What Is the Fear of Failure?
The fear of failure, which is sometimes referred to as atychiphobia, is an irrational and persistent fear of failing. Sometimes this fear might emerge in response to a specific situation. In other cases, it might be related to another mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.
The fear of failure may also be related to being a perfectionist. Because perfectionists have such high expectations for how they expect things to turn out, they may experience a nagging fear that they won't live up to those often unrealistically high standards.
A fear of failure can produce emotional and behavioral symptoms. Some of the common signs of this fear include:
- Feeling a loss of control
In addition to emotional and behavioral symptoms, people with a fear of failure may also experience physical symptoms including rapid heart rate, chest tightness, trembling, dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating, and digestive problems.
Identifying the Fear of Failure
The fear of failure may affect people in a variety of ways, which means that it's not always easy to identify. Some of the ways that people may experience the fear of failure include:
- Believing that you don't have the skills or knowledge to achieve something
- Feeling like you won't be able to achieve your goals
- Procrastinating to the point that it affects your performance or ability to finish on time
- Telling people that you will probably fail so that expectations remain low
- Underestimating your own abilities to avoid feeling let down
- Worrying that imperfections or shortcomings will make other people think less of you
- Worrying that you will disappoint others if you fail
In some cases, the fear of failure may cause people to avoid trying altogether. Because they are so afraid that they will try and not succeed, they simply decide not to try at all in order to prevent potential pain, embarrassment, or disappointment.
While fear of failure is not listed as a distinct condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), it is possible that you might be diagnosed with a specific phobia if your symptoms meet certain diagnostic criteria. In order to be diagnosed with a specific phobia, your symptoms must:
- Involve excessive and unreasonable fear
- Involve an immediate anxiety response
- Be marked by avoidance or extreme distress
- Limit your ability to function normally
- Last as least six months and not be due to another condition
A fear of failure can have a wide variety of causes. Some potential causes include:
- Critical upbringing: People who grow up in households that are highly critical or unsupportive may be more likely to experience a fear of failure. Because they felt that they could never live up to their family's expectations during childhood, they may continue to fear making mistakes as adults.
- Definitions of failure: People often have different definitions of what failure means. For some people, it means not achieving something exactly as they planned. This can create a set of expectations that is very difficult to live up to.
- Trauma: People who experienced a difficult or even traumatic failure may also be very afraid of repeating that experience in the future. Having a panic attack during a presentation or being ridiculed for your performance, for example, could contribute to feelings of fear. Negative consequences resulting from failure, such as losing a job or not getting into a college, can also be risk factors that contribute to the fear of failure.
While everyone may be afraid of failing from time to time, it becomes more serious when it inhibits your ability to pursue your goals and achieve the things you want to accomplish in life.
Impact of the Fear of Failure
A fear of failure can take a toll on a person’s belief in their abilities and their motivation to pursue their goals.
- Low self-esteem: People who fear failure may also engage in negative self-talk or have low self-confidence that makes it difficult to pursue goals.
- Poor motivation: When people fear failure, they may also experience a lack of motivation that makes it difficult to get started on projects and work toward goals. When something seems too challenging or involves learning new skills, people may simply give up or refuse to get involved.
- Self-sabotage: It isn't uncommon for people who fear failure to engage in acts of self-handicapping that undermine their own chances of success. Research has found, for example, that students who fear failing often engage in self-handicapping behaviors that actually limit academic success and perpetuate failure.
- Shame: The fear of failure often stems from a fear of experiencing shame or embarrassment. Failing can trigger feelings worthlessness, so avoiding trying in the first place can sometimes serve as a way to protect the self from disappointment, regret, and sadness.
Treatment for the fear of failure depends on a variety of factors including how you experience this fear and the impact that it has on your life. In many cases, people can use self-help strategies to cope with these feelings.
If your fear of failure is impeding your ability to function normally, it is important to talk to a professional. Treatment options for a fear of failure might include:
- Psychotherapy can help you address the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that contribute to a fear of failure.
- Medications may be prescribed to help you manage feelings of anxiety or depression that might be linked to your fear.
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In many cases, a combination of these two treatment options with lifestyle changes may be the most effective
There are also a number of strategies that you can use to help reduce feelings of fear about failure. Some of these include:
Consider the Outcomes
Sometimes thinking about the worst possible outcome—and then coming up with a plan for how you’ll deal with it—can help reduce anxiety when you are pursuing your goals.
