Fear of Failure

A. Fear of Failure Introduction.

The fear of failure, aka atychiphobia, is a persistent fear of failing.  It is not something fleeting like I wonder if I passed that test.  There are many technical and detailed discussions about what it is, why you feel the way you do, or why specific treatment methods work better than others. 

This website deals with practical applications directed at the heart of the fear.  There is a fundamental difference between:

Failing in an activity, and

Thinking you are a loser because you dared to act

There is not a single scientific study, a single exploration, a single business, or a single political enterprise that did not have multiple failures.   Failure and success are intrinsically connected, so one cannot exist without the other.  

It should be understood that when the Fear of Failure becomes irrational and significantly interferes with your daily life, it becomes a phobia.  The proper diagnosis of this phobia requires an expert.  Self-diagnosis will almost always be far too harsh. 

When a person reaches the phobia stage, they need professional help.  And they need it right now.  The quicker one acts on this phobia, the easier and sooner it can be resolved.  Treatments are often covered by medical insurance.

Everyone has hints of insecurity and not wanting to fail.  This website is directed to help you.  There are essentially four different False Negative Thoughts that form the bulk of those that trigger this fear.

1. False Negative Thought #1. I Believe I will Fail.

This false negative thought says:

“You’re going to fail if you attempt this task.

This is true even when you possess the necessary knowledge, education, and experience to succeed. This negative thought is not directed to something impossible, such as “I’m going to jump over that building.”  This negative thought is directed to something you can accomplish with your abilities.  It forms in the Negative Thoughts Department deep inside your brain. 

The first step is understanding that you are dealing with a false negative thought.  An action performs a function while being afraid to act is a thought.  This distinction may seem obvious.  But it is not.   Here are three things that help spot the difference.

(a).  Is There an Unknown Element?  Are you afraid of the action, or are you afraid of what will happen by acting?   Take, for example, reaching toward a door handle.  Are you afraid of the physical act of moving your hand toward the doorknob?  Or are you afraid of what is behind the door? 

Moving your hand toward the door is usually not based on something unknown.  What’s behind the door, on the other hand, is likely unfamiliar.  The fear of the unknown is a classic example of a false negative thought. 

Change the facts slightly.  You notice that the door handle appears red hot, and you can feel the heat as you reach for the handle.  You jerk your hand back.  Are your jerking your hand based on a false negative thought?   The answer is no.  Observing the red door handle and feeling heat involves receiving factual information.  These observations are not something unknown. 

But don’t think the unknown must involve a boogie man or a supernatural force.  It could be a potential girlfriend or boyfriend behind the door, and the unknown is having no idea what he or she might say or do.  An “unknown” is an “unknown” regardless of its form.

THEREFORE, If your fear is based on something unknown, it is a red flag that it is a false negative thought.

(b)  Is an Emotion Involved?  Most false negative thoughts involve emotions.  Hence, you are invoking an emotion if you blame yourself or someone else for something.  Take, for example; you receive a call on your cell phone.  You see who is calling, and you feel uncomfortable. Nothing has happened other than seeing who is calling, and you automatically feel uncomfortable.  You just triggered an emotion.  This is the hallmark of a False Negative Thought. 

Which emotion caused you to become uncomfortable may be more challenging to determine.  Don’t attempt to analyze that issue while you are emotional.  It is too difficult.  Emotions zap the energy needed for analytical thought.  Therefore, please wait until your emotions subside before you try to analyze them. 

You don’t need to understand which emotion triggered the uncomfortable feeling to determine the existence of a False Negative Thought.  But it will be helpful later in analyzing the thought’s validity.

THEREFORE, if an emotion triggers your fear, it is a red flag that a false negative thought may be involved.

(c)  Does Avoidance Bring Pleasure?  Typically, pleasure brings joy, and joy helps reduce fear.  However, when connected to anti-social activities, pleasure can do the opposite.  A person taking pleasure in stealing something will be encouraged to do it again. 

Receiving pleasure whenever you avoid an uncomfortable situation will associate avoidance with pleasure.  That’s almost the definition of an addiction.  There are three basic ways to remove the pleasure incentive. 

  • First, by assessing a penalty for undesirable conduct;
  • Second, by learning how to suppress pleasure, and
  • Third, by finding pleasure every time you defy an avoidance.

Every parent assesses the penalty aspects to stop their kids from teasing each other.  They may say, “stop it” or “don’t make me come over there.”  Assessing penalties to motivate or control conduct has worked for as long as animals roamed the earth.   

The most common method professionals use teaching patients how to suppress pleasure when associated with bad behavior.  This method works but takes time using baby steps. 

