Overcoming the Fear of Failure

Make a list of the top fears that hold people back and you will find that the “fear of failure” is high on the list. I know it was for me. We all follow various tactics to hide our fears, but if we all got honest, we’d admit that we’ve all had to deal with some sort of fear of failure battleground.

Everyone has it. It’s what you do about that fear of failure that makes a difference.

The technical word for the fear of failure is atychiphobia. Masses of people are paralyzed with what the fear of failure says. This fear either:

  1. Drives you in a lifestyle of stress and constant worry, with little enjoyment in life or the ability to appreciate the process of growing.
  2. Keeps you bound in procrastination, because you see failure as something to avoid at all costs.

Great People Experience Failures

Some of the greatest leaders and even men and women of God had to face failure and learn in the process of mistakes. It’s all part of the process.

Look at the rap sheets of many of the people you look up to and you will see mistakes and failures throughout.

I wish that we learned everything in successes and mountain tops. But the truth is, there is so much gold available in the mistakes, so much learning and maturity we can find in those shortcomings and failures. But we spend so much time obsessing over failures in shame that we miss out on seeing the beauty of learning that is in those failures.

Changing My Perspective on Failure

When I stepped out to start a brand new ministry that focused on healing the heart and empowering healthy relationships, I had no idea how many times I would step into things that would not work out. I had to learn really quickly to embrace mistakes and failures, while learning to grow in response to failures.

A man of God who did not know me personally was praying for me and said, “Mark, I feel like the Lord is giving you permission to fail.”

That prayer kind of took me off guard.

But he clarified, by saying, “I am not talking about character issues, but taking the self-pressure off.”

Taking the Pressure Off

And it’s true. I lived my whole life with a fear of failure that it sabotaged my ability to take risks and yet enjoy the process. I walked around with so many inward feelings that said, “nothing is good enough,” I was not able to enjoy the journey of learning and growing.

In order to break free, I had to face the fear, but I also had to address how the word failure even affected me in the first place.

Here are some more things that I’ve done, that you can do, to eliminate the fear of failure from your life.

1. Disconnect failure with “YOU being a failure.”

That’s what shame does, it connects you to your mistakes, sins and failures. You may have made mistakes and failed at certain things, but that does not make you a label of those events.

You may have failed, but you are not a failure.

If you make yourself one with your failures, you will see yourself according to failure. It will keep you attached to those mistakes, where you are lost in the past and no longer present in what is available today.  

2. Change your expectations.

I remember when I feared financial loss in a huge way. When I actually faced massive financial hardship, I found myself looking around saying, “Ok, I am not dead. I am still alive. This is not as bad as I feared it would be. I can only move up and forward from here.”

In that moment, I realized that fear magnifies certain negative outcomes. We become so focused on that fear, we miss out on the opportunity that is available right in front of us.

I think it’s important that you stop seeing certain failures in your life as the end of the world. We live too much like all of life is riding on something going perfectly. Even though we know full well that we are flawed people who make mistakes all the time.

You have to give room for failure. Give yourself permission, so that fear cannot empower failure any longer.

3. Redefine what failure and success mean.

There were certain areas of my life where I felt like a failure. Certain accusing thoughts kept bombarding me about areas of my life that hadn’t broken through yet. I did all I could to break agreements, develop new mindsets, but this failure mentality kept hitting me.

So I did something that really helped me. I brought the shameful thoughts out into the light. I exposed them for what they were. And then I did something very simple. I defined what it means to be successful and what it means to be a failure.

We are often afraid of failure because we define success and failure according to what the world’s standards are.

We see see success only as financial wealth, high levels of influence and mass appeal. Deep down, you and I know those are shallow definitions of success. But we often find ourselves bumping up against the accusations of those definitions.

We often see failure as the end. Something doesn’t work out and you are finished. This could not be further from the truth, but if that is how you see failure, of course fear will get empowered. You will avoid that place in life at all costs.

But when I sat down and really began to define what success and failure are, it disempowered the arguments the enemy threw at me.

New Definitions

During some quiet time I wrote down what success was going to mean for my life and journey, not by what society would say, but by what is true from God’s perspective. If I always go by what culture seems to follow, I will always open myself up to comparison and the feelings of failure that will keep me in shame.

So I focused on what success was really going to mean for me.

Success: living true to who I am, giving my all and learning something from every moment.

This three part definition gave me greater clarity. All I need to do everyday is life true to who I am. But even if I don’t do that, I can at least give my all. But even if I struggle to live true to myself and have days where I don’t give my all, I can at the very least, learn something from the day.

This positions myself to always see the value in my experiences and keeps me from being nagged by failure or the fear of failure.

Here is how I presently define failure.

Failure: quitting completely and not being open to growing

I may be tempted to quit all the time, but I am going to completely throw in the towel. And you are not going to either. The fact that you are reading this says you are an overcomer. So give yourself some credit.

In order to have “failure” in my life, I would have to completely quit and no longer ever be open to growing. It’s not what my financial or influential stats say on that day, it’s about simply staying it in the game. If you are in the game, even by a shred, you are not even close to failure.

4. Become a person who learns from failure.  

In the Kingdom of God, there is no failure, only learning.

God is not hung up on your mistakes, as much as He is about us learning in the process. Yet if we are so overwhelmed with our failures, we miss out on the learning that is available.

It would be a great exercise if you would stop, look at your mistakes or failures and get clear on the learning that is available.

I have found that those who keep repeating their mistakes and failures don’t stop to learn from the mistakes. They are so quick to hide and cover up their mistakes, they miss out on the benefit available.  

So what would it do if you looked at your life and realized, “there is not failure, only learning.”

5. Celebrate Taking Action More than Just Results

When my kids learn something new, like riding a bike or learning how to swim, it’s always empowering when to celebrate their attempts. I saw this when my son Maximus was learning to ride a bike. We constantly celebrated him taking action and making attempts, way more than if he succeeded in riding a bike in that moment. Getting him to ride a bike was a deep challenge for him, but we kept cheering on the attempts and encouraging his taking action.

Then one day, he shocked all of us by grabbing his bike and riding off with complete confidence.

When a baby starts walking, we always celebrate the attempts and cheer on the movement towards new steps. Why do we stop doing this as adults? Why do we get stuck in trying to think through things perfectly before we ever take a step? Why do we hold back from getting help, asking questions and learning in all our attempts?

Because the fear of failure is a liar and wants to keep you in chains of failure thinking.

Fear of Failure is a Liar

Focusing more on results being perfect can make you a perfectionist and keep you in procrastination. Therefore, you never take action and never learn in the process.

When coaching people into breakthrough, I always celebrate taking action, even if it means they did not take the action perfectly. We learn best in the going.

Next time you are held back from taking action because of the fear of failure, maybe you need to see your Father in heaven celebrating the fact that you are taking action and taking a step forward. He’s not focused on your perfection. He’s focused on those brave steps of faith you are taking.

That’s what makes you a hero: stepping out . . . knowing it won’t be perfect, but knowing you are learning and growing in the process.

Step out today and tell that fear of failure to take a hike.

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