What are you afraid of? Coincidentally, within just a few hours the other day, I talked with people who were either terrified of public speaking or of having to fire someone or of Donald Trump being elected President. Then I read an interesting article about the anti-fear guru, Tony Robbins. So, naturally, I was curious to explore “fear” a little deeper.you-are-fired

Fortunately, I do not have many fears. But I have one fear that I bet I share with you – fear of failing. And, if we do not recognize it and face it head on, this fear limits our own growth and the growth of our organization.

Today I will explore the fear of failure and then conclude with some tips from Tony Robbins.

Fear of Failure. In an interesting article called 10 Signs That You Might Have a Fear of Failure by Guy Winch in Psychology Today, I learned that we are not really afraid of failure, we are afraid of shame – the shame we feel when we either “fail” at something or under-perform. We assume others will scorn us and think less of us. This certainly was how the person felt who I was coaching on public-speaking  – “all eyes are on me and they will see every little mistake and that makes me very uncomfortable.”

Winch goes on to write, “Shame is a psychologically toxic emotion because instead of feeling bad about our actions (guilt) or our efforts (regret), shame makes us feel bad who we are. Shame gets to the core of our egos, our identities, our self-esteem, and our feelings of emotional well-being.”

This common fear can make us behave in ways that actually undermine our development and makes the fear get worse the more we avoid it.

Here are Winch’s 10 Signs that you might have a “fear of failure”:

  1. Failing makes you worry about what other people think about you.
  2. Failing makes you worry about your ability to pursue the future you desire.
  3. Failing makes you worry that people will lose interest in you.
  4. Failing makes you worry about how smart or capable you are.
  5. Failing makes you worry about disappointing people whose opinion you value.
  6. You tell people beforehand you don’t expect to succeed in order to lower their expectations.
  7. Once you fail, you have trouble imagining what you could have done differently to succeed.
  8. You often get last-minute physical symptoms that prevent you from completing preparation.
  9. You let yourself get distracted by non-urgent tasks that prevent you from preparing.
  10. You tend to procrastinate and “run out of time” to complete your preparation.


Robbins’ Tips for Conquering Fear. Tony Robbins is arguably the most successful self-help consultant in the world. And, according to an article last month in Inc. Magazine, his list of clients includes some of the most successful people in the world such as Oprah, Bill Clinton, and Arianna Huffington.tony_robbins

At the heart of Robbins’ motivational program is teaching people to face their fears. While we may not be able to completely overcome them, we can certainly learn how to manage them in a way that helps us grow.

In an article How to Use Fear Before it Uses You on his website, Robbins shares five tips for helping us stop letting fear control us. (If you like videos I would also recommend his video interview with Marlo Thomas.)


Five Tips

1. Is your goal a “must” or “should” goal? Look at the goal and try to objectively assess what it will cost you if you do NOT deal with the fear that stands between you and its achievement. Is it something you really “must” do? Will it improve your team, will it advance your career, will you be proud of yourself for doing it in the future?

Robbins refers to this as a “rocking chair” assessment.  “Try imagining yourself when you are 80 years old, nearing the end of your life. You are sitting in your rocking chair, reflecting on how you lived your life. Now, look back on your life as if you had not achieved the goal you are after at this moment in your life. How has this affected the course of your life? What are your regrets? What do you wish you had made more time for? What do you wish you had tried? Is there sadness and regret?”

2. Recognize when you are making excuses. When we are afraid of failing it is common that we start constructing and hiding behind excuses. We do this because it comforts us. Unfortunately, if we do not recognize when we are making excuses we end-up right back where we started. We do not grow. Robbins reminds us to recognize these thoughts when they enter our heads and develop strategies to overcome the excuses.

3. Develop a Growth Mindset. Robbins writes that people often give-up on goals that seem out of reach because they believe the goals are just too far beyond their abilities. Successful people, however, believe their abilities are not fixed and they can change and grow. They look at big goals in incremental pieces and try things, fail a little, learn, and watch their abilities grow. Then they achieve what some people might have thought out of reach.

4. Realize that pain brings valuable insight. When we run into difficult circumstances, ones that do not turn out the way we wanted, we should stop and look for insight. Why did this not work out? Why was it not the right fit for me? What do I really want? Robbins writes, “Remember, we are built to adapt. So embrace this strength and use each experience as a tool to help you learn more about yourself and what you really must have in life.”

5. Know that failure is inevitable. We all fail at things in life and while we should not expect failure, we need to learn from it when it happens. Again Robbins writes, “There is no teacher as impactful as the sting of failure. And no lesson in resilience better than the burn of rejection. But if you use these experiences as unique information, and adjust your strategy and approach the next time around, you will have an advantage that no one else does.”

One thing I have learned this week about the fear of failure is that while my action and mistakes today might give me regrets or even shame, taking no action today will leave me with regrets in a few years when I’m sitting in that proverbial “rocking chair.” And by then, no one else will remember my mistakes. I might as well take a few chances!