Relax! Having this fear may actually be a plus for you. If you are too complacent you may not give your best, try your hardest, produce your best results, and end up failing anyway.

However, having this fear all the time is a negative driver which can become very stressful. It is much better to be motivated and confident in your ability, while being realistic about the challenges ahead. In other words you expect that if you have done your best you will probably be successful, but you are also aware that in a competitive world you may fail to get what you want through no fault of your own.

What most people fear about failure are the consequences. While many of the consequences of failing may be expected to be unpleasant or a severe setback for you, many of the fears of failure are not so real. They are mostly in our mind, and are not real until they are proved to be real. I think the biggest fear about failing is worrying or being afraid of what other people may think of you. You imagine that if you fail others may think that you are inadequate in some way, not good enough, not very smart, not up to the job or whatever. Because of these negative and self-defeating thoughts you may not sit for an exam (an excellent way of failing), or not go for that job you have been wanting (a good way of not getting the job)!

So as not to disappoint yourself or other people whose opinion you value, you warn them that you “probably won’t succeed”, or say you don’t have enough time or resources to succeed in the task. You have doubts about whether you actually can succeed and you prepare for failure. It’s a strange way of thinking and behaving, but it happens frequently.

Some people have such fearful thoughts about the task ahead that they will get physically ill. I remember a student at university when faced with an exam actually ran as fast as she could to the toilet because she was terrified. The exam itself was not terrifying, but her thoughts about it were.

All the “what ifs” were foremost in her mind which would be enough to crowd out any helpful material relating to the exam subject which may have been in her memory bank, and which would have helped her succeed.

Some people know that they have not prepared enough for an exam, a job interview, meeting a new date, travelling overseas, or many other things which they have to undertake in life. Therefore they are understandably nervous, and more likely to stuff things up – for example forgetting their passport.

There are many complex reasons for this type of behaviour and they can be:

 An unfortunate and unsettling experience which comes back to haunt them whenever that experience is repeated, for example a failed exam or one for which the person was ill-prepared.

 Always being put down by family members who may or may not be jealous of the achievements of another.

 Remembering shame and embarrassment from a former failed challenge. This can affect ego and self-esteem and future performance.

 Or, as in my case many years ago I failed a school exam through a silly mistake, and vowed I would never fail again, and I didn’t. The thought of the fall-out from failure became a negative driver in this situation.

 Unrealistic expectations of your own ability, or the easiness of the task, leading to you being underprepared.

 Indulging in self-downing and remembering past failure which negatively primes you for the next challenge.

 Having unrealistic goals or targets, so you really set yourself up for failure. Following this you fail to see that you were OK, but your goals weren’t!

 Driving yourself too hard (similar to the above) and not feeling physically, emotionally or mentally ready for the next goal.

 Maybe you expected too much of others that were in a team and did not see that you would all fail because of poor planning.

 Being a perfectionist, and not being flexible enough to see that a compromise would be satisfactory in the circumstance. So you see the compromise as a fail.

I could go on, but failure is a complex topic, and how to avoid failure, or if you fail what to do after in order to cope are much more rewarding topics.

Have a look at them too.

© K.R. Crawford 2017