Ah, the good ol’ fear of failure, self-doubt, anxiety in the face of success.
The heavyweight champion of the world.
The pound for pound crusher of dreams.
No matter what you seem to do, fear of failure rears its ugly head eventually. It does for me, often, every day. Even though I’ve accomplished many of my dreams, there are still boundaries I haven’t pushed, comfort zones I haven’t left, and goals that scare the s*** out of me.
It never ends.
You’re going to go on this life path of yours with the long bucket list of things you want to do. And, even as you grow more confident, your fear of failure will still be there, sometimes stronger.
Over time, I’ve learned to strip my self-help messages of lies, half-truths, and nice-sounding but ultimately incorrect statements. This is going to be hard. Whatever ‘this’ is for you.
You will feel pain. You will be rejected. And you most certainly will want to quit.
So what’s the solution? How do you achieve your goals in spite of your fear of failure?
First, You Must Accept This Fact
I recently achieved a major goal in my life — becoming a full-time writer. Even though I’ve written articles talking about how success doesn’t cure everything, in the back of my mind I thought it would.
I thought I’d be supremely confident and enter a state where I’d just barrel through any new goals I had. Wrong. Dead wrong. In the back of my mind, I thought my doubts would go away. Wrong again. Mind you, I didn’t consciously think these things. Logically, I knew they weren’t true. But emotionally, I wanted them to be.
That’s what your emotions do. They play tricks on you. They make you feel things that are logically untrue but are true to you deep down in your soul. This is why limiting beliefs are so palpable. These beliefs sit at your emotional core and bypass all logic.
The process of changing your emotional core involves, more or less, brainwashing yourself into having different and better deep beliefs.
So what beliefs must you accept to deal with your fear of failure?
- There is no cure
- There is no greener pasture when you’re perfect
- Challenges will always present themselves
- You’ll always bump up to a level that seems out of reach
- You can’t erase fear
You have to embody this belief because if you don’t, you’ll always believe a time will come where you randomly develop the gumption to do something because you feel no fear. This will never happen.
I think of someone like Tony Robbins who seems to have truly eliminated his fears in life. Still, he spends a lot of time pumping himself up and getting himself into the right state. Daily. He has to bypass that fear center every single day. And so do you.
Instead of eliminating fear, you become courageous.
How do you develop courage?
By chasing this.
This Is On the Other Side of Fear
“Holy shit. I can’t do this. I’m going to screw this up.”
I’m sitting backstage. 1,000 people waiting to hear me speak. I’m not listening to the current speaker while I wait to go on stage. I’m petrified. I can’t hear anything. It’s like my soul has been sucked into a vortex of paralyzing fear. I’m shaking, sweating, wondering why I wanted to do this at all.
Mind you, the speaker I’m to follow up at the TEDx conference is a freakin’ brain surgeon who’s giving a speech about how he saved a little kid’s life. Great.
Once I go on stage, I start to talk with the slightest sense of shakiness, but as the speech goes on, I get better. The crowd laughs. It calms me. Now I enter a different mode. Courage.
If you enter a good zone when you’re speaking on stage in front of a bunch of people, you feel like a god. Not because of how well you’re doing, but because you overcame the fears of everything you thought would go wrong. Every time you use a little courage, you get a glimpse of heaven on earth. Seriously, it feels that good.
It feels good because fear is so palpable. The Yin and Yang sort of dualistic element to life gives it the flavor. If you had no fears to overcome and courage to display, you wouldn’t enjoy success at all. Granted, you can get to a point where you’re less afraid, in general, but you’ve earned it by facing fear over and over again.
So, like I said to begin the post. It’s easy enough to tell you what to do. But I honor that it can be super hard to do it. The best I can do is paint the picture of what’s on the other side. Euphoria.
After I got offstage, I felt like I was floating. I felt the same way when I received a proof copy of my first book. Same with my second. Same with every brief moment of joy after a ton of effort and hell to get it.
James Altucher has a saying along the lines of, “Life is mostly failure with brief punctuations of success and bliss.”
That’s about right. That’s all you get. So why chase them?
Why Face Your Fear of Failure at All?
I envy “normal,” people. I live in a medium-sized metropolitan city. I’ll head to coffee shops to work and see people who, on the one hand, I look at as corporate slaves, but on the other hand, I often wish I was one of.
At least they don’t have to live in terror and paranoia all the time. I’m always worried that I’m going to go broke, lose all my fans, fade into the abyss and end up on the street.
At least they have job security, work pals, happy hours, camaraderie, stability. I often feel like a lone wolf who can’t relate to people anymore.
Sometimes I think to myself. Why am I chasing after all these goals? What am I doing this for? I’m going to die anyway. Maybe I should just chill out, get a nice job, and spend the rest of my weekends partying and, as I get older, barbecuing. Doesn’t look half bad at all, actually.