The third method is to re-associate the pleasure feeling. One receives a reward every time one defies the urge to avoid. 

All three methods work, and all three are often used simultaneously. 

If you detect pleasure, such as a little smile, right after deciding to avoid some tasks, it is a red flag that you own a little of this fear.  It may not interfere with your daily routine, but it works in the background.

Now comes the good part.  Once you know you own some of this fear AND are now aware of the various triggers, you are on the road to recovery.  It might be as much as 50% if your addiction (how often you experience pleasure) is not too high.

2. False Negative Thought #2. Feeling Overwhelmed Most of the Time.

You might think that feeling overwhelmed is more dependent on the facts and circumstances surrounding one’s life rather than on false negative thoughts.  Although there is some truth to that, it is usually just another false negative thought.   If you cannot decide whether something is a false thought or not, go with the mistaken belief.  This is particularly true if there is any remote sign of emotion.

Let’s say you were dropped on a deserted island without fresh water or food.  That would certainly cause a feeling of being overwhelmed.  Then again, how often has that happened?  If the word zero comes to mind, then being afraid of being stuck on a deserted island without food and waterfalls within the gambit of a false negative thought.   

One thing you can do when you feel overwhelmed is to stop digging.  Yes!  If you are digging a hole and you can’t get out.  Then stop digging.  If you don’t have the money to pay your credit card bill, stop charging things on the card.  If you are standing on the corner complaining to your buddies that you don’t have any money, try something new – get a job.  If you have had three tickets for speeding in the last two weeks, it’s a good idea to slow down.   If your car registers empty, don’t try and find out how much further you can go.  Turn into a gas station.


Make a list of those things that make you feel overwhelmed.  Then check off all of those that are only in your head.  Then check off those items that are truly too much for you to handle and learn the old-fashioned technique of delegating.

3. False Negative Thought #3. Worrying that if you Fail you will Disappoint Others or What others May Think.

This is similar to being afraid to fail, discussed in paragraph A, but it is different.  This time it includes how someone else may feel.  Two different reasons generally cause this.  The biggest one is that you are probably being manipulated.  Manipulation is the oldest trick in the book to get someone else to do something.  The good thing about manipulation is that once you discover it, the solution is as easy as saying no more.   But spotting manipulation is not easy since emotions are at play that hides the manipulator’s actions.   There is an entire section dedicated to spotting manipulation

The other cause for this false negative thought is your belief that you must impress someone or do something others will admire.  This is a form of reverse envy or jealousy.  It is something we are born with and shows up in early childhood.   Have you ever heard of two children arguing about something, and one says, “I have something you don’t have, ha ha ha ha.”  It suggests that you may be trying to manipulate others into liking you. 

There are multiple ways to handle envy or jealousy and its reverse effects.  The principle one is to look for reasons you want someone to envy you.  Most of the time, it’s because you want to be accepted in the group.  You may have some insecurity issues.  Review the section on Fear of Rejection for potential solutions. 

Numerous articles, videos, and online self-help exercises help with this.  Church leaders are an excellent source of advice.  Envy and Jealousy are prominent in all religious scriptures, and these leaders are well versed on these topics. 

4. False Negative Thought #4. Triggered by Prior Failures or a Traumatic Event.

A history of prior failures is a common reason given.   However, it is because the word “failure” is intentionally misused by your Negative Thoughts Department.  Failure is not the proper word.  The appropriate term is “progress.” 

Here are a couple of examples:

A man and his wife in the attic of their boarding house experimented with milky rubber sap.  They boiled the sap with many compounds.  None of them made the rubber hard or useful.  Then they tried using sulfur.  It stunk up the house so bad they had to move out for several days.  When they returned, they discovered the rubber was hard.  Those initial tests were not failures but valuable progress steps.  Thank you, Charles Goodyear, the inventor of all car tires today.  

It took Thomas Edison 1,200 experiments before discovering a working light bulb.  All 1,200 experiments were progress steps toward finding the proper filament.  They were not failures. 

The true definition of failure is not trying.  All inventions, all science, all sports, and all explorations have results that did not solve a particular problem the first time. 

Therefore, every time the word “failure” comes up, substitute the word “progress.” 

A traumatic effect is the source of most of our deep-seated fears.  Sometimes it only takes a single event.  Most people who are afraid of drowning remember being pushed into deep water.  Traumatic events do not go away by reading or hearing a speech.  It usually takes repetitive exposure, such as 10 to 20 times.  To reduce the total number needed, add a reward after each repetition.