Focus on the Things You Can Control
Instead of worrying about aspects of the situation that you have no power over, focus your energy on things that you can control.
When you are facing a challenge that might trigger your fear of failing, work on developing alternative plans just in case your initial efforts don’t go as planned. Having a plan B (or plan C) can help you feel less anxious and more secure.
Changing how you think about failure may also help reduce your feelings of fear. Failure is part of life and can be an important opportunity to learn and acquire new skills. It can certainly be disappointing, but it is important to maintain a healthy perspective toward the potential benefits of failing from time to time. Remember that success is often reached through a series of progressive failures that lead to new information, skills, and strategies.
Press Play for Advice On Growth
Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to build a growth mindset by recovering from your mistakes. Click below to listen now.
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Use Positive Thinking
Avoid negative self-talk that can undermine your confidence and create feelings of anxiety. Instead, work on thinking more like an optimist to keep your motivation high.
Visualization May Backfire
While visualization is often touted as a tool for success, research actually shows that this motivational strategy can backfire with people who have a high fear of failure. One study found that people with a strong fear of failing experienced strong negative moods after they engaged in an activity that involved visualizing success.
A Word From Verywell
The fear of failure is something that everyone experiences from time to time, but this can become much more problematic when such feelings become persistent. Practice self-compassion and work on taking small steps toward building your confidence and managing your fears.
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
American Psychiatric Association.Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Washington, DC; 2013.
Bartels JM, Herman WE.Fear of failure, self-handicapping, and negative emotions in response to failure; 2011.
Langens TA. Tantalizing fantasies: positive imagery induces negative mood in individuals high in fear of failure. Imagination, Cognition and Personality. 2002;21(4):281-292. doi:10.2190/HGH6-3RM6-2VCG-YCQH
By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.
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How do I get over my fear of failure interview question? ›
If you want to get past a fear of failure, commit to the thing you're afraid of failing at. Just take that first step without overthinking it (burn the boats). We're often more afraid of the anticipation that leads up to that first step than the first step itself.How do I motivate my fear of failure? ›
- Identify what motivates you. In other words, what do you aim to accomplish? What keeps you up at night?
- Accommodate your fears. Push yourself, but do it kindly. ...
- Acknowledge your progress. When you are in the thick of pursuing a goal, it's hard to see how far you've come.
Practice self-compassion – remember you are trying your best and that is enough. Failure is part of life and whilst it is not pleasant, it doesn't make you any less valuable or loveable as a person. Try acknowledging the feeling of fear rather than distracting yourself.What are the 7 ways to deal with failure? ›
- Don't Feel Threatened By Failure. ...
- There is Nothing Wrong with Feeling Bad. ...
- Develop Healthy Habits to Stay Healthy. ...
- Avoid Picking Up Bad Habits. ...
- Take Reasonable Responsibility for Your Failure. ...
- Study Yourself. ...
- Keep Looking Ahead. ...
- Take Inspiration from Failures that Led to Success.
- Accept feelings and emotions. ...
- Failure does not mean your life is going to be over. ...
- Learn from failure and be constructive. ...
- Find inspiration. ...
- Don't give up. ...
- Be passionate. ...
- Surround yourself with positive people. ...
- Avoid isolating yourself.
- Take time out. It's impossible to think clearly when you're flooded with fear or anxiety. ...
- Breathe through panic. ...
- Face your fears. ...
- Imagine the worst. ...
- Look at the evidence. ...
- Don't try to be perfect. ...
- Visualise a happy place. ...
- Talk about it.
Pychyl suggests breaking down tasks into easily accomplished steps. Even completing a relatively small action will help you make progress and feel better about the task. This increases your self-esteem, which in turn reduces the desire to procrastinate to make yourself feel better, he says.How do you handle failure? ›
- Give yourself permission to feel. ...
- Practise self-compassion. ...
- Reflect on the experience and adopt a growth mindset. ...
- Revisit your goals and create a plan for the future.
- Detach ourselves. Separate our ego, emotions, and sense of personal worth from our projects and ideas so that we can rephrase “I failed”, to “the idea/concept/model failed”. ...
- Reflect often. ...
- Dispel the illusion of 'eureka' moments. ...
- Aim for small - not epic - failures. ...
- Support others to fail.
Shame: The fear of failure often stems from a fear of experiencing shame or embarrassment. Failing can trigger feelings worthlessness, so avoiding trying in the first place can sometimes serve as a way to protect the self from disappointment, regret, and sadness.
