Subba’s Serendipitous moments

September 1, 2010

Reframing fear of failure for success

Filed under: Uncategorized — Subbaraman Iyer @ 11:46 am


Most people get paralyzed by fear. It seems to be an automated response, partly burdened by the expectations of success or the stakes involved. This doesn’t have to be necessarily the case.

A simple mental calibration of our perspective should be adequate to leverage this negative emotion to be successful. Adam Khoo explains the mental calibration effectively in his blog post here. Key elements involved in the mental calibration include:

Many people define failure as NOT achieving their goals. Successful people see failure differently. They think they only fail when they give up. As long as they don’t quit and keep learning and moving forward, they have not failed yet!

Successful people also believe that the greatest failure in life is the failure to participate in life. Not even ‘trying’ is the greatest failure of all.

There is nothing wrong with having fear. Fear is an emotional response given to us by our creator for a specific purpose. When you learn to use it, fear heightens your senses, increases your focus and drives you to become even better prepared.

Speaking for myself, the fear of failure in fact energizes me. Though I am  well prepared for most events, there’s always the gnawing fear that something can go wrong and I can fail. For instance, I dread the ten steps that I need to take to go up  the podium to deliver a talk. But as soon as I am close to the stage and get ready to start, I can actually feel a positive energy revitalizing me. Some say it is the adrenalin effect. I can’t confirm that. Most times, I deliver a talk that surpasses expectations and I feel a sense of fulfillment.

In the rare case, when I never felt the dread, I missed giving a great performance.

I have also been told that psyching oneself up and having positive thinking is a great antidote for the fear of failure. I do not think so. An induced positive thinking is synthetic. It only accentuates the obsessive attachment to the desired result and increases the intensity of failure. It doesn’t neutralize the fear of failure; merely suppresses it. Delusional optimism is as harmful as having the pathological fear of failure. I wrote about the negative aspects of positive thinking here.

The thing that works effectively and is healthy: Feel the fear and do it anyway. Do it after you have adequately prepared for it.