B. Are There any Treatments?

The simple answer is yes.  But it requires you to understand that your fear comes from a false negative thought, and you should know what triggers these thoughts.  This is discussed in subparagraphs 1 through 4.  The go-to treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  There are many publications on this therapy.  But for many of us, a video is helpful.  There are many YouTube™ Videos and Ted™ talks that are instructive and entertaining.  It would help if you listened to a couple of them to understand the mechanics involved.

Next, you must practice, i.e., expose yourself to making decisions to act and then acting.  It takes more than one time.  You should do at least ten of them.  Here is one suggested procedure to follow: 

Step 1.  Find a problem to solve.  The problem must be one that you do not know the answer to.  For example, reaching into the cupboard to get a saltshaker is not a situation where you do not have the answer.  On the other hand, spreading salt on your hash browns without using your hands would be. 

Step 2.  List at least two alternative solutions; Consider the option of eliminating the problem.

Step 3.  Formulate a plan to accomplish the solution.

Step 4.  Implement the plan.  and

Step 5.  Reward yourself, regardless of the outcome. 


These practice exercises are to be implemented in the real world.  Don’t just read the various sample answers.  That might be the quickest way, but it won’t reduce your fear.  You must go through the steps and practice, practice, and more. 

Think about a Golfer.  All the reading, talking, and measuring won’t get your ball in the hole.   It might help, but only practice will accomplish your objective.

Exercise No. 1.  You dislike pruning rose bushes.  The problem is how to make pruning your rose bushes more enjoyable.

Step 1  This is outlined in the description

Step 2.  List Potential Solutions.

(a) Remove the rose bushes.

(b) Replace the rose bushes with a Thornless variety.

            (c) Have your children pruning the roses;

            (d) Have your spouse prune the roses;

            (e) Have your neighbor prunes your roses;

Step 3.  Formulate a Plan.

(a) Tear out the rose bushes and replace them with something else.

(b) Replace the rose bushes with a Thornless variety.

(c) Negotiate with your children by giving them an allowance for pruning the roses;

(d) Negotiate with your spouse to fix your favorite meal or go to your favorite restaurant each time you prune the roses.

(e) Negotiate with your neighbor that you will do something for them if they would prune your roses.

Step 4.  Implement the plan.  Implementing the plan is a large part of fixing the fear.  If you want to dance, you have to move your feet.

Step 5.  You must receive a reward regardless of the plan’s success, i.e., the children decide to go to a rock concert and forego the allowance.  Your neighbor does a terrible job.  You have discovered that the Thornless variety is not as pretty or does not like direct sunlight.

 The point is that you advance.  Progress has been made.

For example, you have eliminated the neighbor as a future Gardner.  You discovered that the negotiated allowance with your children was on the low side.  You have crossed off using the Thornless variety in your backyard.  And you did not use the word failure in any of your conversations. 

Exercise No. 2.  You are off to Grandma’s house for a birthday dinner with your family.  You have taken the same route every time.  You want to do something different.

Step 1.  This is outlined in the description

Step 2.  List Solutions 

(a) Get your children to give directions using an old fashion street map.

            (b) Search out the most scenic route.

(c) Plan a route so that you drive by the house where you grew up;

(d) Plan a route so that you drive by the house where your children grew up;

Step 3.  Formulate a Plan.

(a) Buy an old Thomas Brothers Street Map from the internet.  When you get into the car to leave, give the street map to the children.   Tell them that this is what was used in the olden days.  Tell them that they must give you the directions to Grandma’s street.  The children cannot use their cell phones.  Better yet, take the cell phones away during the trip.

 (b) Pick out several scenic roads or parks to see on the trip.  Learn something about these scenic roads and parks so that you can act as a tour guide.

(c) Drive by the house where you grew up if located in the same city.  Point out where you played and which trees you climbed as a kid.

(d) Drive by the house where your children grew up.  Ask them to say something about who they played with and what they liked best in the neighborhood. 

Step 4.  Implement the plan.  Talking about things they see along the way is often the most interesting. 

Step 5.  At the end of the trip, ask the family what they enjoyed the most.  That will be your reward. 

Exercise No. 3.  Driving to a store by the quickest route.  Use a stopwatch or Cell phone to measure the time.

Step 1.  This is outlined in the description.

Step 2.  List Solutions.

(a) Drive to the store using only right turns whenever available.

(b) Drive to the store using the geographic shortest distance.

(c) Drive to the store using the major Freeways/Highways as much as possible.

(d) Drive to the store using the street roads as much as possible;

Step 3.  Formulate a Plan.

(a) Studies have shown that eliminating left turns reduces time and accidents.  UPS™ drivers rarely take left turns. 