How do you overcome failure in education? ›
- Focus on growth mind-set. ...
- Embrace your emotions. ...
- Talk to someone. ...
- Accept an appropriate level of responsibility. ...
- Practice healthy coping skills. ...
- Create a plan to move forward. ...
- Face your fears of failure.
Fear of failure can be linked to many causes. For instance, having unsupportive or critical parents is a cause for some people. Because they were routinely undermined or humiliated in childhood, they carry those negative feelings into adulthood. Experiencing a traumatic event in your life can also be a cause.What is the first step to handle a failure? ›
1) Admit the mistake. Knowing the true cause of a failure is the first step to overcoming it, after acknowledging that there's a problem or failure in the first place. Leaders who practice denial might feel better about themselves temporarily, but nothing gets done to make things better.How do you overcome failures and disappointments in life? ›
- 1) STAY COOL, CALM AND COLLECTED. ...
- 2) TAKE OWNERSHIP FOR YOUR FAILURE. ...
- 3) ACCEPT THAT FAILURE IS PART OF LIFE. ...
- 4) FIND REASONS TO KEEP GOING. ...
- 5) LEARN FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE. ...
- 6) OUTLINE A NEW PLAN OF ACTION.
- Acceptance. Accept that you failed. ...
- Analyze and Improve. If you failed, you need to figure out why. ...
- Time-out and Perspective. ...
- Distraction and Visualization. ...
- Reframe Your Beliefs About What Qualifies as Success. ...
- Set an Example.
- Use your to-do list to boost your confidence. ...
- Separate your value from your work. ...
- Develop — and depend on — a mutual support group. ...
- Remember that no one cares about your failures as much as you do. ...
- Be mindful of burnout. ...
- Believe in the possibility of future success.
- Make A Plan. While you don't know what is going to happen in the future, you can always plan ahead. ...
- Know You're Not Alone. Every person in this world has their low points. ...
- Ask For Help. ...
- Feel Your Feelings. ...
- Accept Support. ...
- Help Others. ...
- Think Big. ...
- Positive Mindset.
"We learn more from our failures than from our successes. Not only do we find out what doesn't work so that we can adjust our future attempts, we learn about ourselves in the process and gain a bit of empathy towards others that might be struggling as well."What is fear failure? ›
Atychiphobia (Fear of Failure) Atychiphobia is an intense fear of failure. It may cause you to put off or avoid any activity or scenario that has the potential for an unsuccessful outcome. Someone with this condition may be scared to try new things, take risks or embrace growth for fear of failure.How do you master fear? ›
- Step 1: Identify your fear. From the exercise above, write down one fear you identified.
- Step 2: Embrace your fear. ...
- Step 3: Disidentify with your fear. ...
- Step 4: Identify and accept your worst-case scenario. ...
- Step 5: Do a reality check. ...
- Step 6: Create a fearless focus.
What are 3 causes of fear? ›
- Darkness or loss of visibility of surroundings.
- Heights and flying.
- Social interaction and/or rejection.
- Snakes, rodents, spiders and other animals.
- Death and dying.
Start small: Gradually exposing yourself to new things in small doses can help you get used to new experiences. Distract yourself: When you find yourself faced with the unfamiliar, look for ways to occupy your attention without focusing on the source or symptoms of your fear.How do I get over my fear of starting a new task? ›
- Remind yourself what you'll actually be doing. ...
- Don't expect to know everything. ...
- Remember that you won't be new forever. ...
- Be on your best behaviour. ...
- Don't be too big for your boots. ...
- Write it all down.
Choose a specific failure
Pick a real failure that happened in the workplace, specifically a failure related to the work you're doing now. Look for a story where something didn't go as planned. Choosing the right story is important, as you want to explain a situation where only one thing went wrong.
Don't think of failure as failure. Instead, think of it as life's way of showing you that you need to improve, and how to do so. In particular, ask yourself what you could have done differently to achieve a better result. Then consider how you could put that into practice to help you to improve for next time.What is the fear of not being good enough? ›
Atelophobia is an obsessive fear of imperfection. Someone with this condition is terrified of making mistakes. They tend to avoid any situation where they feel they won't succeed. Atelophobia can lead to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Appointments 866.588.2264.Why is it hard to accept failure? ›
We think we can set the future
Yet another reason why we have so much trouble dealing with failure is because of our misconception about the future. We assume that the future is controllable, that we can set a goal and then simply achieve it. If so, life would be very dull indeed.
