FEAR OF FAILURE: 5 Most Common Causes of Fear of Failure

FEAR OF FAILURE: 5 Most Common Causes of Fear of Failure

Fear of failure: (5 Most Common Causes of Fear of Failure) is a common, debilitating fear. It can keep you safe in your comfort zone, but you give up growth, new experiences, new challenges, and new people in your life. Conquering this fear, which you certainly can do, will help you create and maintain an optimistic attitude. 

Let’s take a look at your level of fear of failure.

How many of these questions would you say yes to? 

  • 1. I think of myself as a failure if I try to do something and don’t succeed. 
  • 2. I worry about what others will think of me if I fail. 
  • 3. I resist taking on new challenges and opportunities in case I fail. 
  • 4. I feel under pressure to succeed. 
  • 5. I’m afraid of success because other people might not like me. 
  • 6. I constantly think about my failures in the past. If these sound like things you say to yourself, that’s good! 

Recognition is the first step to turning an attitude around. If you do habitually make comments like this to yourself, you are not alone. 

While there are many reasons for fear of failure, these five causes are the most common:

Five Most Common Causes of Fear of Failure

 • Overprotective parents –

 Parents often impose strong boundaries on their children for the child’s safety, but those boundaries also limit what the child can and can’t do. This limits the child’s ability to take risks and discover his potential. It’s not conscious, but this over-protectiveness causes people to not want any situation that involves risk.

Without knowing it, they are waiting for their parents to support them before they do take a risk. They’re not used to handling challenges so they back down when things get difficult. 

• Fear of the unknown – 

Whenever we try to do something new, we can’t be sure what the outcome will be. Often this leads to going back to the safety and security of what we know so that we are not taking a risk and there’s no chance of failure.

Our instincts are designed to give us information to help us survive and grow. When we’re confident, we listen to this inner voice, but without good self-esteem, we’re afraid to trust our instincts in the face of something unknown. 

• High expectations and demands – 

Many people had parents who made unreasonably high expectations and demands on them as children. Often, these demands are continued by the child himself later in life during school and at work.

These unreasonable demands leave the child and the adult with the feeling that they can never satisfy and that they can never be or do enough. 

These feelings can be intensified by managers and even by the media. We are constantly bombarded with images of perfection and success in the media. This can cause many people to become even more insecure about what they have to offer.

These people often retreat into a comfort zone where they know they can function without worrying about failing. Unfortunately, it leaves them stuck in a place where they are unhappy with themselves but afraid to move ahead. 

• Insecurity – 

Sometimes people who think they are above average have a strong fear of failure. With insecure people, the bigger the ego, the greater the fear of loss when risking failure. For an insecure person, his loss of status in the eyes of other people who might discover he’s not as powerful as he seems is the person’s excuse for not taking a risk and not taking action. This way he doesn’t have to deal with the idea of failing. 

• Failures in the past –

 If we’ve tried and failed before and have been criticized for it, sometimes we don’t want to feel that pain again. So it’s safer not to try at all. But this is a matter of perception. Everyone fails sometimes. But to some people, trying something new with the risk of failure is too intimidating, so they don’t try it all. 

The solution for this faulty thinking that results in fear of failure are to recognize it for what it is – exactly that, faulty thinking. When we can see that we lose more by not taking action than by risking failure, we can gain strength to take some action. 

First, we have to be able to face ourselves with our faults, including our fear of failure, and then, aided with positive self-talk, we can begin to develop a more optimistic attitude about risking failure when we take action. 


Self-sabotage occurs when people constantly think of themselves as not able to succeed to such an extent that they develop an identity that causes them to sabotage themselves every time they have a chance to succeed. This is not a conscious activity, so it is very confusing to the person who has this problem. 

This usually happens because of a string of incidents that leaves the person coming to conclusions like this about himself: 

  • • I start projects, and I don’t finish them. 
  • • Everyone else is right when they blame me for things. 
  • • I always stop just before I become successful. 
  • • I will never be successful; success is for someone else, not me. 
  • • Other people will be jealous of me if I succeed. 
  • • When someone compliments me, I’m sure they’re just being nice and they don’t know the real me. 
  • • When things are going well, I expect things to start going badly. 
  • • I seem to destroy all my relationships, even with people I love. 

