Fortunately, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) can help you to relinquish your fear of failure and try to do things outside of your expertise and your comfort zone. To do so first see that your fear comes from your rigid and extreme beliefs about success and failure. Here are a few self-defeating beliefs that are either rigid or extreme that underpin your fear of failure:
- I must succeed.
- I must not look foolish to significant others when I fail.
- I must perform perfectly well.
- Performing well should not involve trial and error learning.
- It would be awful, terrible, or the end of the world if I did not succeed, if I looked foolish to others, performed imperfectly, or could only learn something through trial and error learning.
- It would be unbearable to fail, look foolish to significant others, perform imperfectly or learn by trial and error learning.
- I would be a loser or a bad and worthless person for not succeeding. I would be a loser if others looked upon me as a fool because I failed or did not perform perfectly well, or had to learn by trial and error in order to ultimately succeed.
REBT teaches people to relinquish their self-defeating fear of failure by challenging the above beliefs and replacing them with flexible and non-extreme beliefs about failing, appearing foolish to others, performing imperfectly, and succeeding through trial and error learning.
When people fear failure they may also have shame for their failure. Shame is a powerful emotion that leads to avoidance of risk. To help people who have anxiety, shame and then avoid trying new things and taking calculated risks I show them how to think about things in a far more constructive way. Shame over a failure is always a choice a person makes. Here are some helpful beliefs I encourage people to adopt in order to overcome their fear of failure and the shame that goes along with this fear:
- I want to succeed but I do not absolutely have to do so.
- I hope not to be looked upon by significant others as foolish when I fail but this may happen. If it does that never mean I am a fool. I want the approval of others but I never need it. I never have to define myself a “fool” for failing at a goal regardless of the manner in which I fail.
- I want to perform perfectly well but I do not absolutely have to do so.
- I wish performing well at new things did not involve trial and error learning but it often does. Doing things well the first time is not a rule of the universe it is only a commonly held wish which fallible humans often hold.
- It would be bad or perhaps in some cases very bad if I were to fail but it would not be awful, terrible, or the end of the world if I did.
- It would be uncomfortable but not unbearable if I were to fail, appear foolish to others, perform imperfectly, or learn by trial and error learning.
- Failing, looking foolish to others, performing imperfectly, and learning through trial and error would be bad but would not make me a bad or worthless person. Doing so would show that I am a fallible human being who tried and failed but who could very well succeed in the future.
In REBT we encourage you to attack your shame and fear and to allow yourself to fail. Accept yourself unconditionally with both your successes and your failures. See that you may want to appear favorably to others but you do not absolutely need their approval and if they were to think poorly of you for failing you would still be the same person you are today. Recognize that there really are no perfect performances and so strive to get better at doing things but never strive to do things perfectly well. If you do so you will try and accomplish much less than if you allow yourself to perform imperfectly and then to learn from each attempt you make.
Push yourself to overcome your anxiety and shame by thinking in the way I have outlined above. You can choose how you think about things, you can choose the beliefs you hold about success and failure. REBT is a liberating philosophy and psychotherapy. Use it to help you relinquish your fear of failure and to start enjoying the achievement and pleasure that eventually comes from trying new things in life. Remember you can choose to think differently and to not disturb yourself over failure.