I would like to think of myself as daring, as a risk-taker who is not afraid to fail. But, deep down I know the fear is there. Recognizing the signs of the fear of failure and identifying when and where it is most active allows me to have choices and create possibilities in how I respond. It allows me the opportunity to adjust my mindset and be proactive, which is more aligned with my self-image.
Are you aware of how your fear of failure shows up in you?
This is part 2 of the 5-part series on The Fear of Failure by Diana Gabriel, Certified Strengths Strategy Coach.When you fear failure you’re likely to set your ambitions too low or too high. Click To Tweet
Fear of failure has several telltale, and observable signs. You’re likely to set your ambitions too low or too high, explains entrepreneurship expert Robert Kelsey, author of What’s Stopping You?: Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can (Capstone, 2012).
- Goals set too low reflect a lack of self-confidence and a fear of achieving normal benchmarks, he explains in a 2012 CNN.com article.
- Conversely, goals set too high serve as a mask for your insecurities. Failure is expected. No one could possibly achieve these targets, so there shouldn’t be any criticism. Liken it to an attempt to swim the English Channel in rough seas: No one is expected to accomplish it, so we bestow admiration on those who try, yet fail.
Another key sign of fear of failure is a tendency to procrastinate as an avoidance tactic. If you can put off achieving a goal, you can also delay the dreaded failure. Look for unfounded hesitancy, second-guessing and finding reasons to delay or alter plans.
University of Ottawa psychologist Timothy Pychyl describes research that shows a direct inverse correlation between people’s sense of autonomy, competence, relatedness and vitality and their tendency to procrastinate in a 2009 Psychology Today article.
Other signs of fear of failure include:
- A consistent pattern of indecision
- Anxiety over risks or change
- An excessive desire or attempt to control circumstances
- An inability to delegate or trust others to perform tasks correctly
- Perfectionism (often leading to micromanagement)
- An overriding fear of things going wrong
- Obsessing over details
- Making sure everything is just so
Which of these tendencies resonate with you? They are fairly common among high performing leaders, like you, and they are often behaviors that are rewarded by results. But at what cost to you as an individual?