Fear of failure's seven faces

It's a tricky one to conquer

I recently surveyed successful entrepreneurial CEOs in one of my workshops. Amazingly, I found that 100 percent of them wanted more courage and confidence in at least some situations, and 100 percent knew they had fears that were blocking their success. They later stated it was a relief to know that all of their colleagues had fears and they weren’t alone.

Does it help you to know that you aren’t alone and that highly successful CEOs experience this as well? Fear of failure is one of the most common fears that blocks the success of business leaders, entrepreneurs and sales professionals.

It’s a tricky fear though, because it has many faces — some obvious and some not. Here are seven of the faces of fear of failure.

1. Not giving 100 percent
If you give 100 percent and fail, this thinking goes, then you’re a failure. This is the most devastating form because it seems uncorrectable, like you are permanently flawed. Correct this thinking by reframing your thoughts or changing your beliefs. A reframed thought for an entrepreneur could be: “I will give 100 percent to the success of my business. If it doesn’t succeed, I’ll take what I learn and either modify the business or start a different one with a greater chance to succeed.”
Most leaders have had a major failure along the way, and they use their failures to learn how to better succeed.

2. Procrastination
This face is more obvious. When you’re afraid to fail and you think you might fail, you put off doing things so you don’t have to face failing. One simple way to address this is to define a small action and do it. The success of the action will build a little momentum and confidence. Continue to take one small step at a time until you have enough courage and momentum to forge forward.

3. Anger
Instead of dealing directly with fear, you express it as anger so no one sees the fear (possibly even you). We guys are great at this one; we aren’t afraid of anything, right? Anger in this situation is actually a protective response when we’re afraid. Get over it and find the courage to deal with the fear directly. Expressing anger that’s covering up fear usually creates a new set of problems.

4. Crying
Crying is a fairly normal response to fear of any kind, including fear of failure. Most children do it openly, but for adults, it’s usually best to do in private. It’s not for everyone and, like anger it’s a cover for the primary emotion of fear. Crying can be cathartic, but after a good cry, you need to deal directly with the fear.

5. Rationalizing
This happens a lot in business development (for example, the leader or the sales rep who says after losing a big deal, “I didn’t have much of a chance anyway”).  Stop deceiving yourself and making excuses. You’ll win some and lose some, but the only way to win big deals is to go big, play all out and learn from winning and losing. That’s what world-class athletes and top businesspeople do.

6. Withdrawal
If the fear is so big it immobilizes you into withdrawing, you may not be ready for this level of challenge. Either let this one go or find someone to help you find the courage and develop the skills you need to increase your confidence and chance of success.

7. Avoidance
You avoid situations where you think you could fail. This is a sure way to live your life as an underachiever. Work to reframe your thoughts so that you win by giving 100 percent effort to achieving what you’re avoiding (focus on the process, not the outcome).

We all try to protect ourselves from failure. Ironically, this keeps us underachieving, which is one of the things we fear. All highly successful people have failed—usually more than others—because they take more risks and so fail and succeed more than others. All fears can be dealt with.

Make a commitment to your greatness; commit to find ways to deal with fear.

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