(b) Use a cell phone app to find the shortest route.

(c) Using Freeways/Highways is often slower during rush hour traffic.  Record the travel time during rush hour and off hours.

(d) Street roads are sometimes the fastest route.  But most street routes are more scenic. 

Step 4.  Implement the plan.  Sometimes it is better to have a passenger record the times or observations.  Resistance to collaboration is often a symptom of fear of failure.

Step 5.  Don’t forget to reward yourself.  And do it each time you make the trip and record your travel time.  Even if you are stuck in traffic, do not use the word “failure.” You are eliminating that route during a particular time.  Progress has been made. 

Exercise No. 4.  You want to do something fun with the family but do not have much money.  

Step 1.  This is outlined in the description.

Step 2.  List Solutions.

(a) Go on a Hike.

(b) Have a day at the Beach.

(c) Go to a National Park.

(d) Camp out in the backyard.

Step 3.  Formulate a Plan. Every step in each plan requires making decisions.

(a) There are hiking trails in every location.  To make the hike more memorable, have each person take photos of different subjects.  One can take pictures of birds; one is in charge of trees, one handles the insects, etc.  Reluctance to delegate or to work with others is usually avoided with a fear of failure. 

When you get home, download the photos on a computer and select the best pictures of each subject.  Then have the selected photos in an album and images of the family having fun and experiencing nature.  The photo album is not too expensive, from $10 (Walgreens) to $15 (Shutterfly).

(b) Although an ocean beach requires you to live near an ocean, there are beaches at almost every lake or reservoir.  There are many fun activities at the Beach.  Some include building sandcastles, catching fish, collecting seashells, playing in the water, watching the sunset, cooking hot dogs, and burning marshmallows.

(c) Going to a national park requires deciding which Park, securing reservations, packing for the trip, and driving to the Park.  Each Park has different things available, but all have spectacular views, wildlife, and trails.  To make things interesting, it might be fun to give the power to decide on each family member.

(d) Camping out in the backyard can be far more enjoyable than you might think.  Projecting a movie onto a sheet stretched between two poles, counting the shooting stars, or tying the locate the big dipper all combine to make a remarkable family adventure.  Again, delegating a task and decision power to each family member is a good idea.  One could have the ability to select the bug zapper or mosquito repellent, and another could control the location of the tent.  The type of games, corn hole, Frisbee, etc., can go to another.  If a family member or a friend is without power, allow them to designate the hanging string lights.  The importance of the terrestrial entrance into the tent could form a story based on the Egyptian pyramid builders.

Step 5.  The greatest reward will come when the family members, particularly the children, say; this was the time ever.   However, if they say, I did not like this or that, you just learned your children’s interests.  Smile because that is progress and not a failure.

Exercise No. 5.  Attorney Example.  This is an example relating to important chess skills.  In this example, assume that you are a trial attorney, and your client is a senior citizen that slipped and fell in the grocery store in front of the fresh carrots.  You have to prove that the store had knowledge of slip hazards to win.  The clever defense lawyer pulls out a local newspaper article that reported that your client slipped and fell in front of the produce aisle a year earlier and she sued the grocery store.  You lost your motion to keep the article from being introduced into evidence.  What do you do? 

. Step 1.  How can you reduce the damage caused by your client’s previous incident? 

Step 2.  List Solutions 

(a) Do not look at the jurors so they cannot see how the news article affects you. 

(b) Search the article to see if it is related to someone with the same name.

(c) See if you can use the article so that it helps you.

Step 3.  Formulate a Plan.

(a) Jurors know when a person is conceding a point by their demeanor.  Therefore, if you are one of those people who wear your emotions on your sleeve, they will show up.  In that event, not looking at the jury might have some advantages.

(b) If the news article relates to someone else having the same name, it can be used to show that the defense counsel is attempting to influence the jurors with false evidence.  This would be a fantastic turn of events.

(c) Using evidence that appears harmful can often be used in your favor.  In this case, the article can show that the Grocery store knew of slip hazards because it happened before in this town and was published in a local newspaper. To add frosting to the cake, you can argue that your poor client was the victim twice, and that should be a reason to award a more significant verdict for stopping these stores from creating hazards against our senior citizens.  This is an example of a failure (motion to exclude denied) being converted into a victory (notice of risk.).

Step 5.  Celebrate not giving in to your fear regardless of what the juror does with the case. 

Can you identify which chess skill was associated with this example?   Here is a hint: What do you do if your Queen is in danger and you cannot get her out of danger? 

If you still do not know, email Quorvita for another hint.