Overcoming fear of failure

05 Mar 2013

A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. – William Shedd

The greatest obstacle to success is the fear of failure, which restricts people to staying inside their comfort zone. By remaining in their comfort zone people feel safe, confident and secure in the knowledge that they are unlikely to come to any harm. More people are held back by fear than any other factor. It is an emotion that overrides our intelligence and stops us from moving towards our goals. We give this emotion a variety of labels such as anxiety, stress, shyness, nervousness or the need for perfection and as a result we often don't recognise that fear is at the root of our lack of action.

The problem with a fear of failure is not actually failure itself which, if handled correctly can make us stronger and more determined, but rather the fear which stops us taking action and encourages us to embrace the security of our comfort zone.

Interviews with a host of successful people, across a huge variety of areas, indicates these are people who are prepared to step out of their comfort zone and into something called the stretch zone. The downside for them of continually staying in their comfort zone is that they become bored, there is no challenge in their life, no excitement, no learning or growth and no adrenaline rush!

Comfort ZoneWhen in the stretch zone there is a feeling of uncertainty, unease and even an element of anxiety. However these emotions are outweighed by a sense of energy, enthusiasm and a desire to challenge themselves. Success is not guaranteed but their mindset is such that they view setbacks as an opportunity to learn from mistakes to enable to do it better the next time.


There is a third zone which people can stray into, the Panic Zone, which can generate the feelings of fear and panic which can lead to paralysis and inaction. When people are completely out of their depth research shows that their IQ drops and the fight or flight impulse takes over. This usually results in the individual moving straight back into the safety of heir comfort zone.

What is needed is for people to take measured steps out of their comfort zone and undertake tasks which challenge them but aren't overwhelming. This will gradually increase the size of their comfort zone, encouraging hem to step further into their stretch zone.

Thomas Edison was one individual who lived his life on the outer edge of his stretch zone. His view on life is summed up by one of his many oft quoted comments;

"Pretty much everything will come to him who hustles while he waits. I believe that restlessness is discontent, and discontent is merely the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure."

It took Thomas Edison many years and thousands of attempts to produce the electric lightbulb. His view of the criticism he endured is illuminating (! :-) ) :

"Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward...."

Edison understood the importance of failure in achieving success, in that being successful in anything requires an element of failure along the way. Edison realised that "failure" was merely a set back and provided an opportunity to learn something that would prove valuable when the time came to try again. If the lessons were learnt properly they helped suggest a change in the process you were following to achieve your goals.

Edison has a view on failure that he shares with Sporting legend Michael Jordan;

Ive missed more than 9000 shots in my career. Ive lost almost 300 games. 26 times, Ive been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. Ive failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

"Never fear failure; fear not trying, fear not giving your best, fear losing focus, but never fear failure. Failure is the path to success. Failure is the sign that youre headed in the right direction."

"To succeed twice as fast, fail twice as much. Fail often, fail daily, and soon you will succeed. Jordan said, Ive never been afraid to fail.

Both Edison and Jordan take the view that you need to try, you need to stretch yourself and you need to be prepared to learn lessons from the setbacks you will encounter along the way. The real sin for them is a failure to take that step out of the comfort zone. As Michael Jordan says;

I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I cant accept not trying.


What are you afraid of trying?

What is the first step you could take into your stretch zone to help you overcome this fear?

When will you take that step?

If you would like to work with a business coach or personal coach to take your first steps please visit http://www.barefootcoaching.co.uk/find-coach