But, after some reflection, I realize it would never work…for me. I’m too restless. I have too many ideas. I’m wired to create stuff. And denying that would make me miserable.
How does this relate to you?
At some point, you have to be honest with yourself. You have to decide what kind of player you’re going to be in the game of life. This is no easy mess to untangle. There’s a thin line between contentment and settling, confidence and delusion, talent and greatness.
You have to want to be great. In your bones. It’s okay if limiting beliefs have held you back. But you need that underlying fire. This journey isn’t meant for everyone.
Really, it isn’t. And that’s okay. I hate the idea that everybody has to live this ultimate life. It’s dumb. You’re fine if you don’t.
Just like you shouldn’t let society beat you into a state of submission, you shouldn’t let a self-help writer push you toward a dream you don’t really want. Here’s a thought — learn how to think for yourself.
If you do want that life, and odds are you might if you read stuff like this, just know you have a long road ahead of you. On your journey, you need little tools, tricks, and mental models to sustain you. As follows are my favorite.
The Spotlight Effect
Go into a crowded bar or an event. Stand there and look around. Nobody is paying any attention to you. You could stand there for hours looking like a dufus and nobody would notice.
Yet, people often feel anxious when they walk into crowded venues. Why? Because we all believe we’re at the center of the universe at all times, regardless of where we are.
This metaphor extends to goals in general. Emotionally, we genuinely believe there is some group of people out there ready to pounce on us and laugh the minute we fail or get rejected.
Again, usually constant repetition of these ideas until they bury themselves into your consciousness in the cure, but always remember. There is no crowd. Nobody cares.
Try This Exercise
Have you ever had a situation where you mentally rehearsed all the ways something in the future could go wrong? Then, when the situation actually happened, it went just fine and you feel super dumb that you worried about it.
Then the same thing happens over, and over, and over again. I try to remind myself of these situations often.
I try to bury the essence of this quote into my subconscious:
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
That damn monkey mind. Always playing useless movies in our head.
Maybe try a different movie. What do I mean?
Play This Movie in Your Head Over and Over
Even the most doubt-ridden person in the world has moments of triumph.
You’ve had them.
I don’t care if it was the third-grade spelling bee you won. Reflect on the feeling of being a winner. Often. Journal about them if you have to. We love keeping a running tab of all our screw-ups, but we’re so quick to discard our victories.
Celebrating yourself for victories you earned can help you build confidence and face your fear of failure.
I sincerely believe we all begin life as winners. Then, life beats us into submission. This is going to sound corny, but, remember your greatness, your power, and your worth. Draw them from any sources and memories you have. Bathe in them.
Of course, this doesn’t replace action, which leads to my next point.
Don’t Slow Down, Ever
As you succeed more, fear of failure will still show up. And it will be stronger if you fail to maintain momentum. As soon as you get traction toward any goal, never slow down. Do the opposite. Ramp-up and double-down.
I talk about feedback loops and self-fulfilling prophecies to the point of redundancy because they’re super-important concepts. You want to keep the “hot hand” as long as you possibly can. So, when you feel a little bit of success, keep “shooting.”
Because if you don’t, the opposite can happen. You can get into a metaphorical “shooter’s slump.” Success begets success and failure begets failure. But not failure in the sense of trying and failing. Rather, stagnation.
Stagnation kills you because you have no inertia. That’s why it’s so hard to start. I don’t have a super simple answer for getting started (here’s a 30-minute video on it), but once you do get that snowball rolling down the hill, for the love of God, keep it going.
Accept This As Law
If I could transform society for the better, I’d make every single person do a sales job for at least a year.
Salespeople are often some of the most confident people you’ll ever meet because they just get used to getting rejected. In sales, you understand up front that it’ll take something like 100 cold calls to get 10 responses to get 3 meetings to get one sale.
“Failure,” is just a given. Except great salesmen never look at it that way. Since they know to expect a certain amount of rejection, in general, they never take any individual rejection personally.
If you can find a way to develop that salesperson attitude where you know the “at-bats” are just a part of the game. You’re golden.
Again, that’s hard to do. The equation always comes back to getting that initial inertia. There’s no answer for that other than to just do it. I’m sorry. That part is on you.
Alas, there can come a day where you just geek yourself up to the point you pull the trigger. I’ve attempted things that I chickened out of hundreds of times prior. You never know when that first one will come, but when it does, hold onto it and keep going.
Trust Me On This
I just want you to know that I get it.
I know how hard it is to overcome your fear of failure, build a dream, and live a life of courage.
Why do you think I write so much? The answers to self-help are very, very, very simple. But you have to attack them from so many angles, over and over again, because true self-actualization is basically difficult to impossible to master.
But I hold out hope that I can master it, that you can master it, because what the hell else are we supposed to do?
Fold? Give up forever? Not me. And I hope not you, either. I’ll be here today, tomorrow, the next day, and years to come.
I promise to fight the good fight if you will.
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