super hard, I told myself a story called I Work Better Under Pressure and left everything until the last minute I could. This was extremely stressful but it also gave me an out – if I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped,  I could let myself believe that I would have done better if I’d studied more.

And, of course, if I did do well – it gave me further validation for my little story about working better under pressure!

Action: Identify one area of your life where you’ve been using procrastination as a way to stop yourself from ‘true’ failure. Write down what procrastination is costing you (to increase your awareness around it) and call yourself out on it when it’s happening.

4. You Downplay your Worth and Always Have An Excuse for Not Showing Up.

One thing about fear of failure is that it causes us to doubt ourselves, abilities and what we are capable of.

We become so afraid of a failing that we diminish our achievements and try to make people believe that there’s nothing special about us, that we aren’t as good as they think and that anybody could have easily done what we did, that way they find someone to do the task we were meant to do

I used to (and still occasionally do) warn people beforehand that I am not as good as they believe about me and I don’t expect to succeed in order to lower their expectations.

And once I failed at something, I have trouble imagining what I could have done differently to succeed.

You often get last-minute headaches, stomach aches, or other physical symptoms that prevent you from completing your preparation or from showing up (oh this one…— that last minute fever lol)

You often get distracted by tasks that prevent you from completing your preparation which, in hindsight, were not as urgent as they seemed at the time.

Action: Identify one area of your life where you’ve been downplaying your worth and using last minutes excuses and distractions as a way to stop yourself from ‘true’ failure. Write down what this habit is truly costing you, ask yourself if it is truly worth it and call yourself out on it when it’s happening.

5. You wait until the ‘perfect’ time to start

Another way fear of failure manifest itself is in the belief that there will be a ‘perfect’ time to start.

In my experience, this kind of thinking is usually coupled with an all-or-nothing mindset, which is the mentality that if something isn’t perfect then there’s no point doing it at all (yep, abandoning habits and goals is just another sneaky way we protect ourselves from the pain of failure).

You need more research on that idea before you can start working on it.

You need more free time before you can start a blog.

You need the holidays to be over before you can work out.

You need Monday before you can start eating healthy.

You need to wait till the beginning of a new month or new year before you can start working on or pursuing your goals

You need to be confident before you can start a YouTube channel.  

I’ve loved podcasts for years and in 2017, I began to entertain the idea that perhaps I could start my own. But I didn’t start – I needed the perfect format, I needed the right equipment, I needed to know people would definitely like it. I let myself indulge in indecision and confusion for nearly two years before I finally bit the bullet and started The Fab Life Podcast yesterday.

A little about the podcast: Yesterday, I finally created the podcast. And though I am still waiting for it to get approved and listed in iTunes and Google Podcast, it is available on Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Cast, Radio Public and Anchor

With this podcast, I am giving myself permission to be a beginner and allow myself to grow. As there is never a perfect time for anything.

When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.”
– Eloise Ristad

Go here to listen to or download my first episode. Don’t forget to Subscribe and leave a review.

If you can relate to any of the examples above, it’s time to create a deadline for getting started (one that’s not too far away) and to stick to it! There will always be obstacles and ifs and buts.

The ‘perfect’ time never comes, you have to create it. And you can create it anytime you want.

Action: Identify one area of your life where you’ve been ‘waiting’ until the perfect time to start and make a plan to get started asap with what you have available. Be honest with yourself and call yourself out if you find yourself saying ‘ when X happens, I’ll be able to do Y’. You can do Y this week, you just have to be willing to feel discomfort and be a beginner. There will never be a perfect time.

No time to read? Or You want something to listen to on the go? I have recorded this post as an Episode in my podcast for you. Play it or download it or listen to it wherever you normally listen to your podcast.

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The fear of failure is one sneaky way we unknowingly and unconsciously sabotage our personal growth efforts and any chances we have at succeeding in any task, in a variety of ways. Wondering if you have fear of failure? This post might say you do and suggest ways to deal with it.

Hi, I'm Grace

Personal Growth + Blogging Coach for Introverts

Welcome to the Introverts tribe! I’m here to help You go from a full-time dreamer to a full-time achiever, pro blogger, and a Savvy online business owner without changing your introvertedness, and without any ‘out of your comfort zone’ marketing. Learn more

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