Should you take a chance or should you play it safe?

Whether you want to ask someone on a date or run a marathon, there are both potential risks and rewards. Logically you know that if you don’t try anything, you also don’t gain anything. So, what’s holding you back from achieving your goals and living your dreams? It may be fear of failure or fear of success or both. That’s right, it’s possible to have a fear of failure and fear of success at the same time.

Fear of failure is pretty straightforward. No one wants to put in effort only to have their project tank or plans fall through. Even worse, no one wants to feel like s/he is a failure.

Reasons for Fear of Failure

  1. You’ve failed in the past.
  2. You were criticized or punished for making mistakes.
  3. You’re a perfectionist.
  4. Your self-worth is attached to your accomplishments and performance.
  5. You feel inferior.
  6. A narrow, fixed definition of failure and success.
  7. You doubt your abilities and aren’t sure you can really do this.

Fear of failure often involves self-talk like: “If I don’t try I can’t fail.” There is safety in standing still, not doing new things, not taking on new challenges. It’s very true that all of these things can result in “failure.”

It is critical that you differentiate “I am a failure” from “I failed to achieve my goal”. Everyone makes mistakes and has failures. This doesn’t mean we are failures as human beings. Quite the opposite; failure is part of what makes us human. We have an amazing ability to learn from our mistakes. Many of the most successful and ingenious people had multiple failures before becoming famous (try Googling failure + Steve Jobs or J.K. Rowling or Milton Hershey or Walt Disney).

Now, having success like Steve Jobs or J.K. Rowling may be both tremendously attractive and overwhelmingly scary at the same time. But even a normal level of success can lead some of us to self-sabotaging behaviors that keep us stuck in unproductive and unsuccessful habits.

Reasons for Fear of Success

  1. You feel you don’t deserve success.
  2. You don’t like being the center of attention; It feels boastful.
  3. You’ll have increased pressure, stress, and work.
  4. People will be jealous and your relationships will suffer.
  5. You might still be unhappy or unfulfilled.
  6. A narrow, fixed definition of failure and success.
  7. You doubt your abilities and aren’t sure you can really do this.

You probably noticed that #6 and #7 on the reasons for fear of failure and reasons for fear of success are the same! This where these two fears overlap. They aren’t polar opposites at all. Many people have both a fear of failure and a fear of success. You can see how this leaves you incredibly stuck.

How to Overcome Fear of Failure and Fear of Success

  1. Acknowledge and accept your fears. You’re not alone or strange for having a fear of failure and/or success.
  2. See all possibilities. People who take risks know they may fail, but think it’s worth doing anyway. They also know they might succeed.
  3. Growth. Remember that failure and mistakes are universal and amazing learning opportunities.
  4. Failures and successes don’t define you.  You aren’t a “success” or “failure”. You are far more complicated than an all or nothing definition.
  5. Visualize success. Close your eyes and use your senses to paint a detailed picture of yourself successfully achieving your goal. Do this several times every day.
  6. Redefine success and failure. Create your own definition of success and failure based on your personal values and goals. Success for someone might be a salary of $100 K and someone else might define success as a strong, happy marriage. Is not getting hired for a job a failure or just a setback? You have a choice in how you think about these things.
  7.  Write it down. Write down your successes every day and read over your list regularly.
  8. Step out of your comfort zone. Take just a small step out of your comfort zone. Don’t push yourself too hard, too fast.
  9. Progress not perfection. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve seen me mention this idea before. I find it so helpful to remember that even when you’re not perfect, you’re making progress towards your goals. If I set out to run six miles today but am only able to run four, I can choose to look at this as a failure.InsteadI choose to look at it as progress because it’s more than I could run a couple months ago.
  10. Food for thought: The more you fail, the more you succeed.

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Photo: Denise Sebastian/Flickr

This originally appeared on PsychCentral.