In a positive company culture, fear of failure is not a taboo.

Fear of failure can get in the way of job happiness and success, but research suggests that we can change the way we think and feel about it. In a positive company culture, fear of failure is negotiable and together we look for ways to turn that fear into positive thinking and action. In this article, you will find three tips to help you overcome the fear of failure at work.

1. See failures as a learning experience

Everyone has failures in the backpack of their life experiences. How we deal with these negative experiences is in our own hands. The bottom line is to see every failure as a learning experience, part of the journey forward. It shows that the (calculated) risks which we take can go two ways, failure or success. By being willing to take these risks, we pave the way for ourselves to potentially achieve great successes.

In theory, this already sounds good, but how exactly do we turn fear of failure into an advantage in our professional lives.

When we fail, we worry about being punished and feel ashamed, so we try to avoid failure at all costs. However, this does not have to be the case. The first step is to overcome our fear of failure. These three tips can help.

Every downside has its upside, even if it is hard to see or appreciate that at the time. By trying to find the benefits of past failures, you can develop this talent, making it easier to see the benefits more quickly in each future failure.

Specifically, it goes like this: pick a failure from the backpack of your life experiences and write down three things you learned from it. For example, if you’ve ever missed an important deadline, you may have learned that you need to prioritise better, say “no” to more projects or tone down your perfectionism. Ask yourself this question. Have you changed your behaviour to avoid similar failures in the future? If not, take the time now to make a few small changes.

Then ask some friends how they benefited from their failures. For example, an ex-colleague of mine once published an error in the first newsletter for her own company, so she now proofreads everything twice before publishing. If you get the opportunity to see or learn how someone else overcomes their own failure, you can put your own fears into perspective and you will see more quickly the benefits of your own mistakes.

Many business experts will tell you to reflect upon the experience immediately after you have failed in order to learn as much as possible from it. However, keep in mind that emotions can run high after a failure and it will be harder to come up with effective solutions right then. Sometimes it is better to wait for a while for the porridge to cool

2. Visualise a successful experience

Performing important tasks – tasks where you can fail – causes a lot of stress. How you handle this stress is entirely your own decision.

If you perceive stress as a threat, as many of us do, your body will prepare itself for a fight – you will actually feel like you are in a fight. On the other hand, if you choose to see this stress as a challenge, you are more likely to consider yourself capable of handling it. Thanks to the calming effect which this has on your body, you will actually react more competently and be less likely to fail, which is a nice bonus.

In order to change your mindset from fear to challenges, think about past challenges which you have overcome. Let us imagine that you are worried about a conversation with your boss. Take a moment to reflect back upon previous meetings. Were you successful? What exactly did you do? If you remind yourself that you’ve succeeded in the past, the task will not seem so insurmountable to you.

Next, visualise your success. Imagining that you are doing well makes you feel more positive, which can improve your performance. On the other hand, when you ruminate about what could go wrong, you build up your anxiety, making the failure which you fear more likely.

Also, keep in mind that it is perfectly normal continuing to feel physical sensations (for example nerves and tremors), if you can manage to manipulate your brain into stopping thinking about failure. When you notice them, try to see them as positive energy, excitement and good stress, as proof to yourself that what you are doing is important to you.

3. Be kind to yourself when you fail

There will never be enough hours in the day to do your absolute best on every project. You will run out of time, make a mistake or disappoint yourself. In these moments, you are often angry with yourself. Or you can choose to be kind to yourself, take small steps to reduce your guilt and shame.

One way to be kind to yourself is taking care of yourself. Finding a friend to whom you can talk and who will sympathise with you can help. Or you can choose a relaxing activity that helps you cope with intense negative emotions, such as exercise.

As with sports, it is also important to show compassion regularly to yourself when you make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone fails and there is no need to bully yourself with this, feel guilty or tear yourself down. This attitude does not help you move forward, but keeps you trapped in the negative spiral of the fear of failure. Instead, try to maintain a positive dialogue with yourself. Talk to yourself as you would talk to a friend, kind, supportive and caring. You will find that you are more likely to acknowledge your mistakes and do better next time.

With these three tips in mind, you can more easily overcome fear of failure at work and in your daily life. This contributes to greater well-being at work and to a positive company culture.

A professional career never goes completely smoothly. We all fail on a regular basis, but if you are willing to keep trying, sometimes you will also know success. Are you ready to learn from failures and become more successful? Let’s try this!


Berkely Univerisity – Greater Good Science: Three Ways to Overcome Fear of Failure at Work

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