Overcome Your Fear of Failure by Embracing Uncertainty

Knowing what you want is only a piece of the puzzle. Moving in that direction is a whole other thing. In my  coaching practice, I hear people share their reasons for not making that move toward what they want. They assume they’re afraid of failure. 

But when we check in with ourselves about what failure looks like, it’s usually not that scary. Are we really afraid of someone saying no? Are we really afraid of what people will think or say about us?

It turns out that fear of failure isn’t the problem at all–it’s uncertainty

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Before we even know what failure looks like in any given situation, we must get acquainted, and eventually comfortable, with the idea that we won’t know everything up front. We won’t know all the steps between 1 and 100, and we simply can’t be assured that things will work out the way we imagine they will.

So rather than face uncertainty, we stay stuck in research, buying online programs, imagining, or maybe talking to people about this thing we want or this goal we have. These sneaky, passive activities can feel necessary, but they quickly become a way to hide. Eventually, you need to shift into a more active, admittedly uncertain phase of actual doing.

Make progress toward the goal

Making this shift requires us to make forward progress a goal unto itself. For example, you commit to yourself to completing 10 actions. You evaluate your success only on whether those 10 were done–not the result. You only learn by trying. After doing 10 things, you’ll be armed with better information on what 10 to do next.

You also need built-in accountability systems. For me, this is telling a colleague what I plan to do. I make a specific commitment with a due date. Because I like to be known for keeping my word, I’ll do just about anything to deliver. You may have other strategies that work for you. Find what works for you and use it to your advantage. 

Decide the value of the experience for yourself

Even while feeling uncertain, you can increase your sense of confidence by deciding ahead of time what this experience will mean to you–no matter what the results are. You can decide that the lessons learned are valuable and will inform your next steps. You can also decide ahead of time that you’re going to keep going. You decide when to adjust and re-plan, and you decide when to quit.

Counter to common thinking, we avoid taking action not because we’re afraid of failure but because we don’t know how to manage uncertainty. Once we understand and acknowledge that failure is not truly dangerous, it’s preferable to uncertainty. Because when you fail, it means you followed through and tried something. From there, it’s just a learning experience. We have a definite answer and new information on where to go from there.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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