Fear of failure can prevent us from pursuing what we really want in life. It can prevent us from starting our own business, making those cold calls to hot prospects, or asking for referrals even though we know in our hearts that we really deserve them.
The good news is that there are plenty of examples in our culture where overcoming the fear of failure has yielded great rewards. You hear stories all of the time about how the most successful have experienced the most failure. How Steve Jobs made huge mistakes and failed; how the greatest inventors of all time had the largest flops. When is the last time you heard about a truly great dream materializing without someone taking a few well-calculated risks along the way?
Here are a few tips for conquering the fears that may be standing between you and high performance:
1. Have a plan – You’ll be more confident and more likely to succeed if you have a carefully considered plan. If you’re thinking about making the leap to running your own business, make sure you have a solid business plan that’s been well vetted by people who aren’t afraid to give you “tough love” feedback on its merits. Before you pick up the phone to call the big fish, make sure you’ve run through what you’ll say, and that you’ve planned your responses to questions or objections they may have. Before you ask for a referral, take the time to plan the best opportunity for doing so.
2. Visualize Success – Taking the time to visualize a successful outcome is imperative. In fact, if you can’t visualize success, you need to take a step back and ask yourself why. The first person you need to convince is yourself. We teach our students to visualize all five senses of the successful outcome: what it will look like, feel like, sound like, taste like and even smell like! A richly visualized outcome can fool your brain into thinking that the positive outcome has already happened! Did you ever close your eyes and visualize biting into a lemon, only to find your mouth salivating as if you had already done so? As powerful as it is, the human brain often has difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined... and that’s a good thing when you’re visualizing successful outcomes.
3. Remember that your action will not determine the rest of your life. Woody Allen used to have such performance anxiety that before he’d walk out on stage to do his stand-up act, he’d close his eyes and repeat to himself, “Nothing I do tonight will influence my career in any way.” A mentor of mine once told me that if you just do the right thing all the time, sooner or later you’ll do it at the right time and you’ll finally enjoy the success you deserve. Another mentor once highlighted the difference between eustress and distress, emphasizing that a little anxiety can be empowering to high performance, while too much can lead to a suboptimal outcome.
I keep a small metal plaque on my desk that says, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” Can you imagine how much happier and more impactful you would be if you adopted this attitude in your own life? Just do it. You’ll wonder why you didn’t start living by this motto years ago.