Do you say things like this about yourself? 

Once again, you’re not alone. Lots of people do. 

This is just an incorrect attitude you have about yourself, and you can change it. 

Here’s how successful people operate: 

  • 1. They complete things they start. 
  • 2. If they don’t succeed at something, they don’t punish themselves for it. 
  • 3. They learn from their mistakes and see the mistake as a learning experience. 
  • 4. They take the time to notice and celebrate their successes.

 The way to beat self-sabotage is by making use of the following techniques: 


When negative things happen, and they happen to all of us, positive people talk their way through it by saying something like,” It wasn’t meant to be.” Another tactic is to realize that, yes, they are disappointed and they spend a few minutes being unhappy with the outcome, and then they move on. In this way, they’re not denying reality, but they’re not letting a disappointing outcome defeat them, either. 


 These are positive messages we give to ourselves, and they can also be positive messages we receive from other people. Believe it or not, whether they come from other people or ourselves, positive messages can have a significant beneficial effect on us. 


One main way to identify a self-saboteur is that this person never completes anything. Self-saboteurs get distracted or bored or even forget about the things they have begun. They move from project to project, inspired at the beginning but getting bored along the way.

This hurts self-confidence. If this is a problem for you, counteract it by completing each project you work on before beginning another one. This will go a long way to rebuilding trust in yourself and rebuilding your self-discipline. A good idea would be to write down all the positive reasons you should finish the project. 


 Self-saboteurs believe that success is for other people and not them, but they crave it at the same time. If this is your problem, the way to break yourself off that thinking is to take on small projects at first, projects that you know you can complete successfully. Gradually, take on bigger projects as your self-discipline and your self-confidence increase. 


Because of a lack of self-confidence, self-saboteurs quite easily. If you are a person who finds herself quitting in the middle of things, recognize that and remind yourself that a successful person perseveres in the face of adversity.

Successful people believe in their capabilities, overcome challenges, and refuse to give up on their dreams. Every time you push through to complete something, your willpower becomes stronger. As you see yourself overcoming self-sabotage, you will begin to develop a more optimistic attitude. 


 Comparing ourselves to others is probably natural, especially these days. We are bombarded in life and the media with people who have more wealth, better careers, better looks, and greater skills than we have. They have something we want, and we feel envious.

Our confidence takes a real dip, and the worst thing about it is that it accomplishes nothing good.

Is this a problem for you? Are some of these statements you make to yourself? 

  • 1. I resent others for their success. 
  • 2. I haven’t done anything with my life. 
  • 3. I envy what other people have. 
  • 4. I can’t recognize my strength and my good qualities. 
  • 5. I constantly tell myself that I’m not as good as this person or that person. If this is true for you, it’s also true for many other people, at least at some stage in their life. Many people outgrow making these comparisons after adolescence, but many people don’t.
  • The antidote is fairly simple and even enjoyable. We all need to appreciate what we have, realize that we have a lot more than others do, enjoy all the good things in our own life, and try to do our individual best without comparing ourselves to others. 

To stop comparing yourself to others and enjoy your own life more, here are some things you can do.

• Realise that many of the people you envy are not people you know personally, so you don’t know what their lives are like, or what problems and challenges they face. Hasn’t that proven true in the past? Instead of envying them, ask yourself if there’s something you can learn from them. Is there something they do that could help you become more successful? 

• Appreciate the good things in your life. Very often we take for granted what we have and think the grass is greener somewhere else. Our culture promotes the idea that bigger is better, and everything has to be new and exciting. Optimists are secure about who they are and what they do.

They try to learn how to improve themselves from others rather than comparing themselves to others. They like to see others succeed because that doesn’t threaten their success. They trust themselves to continue to do the best thing for themselves. 

• Encourage yourself. Remember, studies have shown that our natural tendency is toward 87% negative self-talk and only 13% positive self-talk. This means that you need to make a conscious effort to counteract the negativity with positive statements. Don’t wait for confirmation that you might not get from other people. Give it to yourself. 