Rather, a fear of failure is essentially a fear of shame. People who have a fear of failure are motivated to avoid failing not because they cannot manage the basic emotions of disappointment, anger, and frustration that accompany such experiences but because failing also makes them feel deep shame.How common is the fear of failure? ›
This chronic fear can be so extreme that it negatively affects your life. Atychiphobia affects an estimated 2 – 5% of the population. Symptoms of an irrational fear of failure can range from mild to extreme and can include: Rapid heart rate.Why do good students fail in life? ›
There were many studies conducted to figure out the exact reasons why students fail despite the larger influence of modern educational technology. Lack of motivation and perseverance, the absence of preparation and effort, poor time management and a lot of other external factors were seen in the list.
How do I overcome my fear of school? ›
- Acquire all textbooks well in advance.
- Familiarize yourself with the campus if you'll be attending physically.
- Acquaint yourself with the technology if you'll be getting your education online.
- Communicate with the professor before class starts.
- Read some of the materials in advance if possible.
Other examples of failures for your interview
Remember: The best examples of failures allow you to tell a compelling story because you learned something and grew from the failure. Not meeting others' expectations. Missing a deadline. Taking on too much/over-promising.
I was responsible for interacting with big clients and understanding the requirements. Being a fresher, I did not pay much attention to the details of the project. Instead, I focused only on my ethics and discipline. My poor listening skills led me to lose one of the most significant projects of the organization.What does failure mean to you interview question? ›
Some short answer examples for the question can be like “I think to fail at something is making a mistake and not learning from it.”, or “I think failure is not reaching your full potential even with an abundance of resources around you. That's a failure because you had chances of doing the work better”.How do you answer are you willing to fail? ›
The best way to answer this question is to provide an example of a time you failed in the past, and then explain what you learned from it. Ideally, it will be a time you learned, in fact, to be a better employee. When providing an example, explain what the situation was, and what you tried (and failed) to achieve.How do you handle yourself under stress and pressure? ›
- Staying positive.
- Using stress as a motivator.
- Accepting what you can't control.
- Practicing relaxation methods, like yoga or meditation.
- Choosing healthy habits.
- Learning how to manage time better.
- Making time for your personal life.
- 'Describe a time when something didn't work out as you had planned. What did you do and what did you learn from it? '
- 'Tell us about a mistake you've made. '
- 'How do you deal with setbacks? '
- Give yourself permission to feel. ...
- Practise self-compassion. ...
- Reflect on the experience and adopt a growth mindset. ...
- Revisit your goals and create a plan for the future.
- Receiving poor or failing test grades.
- Not getting accepted into a degree or certification program.
- Interviewing for a position but not securing a job offer.
- Getting a bad performance review.
- Missing a deadline.
- Not making a team.
- Losing a client, sale, project or money.
Explain what happened clearly and quickly. Take responsibility and don't make excuses for the failure. Show what you learned from the experience. Talk about how you've used the experience to become better at your job and avoid similar mistakes.
How do you answer what motivates and drives you? ›
- meeting deadlines, targets or goals.
- mentoring and coaching others.
- learning new things.
- coming up with creative ideas to improve something, or make something new.
- analysing complex data in order to draw clear and simple conclusions.
- working well as part of a team.
Show that you have skills and experience to do the job and deliver great results. You never know what other candidates offer to the company. But you know you: emphasize your key skills, strengths, talents, work experience, and professional achievements that are fundamental to getting great things done on this position.What is your biggest failure in life? ›
Possible Answer #3
I was given significant time to wrap up the task. I split the work according to my deadline. When just 2 days were left, I shut down the system without saving my work. I quickly realized the mistake and restarted the work just to finish it in time.
Atychiphobia (Fear of Failure) Atychiphobia is an intense fear of failure. It may cause you to put off or avoid any activity or scenario that has the potential for an unsuccessful outcome. Someone with this condition may be scared to try new things, take risks or embrace growth for fear of failure.How do you respond to someone who failed? ›
- "I'm here for you if you need anything."
- "Everyone fails at some point. ...
- "Let me know how you're feeling, I'm here to listen for as long as you need me."
- "Let's take your mind off of things for a little bit and go for a walk."
Tell your story.
Interviewers don't ask this question to see you squirm, they want to know how you handle setbacks—so get to the part where you're dealing with the failure as quickly as possible. Start with the situation, and explain why it was challenging. Then go into what you specifically did to try and rectify it.