Overcoming Fear of Failure | 3 Simple Strategies

When it comes to overcoming fear of failure, you are no different than an elephant. No, I am not calling you fat. You are a beautiful person I swear. But where the similarity lies is in your psychology.

Overcoming fear of failure compared to an elephant

I once heard a story of a man that visited Asia. When he arrived, he was curious to why all of the large elephants he saw were held back by nothing but a skinny little piece of string. At any moment, these powerful creatures could break free. But they didn’t. Odd.

He asked the locals how this was possible. This is what they told him.

When elephants are born they would separate the mother from the child.

In order to prevent the child from running back to her, they would attach a heavy, 5-feet-long chain to the baby elephant’s ankle and stake the other end to the ground. Now whenever the baby would run towards the mom in any direction, the chain would painfully yank them back and prevent them from moving forward.

As the baby grew older and larger, the locals would attach a skinnier chain as the size of the elephant increased. By the time they reached adulthood, there was nothing holding it back but a skinny little piece of string.

Now whenever the elephant feels any resistance from the string, it gives up due to being conditioned by the pain from the past.

It gets even sadder…

Sometimes when there were fires in the village and everyone was forced to escape. What the locals would find when they would come back were the elephants dead on the ground, attached by a skinny piece of string, 5 feet away from the stake.

Similar to elephants, we are conditioned by our past failures. Whenever we feel any resistance, we give up way too soon. But not today.

Here are 3 simple strategies on overcoming your fear of failure:

Strategy 1: Defining Your Fear

If you have read the 4 Hour Work Week you will be familiar with this story. When Tim Ferris was building his ecommerce store selling supplements, he was making around $70,000 a month.

Woot woot! How cool does that sound?

Surprisingly, Tim was MISERABLE. He was working 15 hour days and he was tired. His biggest goal when he first started his online business was that he wanted freedom to travel the world. Now, the same business that was created to make freedom was now turning him into a slave of his own creation.

He didn’t know what to do. His biggest fear was having his business he worked so hard to build to fail if he took some time off to travel. But the moment he took the time to define his fear, it immediately disappeared. Tim Ferris Fear of failure

The reason why the fear of failure is scary is because it is the unknown. Like the monster under our bed when we were younger, we hate what we cannot see or understand.

But if we define it, we begin to think rationally and realize that the lowest of lows isn’t even that bad. Lets test it out shall we?

My biggest fear.

One of my biggest sticking points when starting my first online business was that I was afraid to loose money. I mean who isn’t?

But then I went down the rabbit hole of asking myself what would happen in the worst possible case.

Lets see..

If I lost all my money what would happen? Well I would probably move back in with my parents. My friends would judge me and think I am a failure. Some of my family members would think that what I tried doing was stupid. I would maybe try and get another job to help get back on my feet. After getting the job I would save money on the side while still be living with my parents. Then after a couple months of saving I would have enough to test out another business idea.

BAM. Once I defined everything I realized that I literally couldn’t lose. My fear of failure became no more when I realized that it was a win win for me. It was either:

  • A) I become wildly successful on my first attempt
  • B) Wait a little bit longer and try my luck on the next attempt

Either way it was going to happen as long as I kept at it and didn’t give up.

How Elon Musk became a billionaire by defining his fear.

The other day I read a hilarious blog post by Tim Urban from the blog Wait but Why. He describes perfectly on how defining your fear can help you overcome your fear. It is also the reason why Elon Musk is a multi billionaire.

He describes how Musk thinks about the dark when compared to a “human” child:

Human child: “I’m scared of the dark, because that’s when all the scary shit is gonna get me and I won’t be able to see it coming.”

Elon: “When I was a little kid, I was really scared of the dark. But then I came to understand, dark just means the absence of photons in the visible wavelength—400 to 700 nanometers. Then I thought, well it’s really silly to be afraid of a lack of photons. Then I wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore after that.” – Waitbutwhy.com

The dark represents the fear of failure that we need to overcome. And when you don’t define it, you feel lost and scared. But for the people that define their fear of failure like Elon Musk, they realize that there is nothing that can really go wrong.

So let me now ask you these questions:

  1. What is the worst that can happen if you fail?
  2. Define it on paper
  3. Then if that was the case.. what action steps would you take to fix it?

The fear of failure is so crippling because we are afraid to think what our life would be like after the failure. Because we do not want to think about it, it makes the future unknown. And it is the unknown that we are truly afraid of. But what happens when we define the unknown? Like Elon’s mindset it becomes data. And from that data we can derive action steps to overcome it.

Strategy 2: Accept Your Fear of Failure

Understand this. You are not special. Having the fear of failure is perfectly normal. And the faster you accept that it exists, the faster you will get results.

“Good judgement comes from experience. And experience? Well that comes from poor judgement” – A.A. Milne

We are afraid of failure because we associate it with the feeling of pain. But what if you started associating it with something differently?

For example, when Thomas Edison was asked by a reporter how it feels to have failed 9,999 times before creating the light bulb. Edison looked over, smiled, and said that he didn’t fail. He just found 9,999 ways on how to not create a light bulb.

The next time you are faced with the fear of failure, what would happen if you began associating the act of failing as you getting one step closer to your goals?

Strategy 3: Embrace Your Fear of Failure

I once heard a story of Michelangelo, an Italian sculptor from the renaissance. He created the Statue of David: One of the most iconic marble statues ever created during the era.

People asked him how the hell he was able to make such a masterpiece from such a crappy piece of marble. Michelangelo responded that the perfect statue was always inside the giant piece of marble, all he had to do was remove the excess pieces.

What excess pieces do you need to remove from your identity to show the badass entrepreneur that is truly inside you?
 Are there any limiting beliefs you need to remove?

Mike Vestil before overcoming fear of failure
Use failure to chip off the excess pieces

What excuses do you need to remove?

That is exactly what happens when you go through a high volume of failure in a short amount of time. It exposes you to all of these opportunities to figure out what you need to remove from your identity.

At first it is depressing and you just want to give up, but something weird happens when you keep on going. It’s as if almost by luck. You end up becoming successful, by chipping away all of the excess pieces that you once had, to show the real potential inside of you that always existed.

Mike Vestil after overcoming fear of failure
The fedora was a consolation prize

You can calculate just how successful you will become by asking yourself how many times did you fail today? Then right after you have the list of all the failures, immediately ask yourself what did you learn from those failures?

This creates a feedback loop that allows you to now see failure as just negative feedback. Then all you have to do is just review where you went wrong, change your plan, and try again.

If you do this as much as you can, you will become successful because the probability of success swings in your favor since you have given yourself more attempts to actually try and succeed. You have chipped away all of the excess marble that has been preventing you from living the life you want.

Final Thoughts On Overcoming Fear Of Failure

To quote Jordan Belfort from the Wolf of Wall Street, “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”

And its true. Success for you is possible and it is real. All you have to do is realize that the fear of failing is normal and it is all part of the process. So begin to use these 3 strategies now. And please, don’t end up like the elephant that died 5 feet away from freedom.

You are much stronger than you think you are and you already have what it takes to succeed. So overcome your fear of failure today.

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About the author 

Mike Vestil

Mike Vestil is an author, investor, and speaker known for building a business from zero to $1.5 million in 12 months while traveling the world.

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