Be realistic but affirmative – if you deserve a compliment or reward, give it to yourself. 

I love this saying: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Seriously, life is more interesting and more rewarding if you concentrate on developing yourself to be the best person you can be without comparisons with anyone else. You are unique; I’m sure you can see that. Think about everyone you know – how different they all are from each other. And that’s such a good thing! 

A great technique for emphasizing yourself is to write a mission statement. This will be a guide to keep you focused on what’s important to you. It will give you a compass to keep you on track. Think about all the aspects of your life: your family, career, relationships, values, goals, friends, and spirituality. Open a file on your computer or take out a paper and pen and write down a description of your life in all these areas. 

In your mission statement, ask yourself about all the aspects of your life and what you would like them to be at their best.

Have this statement reflect your core values. Who do you want to be at your best?

Make a plan with steps for reaching your personal goals in each area of your life. This should represent the best that you can see for yourself. This statement should inspire you and guide you.

Keep it somewhere you can see it and revise it as events change. It’s the best you can imagine for yourself. It’s who you are. It’s an expression of your heartfelt values. As you can see, it’s another great pillar for developing an optimistic attitude.


Did you ever hear the old joke about the guy who climbed to the top of the ladder and then found it was perched against the wrong building? Do you know people like that? Are you one of them? It’s possible that we all feel like we’re that person in some situations. That’s why flexibility is so important. 

Flexibility is the awareness that you have options and the ability to discard one option if it’s not working and select another. Call it rigidity or call it pride, but there’s something in human nature that makes us continue in situations past when we should have given them up. 

We tend to like to do things the way we’ve always done them, and we don’t like to let go of ideas we’ve invested some time in. 

Some people think of flexibility as being wishy-washy, not caring, or lacking character. That’s not what we mean by flexibility here. We’re talking about being able to switch from one goal to another if you can’t achieve your goal or if it’s just not worth the effort to you.

For instance, if you find out you don’t like snow and you don’t like mountain climbing, do you try to climb Mount Everest just because it seemed like a good idea in the past or because your friends want you to? Or do you find something more enjoyable to spend your time on? 

Flexibility is about reevaluating your goals and questioning the importance of those goals.

It’s about looking beyond the clichés and the “should be” we all learn growing up and replacing those with what is truly meaningful for us. If this means a change from your original goals, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It does mean that you’re choosing to pursue something that may be much more fulfilling to you.

Flexibility also includes searching for alternative solutions to a problem. It means having enough sense to realize when you’ve come to a dead end, and having the ability to shift gears. This requires a strong sense of reality along with the ability to be flexible. 

People with rewarding, fulfilling lives reexamine their goals, their motives, their procedures, and results they’re getting from time to time. They have the flexibility to switch gears or stay the course. All of these abilities are critical to maintaining an optimistic attitude. 


Toward the end of this article, The Power of Optimism, Alan Loy McGinnis tells a joke and makes a point: 

“A teacher whose name I have forgotten has a good differentiation between psychotics and neurotics. You ask psychotics, what is 2×2 and they may say 19, or 26, whatever comes into their heads. Those people must be protected. When you ask neurotics what is 2×2, they say,” It’s 4, but I can’t stand it! Why does it always have to be 4? It’s so boring! It’s 4 all the time! Why wasn’t I asked for input on that decision? Why can’t it be five once in a while?” 

“When faced with a difficult situation, we can ask ourselves, “What can I do to change this situation?” If there is nothing, we can elect to shut it out, to concentrate on things to be enjoyed. In a bookstore recently I noticed a book title I’d like to hang on my office wall. It would be there for my patients, but I’m the one who needs it most. It reads,” All you can do is all you can do, but all you can do is enough.” 

Like McGinnis, I too have a joke that makes a point: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.” I know, it’s an old joke. But the point is a good one. 

The same thing is true if you want to maintain an optimistic attitude. It’s a choice. It takes a little work, but the results are worth it. And so are you. 

Good luck.