There is nothing more universal than the fear of failure. It’s an epidemic in both our personal and professional lives, and left unchecked it could spell disaster. Worse, nobody in an organization is immune to it, at any level. And that can compound the problem as pressures from above invariably roll downhill.
“People tend to translate failure into catastrophe,” says Laleh Alemzadeh-Hancock, a management and professional services consultant, and the founder and CEO of global professional services company, Belapemo. “They immediately focus on the worst possible result of their failure and it becomes paralyzing.”
I asked Laleh if she could provide a few tools to put in your toolbox if this is something you’ve faced.
Acknowledge that the fear might not be yours “We’re not as separate from each other as we like to think,” Laleh says. “Imagine that you’re a radio receiver and everybody is unknowingly broadcasting their thoughts, feelings, and emotions all the time. With everybody in an organization suffering from the same fear of failure, your first step should be to identify whether or not the worry is even yours! It can be as simple as asking yourself, ‘Is this even mine?’ and see what comes up!”
Get out of your head When left on our own to stew in the anxiety, it can be very easy to start imagining the worst-case scenarios. The first step here is to acknowledge that fear is the anticipation of something that hasn’t happened yet. One of the most effective ways to combat that anticipation is with action. Focus on something you can do, something that is within your control, no matter how small, and go do it.
Laleh also recommends getting more in touch with your body by this simple breathing exercise: In a comfortable sitting or standing position, take a breath from under your feet and bring the breath up to your head; then slowly release the breath back to your toes. Repeat this process two more times.
Turn your “fear” upside down What if you were misidentifying excitement or anticipation as fear? From a physiological perspective, the two can be eerily similar – increased focus, elevated heart rate, perspiration, etc. So what if that presentation you think you’re afraid of giving is actually just excitement in disguise? Instead of buying into that narrative of fear, start asking yourself, “What else is possible here that I haven’t considered?” Play out the scenario in your head again but with that different energy attached.
Instead of being nervous during that presentation, imagine yourself being authoritative and calm and see what that does to your mental state. You may find that all you needed to get over your fear was a different point of view.
Ask more questions In addition to the self-defeating questions that are already bombarding your brain, like, “What if I screw this up?” or “What will happen if I lose my job?” Laleh suggests focusing on questions that can actually be a contribution to you, instead of a hindrance. A few examples include:
What is really being asked of me? Do I have the information I need to get started? Do I have the skills to complete it the way it is required? If not, who or what can I add to my team/project to complete it the way it is required? What choices and options are available that I may not have considered yet? By choosing to move forward with this, what will it create for the company, the world, and me in 5 years? The key here is to start trusting your knowledge and be aware of the energy that comes up with every question you ask. If it makes you feel lighter when you ask the question, it’s probably true for you. Heaviness indicates a lie or an answer in the negative.
Is more information required? This one bears repeating because the answer might be your awareness that you don’t have everything you need to be successful in whatever project or task you’ve been assigned. Trust that knowing, says Laleh.
“What if your nervousness was just your awareness sending you a message?” Laleh suggests. “What if every time you went into the fear of something at work, you took the opportunity to ask what your intuition is trying to tell you?
“In the end,” Laleh adds, “it’s the actual fear of failure that creates the conditions under which failure is more likely to occur. The kind of preoccupation and worry that fear engenders actually makes you less productive, more irritable, harder to work with, more likely to miss deadlines, and a score of other things which do more to harm you, than you would actually have done if you hadn’t let fear win the day. But, by asking questions and following what is right for you, you’ll be able to put that fear to bed for a while. Maybe even for good.”