What is Fear of Failure?

‘Fear’- a powerful impulse of the spirit. Fear is a natural response of our body in difficult situations. It is innate as well as learned in certain situations. But what if we start fearing the situation even before it has happened? What if you start fearing the outcome of situations? We often come across situations where we are so afraid of the outcome that we decide not to try at all. The possible outcome of “Failure” has so much impact on us that we subconsciously undermine our own efforts to avoid the possibility of a larger failure.

Failures are never desirable, yet they are inevitable. No matter how hard you try, there is a certain possibility that we will fail. When people are focused on this one outcome and start fearing it, it becomes a problem.

Fear of failure (also known as ‘Atychiphobia’) is a constant, overwhelming feeling of dread that accompanies undertaking projects or pursuit of life goals. It can be unsettling and make us give up and stop the pursuit. We will always be hopeless and insecure. We will neglect our own potential and will always feel disappointed in ourselves. This fear of failure ranges across the spectrum. Though mild fear is important as it keeps us focused and oriented, it motivates us, provides positive stress, and gives us a reason to give our all. However, when this fear gets severe, it immobilizes us and leaves us unable to take any action, thereby generating anxiety.

Signs That Fear of Failure is Holding You Back


You are not certain about the future and are always hopeless about the outcome of events. No matter how much you know about the subject or how much effort you’ve put into it, you still feel that you can’t succeed. For example, despite being completely prepared for your competitive exam, you feel that you can’t clear it.


As you are somewhere sure in your mind that you’re not going to succeed, putting in efforts becomes difficult as it all seems worthless. In this scenario, it becomes easy to get distracted. Mostly, it is irrelevant or unimportant things that distract us.

Other’s Opinion

You are not only concerned about the failure but also about how other’s will see you after it. You think of all sorts of negative feedback from people, and despite knowing all this, you still do not make the effort to succeed and instead keep worrying.


Killing time is your favorite hobby. You have a pile of tasks to be done and efforts to be put in, but you decide to bypass all that and focus on doing nothing while constantly worrying about the passing time and the harm it is doing to you.

Physical Symptoms

You experience symptoms such as fatigue, joint or muscle pain, headaches, digestive issues, anxiety, and breathlessness, and there is no medical explanation for it. It prevents you from working towards your goal.

Overcoming Fear of Failure

Fear of failure has multiple sources and is mostly due to our past experiences. We experience a setback during the course of action and change our whole idea regarding the concept of success. Experiences like having unsupportive parents also contribute to this cause. Some traumatic experiences in the past also inculcate fear in us.

It is important to learn that failure is a part of life, we cannot completely avoid it, and no success can be achieved without undergoing failure. However, there are certain ways by which the fear of failure can be reduced .

Redefine Failure

The whole idea of what failure looks like varies from person to person. The thing that most people fear about failing is how they will be perceived after they fail. We need to change how we look at it. Failure can be our friend if, instead of being dejected by it, we use it as a catalyst. Failure is a lesson, as it teaches us all the things that we need to avoid and other things that need to be kept in check when trying again.

Failure is like a gate in a video game where you need to solve the puzzle to unlock the gate and continue the journey.

Redefine Goals

Whenever we make efforts towards a task, there are two types of goals that we aim for. One is achieving a positive outcome, and the other is avoiding an adverse one. When our focus is more on avoiding the adverse outcome, fear arises. When the task is tough, the focus automatically shifts towards the second goal. If we have experienced some kind of failure in the past and we get influenced by it, then, in our next attempt, our focus will be on avoiding this failure instead of achieving success. Here, a conscious effort needs to be made to focus on the desired outcome only.

Potential Outcomes

Fear of the unknown is the greatest of all. Most people fear failure because they are not exactly sure about the possible outcomes. When our whole focus is on just two things; either achieving our goal or not achieving it and the task is tough, we get fear of failure. We must understand that winning or losing are not the only outcomes. We learn, gain experience, gain confidence, and become more familiar with the situation each time we encounter it. These outcomes are also important, and we need to analyze all the possible outcomes of our decision. This will remove the element of the unknown and help us gain much better insight into the situation.

Worst-Case Scenario

When we put our heart and soul into some activity, all we hope for is a favorable outcome. When things don’t go as planned and we don’t achieve our goal, we feel devastated. But the question is, is it really that devastating? Is it the end of the world? In some situations, it might be the case, but in the majority of situations, it is not. Remember the competitive exam that you sat for but couldn’t clear. What happened? You didn’t stop, and you made things work for you. Your life has definitely not stopped. Sometimes we give situations more control than we should. We must remember that there’s always a new beginning, and the worst case scenario is that you will have to do it again.

Backup Plan

The major component of the fear of failure comes from the idea that you need to achieve success in the given task because there is no other option. If you fail, you’ll have nothing left. Playing it safe is the right thing to do. Having a backup plan instills confidence that all will not be lost. No matter what the outcome, you’ll always have something to fall back on. Investors don’t invest all their money in a single stock. When they go for a high-risk potential stock, they still have less risky stocks to not let them go bankrupt in case the return doesn’t come as expected.

Small Tasks

Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the task in front of us. Daunting tasks that feel impossible to complete often arouse fear. Breaking down these tasks into manageable chunks helps us feel more in control. And when we are in control of the task, we reflect on the aspects of success that are within our control, helping us make effective choices and actions to achieve success.


Fear is also aroused when we have low self-esteem and lack confidence. When we introspect ourselves and our failures, we need to understand that failure clouds our thinking and diminishes our self-esteem, so we focus only on our shortcomings. Boosting your self-esteem and believing in self is also an important part of overcoming the fear of failure. Rather than focusing on our weaknesses and perceived shortcomings, we should focus on our inherent strengths and potential and also work towards improving them.

Failure is an inseparable part of human experience and we can’t be perfect if we haven’t experienced failure ever in life. Fearing the obvious is not wise. Our actions and beliefs have much more power than we think. But if keep hooked to the bygones, then this potential will be of no use. We need to understand that what has been done is done and cannot be changed but what lies ahead is entirely dependent on what we do today and not on what has been done. We should welcome failure and not be afraid of it. This fear should not stop us from moving forward. Remember, comfort should arouse fear. Being comfortable is a sign that we are not giving our all and are inside our comfort zone. So rethink your fears, define them and learn from them and failure, instead of being roadblocks ,will act as stepping stone towards success.

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Last Update: 22 February 2024

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