Overcoming Fear of Failure: Expert Advice from Two Psychologists

  •    Law graduate and journalist who specializes in helping entrepreneurs market and grow their businesses.

One of the greatest struggles that many entrepreneurs face is the fear of failure. This fear can sometimes stop you from taking risks that could lead to great success. It might even paralyze you into inaction. But you're not helpless in the face of this fear. Two psychologists offered tips on how entrepreneurs can recognize when they have this fear and what they can do to overcome it.

Put Failure in Perspective

Dr. Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and niche dating site founder from Colorado, said that fear of failure often begins at a young age. It can sometimes stem from negative childhood experiences that leave a person wanting to avoid anything that confirms how they've felt in the past. On the flip side, someone whose identity is tied to their success or who grew up with successful family members might also fear failure.

No matter where you're coming from, it's important to give yourself freedom to fail, he says.

"The majority of new businesses fail, so you're not alone," Wyatt explains. "Don't make it personal. Worst case scenario: if your business fails, it doesn't mean you're a failure."

Separating your self worth from success requires introspection.

"They (entrepreneurs) must learn to view their value as innate qualities within rather than external successes on the outside," he suggests.

Take failure as a learning opportunity, Wyatt adds. Failure gives you a chance to learn and refine your product, while also discovering what doesn't work.

Face Your Fear One Small Challenge at a Time

Dr. Nancy B. Irwin, Psy.D., a therapist and clinical hypnotist from Los Angeles, shared that one of the toughest parts about overcoming fear is that you can't wait to start facing your fears until you feel less scared. The discomfort will always be there and you have to accept that and face it head on.

"If you wait for fear to go away, you will be dead," she said. "It must be faced versus avoided. And confidence comes from doing. There are acts of confidence and feelings of confidence. You can only have the latter after the former."

You can start developing confidence by taking on small challenges that you feel completely inadequate to do, she suggested. For example, sing at karaoke night, try out for a community sports team or take a dance class if you think you have two left feet. Start out by choosing something you think you're terrible at, but doesn't affect your business or life.

"Taking on something you've feared that will prove that your worst fear is probably imagined: people won't run or laugh, you won't throw up or pass out or die," she says. "This confidence will spill into other aspects of your life."

Getting an accountability partner can also help. Set up realistic business goals and have a buddy hold you accountable and remind you that you've tackled fears before. Look for someone who's reliable and set up a weekly meeting, like a phone call or a coffee date, to discuss the progress you've made and obstacles you've faced.

You Are a Success

Just attempting a new business idea already makes you a success. But some people have gotten so used to labeling themselves as "not successful" that it's tough to break out of those patterns.

"There is a positive intent behind every human behavior, even procrastination, " Irwin explains. "Many times it is a way of standing out, or that one has been wearing that label for years as an identity and feels unconsciously that they must uphold it... One must accept that they will have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable to make positive change. There's no way around that. Unless you want to settle for where you are."

Sometimes, taking a step back and realizing just how blessed you are can make a big difference.

"Visit poverty stricken countries to see how affluent and successful you already are in comparison," Wyatt suggests. "(In addition), reading biographies of famous people can be very heartening, because most of them failed repeatedly before they hit success. Those stories can provide hope and encouragement."

Remember: fearing failure isn't a label that you have to be tied to forever. Take small steps, think of other business leaders who have gone before you and challenge yourself in small ways. Over time, you may find that you've started viewing yourself and setbacks in a whole new light.