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How to overcome fear of failure

So scared of failing that you're afraid to even try? We speak to the Phobia Guru about overcoming fear of failure and learning to live your best life.


By Rhalou Allerhand, Netdoctor

Scared of public speaking, or find job interviews or first dates nerve-wracking? You are not alone. But while it's perfectly normal to be fearful of situations that put you outside of your comfort zone, if you're so scared of failing at something that you can't bring yourself to even attempt it in the first place, you could be suffering from fear of failure.

We speak to Clinical Hypnotherapist and Phobia Elimination Specialist Adam Cox from PhobiaGuru.com about learning to conquer your fears:

What is fear of failure?

Also known as atychiphobia, fear of failure is a phobia characterised by the inability to attempt any goal that is not a guaranteed success. While your the comfort zone might feel safe and secure, the fear of failing can be paralysing.

Fostering this fear can become so debilitating that it can hold you back and hinder your personal development. If you do nothing and resist moving forward for fear of failure, you could fail to progress in life. This means you might miss out on amazing opportunities and experiences in work, life and love.

'It is a fear of disappointing people and even the rejection or lack of approval of others,' says Cox. 'It can encourage people to avoid taking risks, setting goals, or participating in activities. To grow we need to do things we haven’t done before and failure is often needed as a feedback loop to learn from mistakes and become competent.'

'Ironically a severe fear of failure can lead to the ultimate failure in life, because no risks were ever taken no real accomplishments were ever achieved,' he adds.

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What is a phobia?

Phobias are more than simply being nervous or scared of something. A phobia can develop when a person has an exaggerated sense of danger about something, and it can control a person's entire life and cause a lot of distress.

'A phobia is a distressing and consistent emotional reaction to a stimulus,' says Cox. 'There are simple phobias such as a fear of animals where the trigger causes the reaction and situational phobias such as fear of flying which requires an evaluation of the risks.'

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How phobias impact a person’s life
The main way people learn to cope with phobias is avoidance. 'This is a sensible strategy most of the time, but is problematic when either the stimulus can’t be avoided, such as spiders, or when it’s required to progress in a career, such as fear of public speaking, or enjoy recreational time such as fear of flying,' explains Cox.

A phobia can develop when a person has an exaggerated sense of danger, and it can control a person's life.

'While avoidance is one way to cope, others will self-medicate with foods, alcohol or other drugs,' he adds. 'Those that seek medical help are often prescribed with anti-depression medication or anxiety medication such as beta-blockers. While these can manage the symptoms, they rarely deal with the cause.'

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What causes fear of failure?

Most phobias they are formed in childhood. 'Phobias are either learned from parents or siblings or as a result of a sensitising event,' explains Cox. 'This could be punishment from a parent as a result of "failing" or a consequence or embarrassment at school as a result of getting something wrong.'

'The biological symptoms of fear of failure tend to be raised heart rate, rapid breathing, shakes or feeling cold,' adds Cox. 'It is often interpreted as anxiety or sometimes as a panic attack.'

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How can you treat fear of failure?

There are a number of ways to approach this type of phobia. 'I use a psychological approach rather than a medical approach and this involves CBT, clinical hypnotherapy, desensitisation and occasionally NLP techniques,' explains Cox.

'While therapists often don’t like to use the word cure I have successfully eliminated phobias in hundreds of clients including phobias such as atchyphobia,' he adds. 'I believe all phobias can be cured.'

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Tip for overcoming fear of failure

Cox recommends the following tips for learning to cope with fear of failure:
  • Redefine what it takes to fail. Many successful people believe that the only way to truly fail is to give up on your goal.
  • Adopt the belief that there is no failure, only feedback. That way any undesirable outcomes are opportunities to learn and get better.
  • Watch or read stories of those people you admire. In virtually all cases they will have experienced huge failures on their road to success.
  • Swap perfection for progress. In many cases those that have a fear of failure have unrealistic expectations of what it means to succeed. By focussing on progress you have lots of victories and opportunities to learn and reduce your ability to fail.
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