How to get over your fear of failure?
back with a new blogpost, very dear to my heart. I made a longer version in Dutch for my students at work, but apparantly a lot of you guys wanted this document too... So I shared it with those of you who wanted it in Dutch too. Here's my English, briefer version.
I basically tell you guys all the steps I"ve been taking during my recovery process. The tips are both from professional help, resarch and personal. It's good that you're opening this blog, you're on step one to recovery. This process will take you much longer than just reading this blog. The excercices take months to fully own them.. but it's a start. YOU CAN DO THIS!
What is it?
Anxiety: Anxiety provides extra strength (adrenaline) to your body. This makes your blood flow faster towards your hands and feet (fight or flight, you need these body parts to fight or flight). Your heart rate increases. Your oxygen level rises and this makes you breathe faster. ANd if your body uses more energy, you will also get warmer/hotter. By this, you'll start to sweat. This also happens with the "fear of failure". Your body responds to some sort of fear.
Fear of failure: The fear you get when you think that you'll fail something.
Synonym: Performance anxiety.
Approach: (thinking) exercises step by step
Step 1: "The fear of failure exists as long as you believe in it"
Now you will learn more about positive thoughts. You'll learn to recognize and to name positive experiences. You no longer focus on the negative: "I believe in my failure" stops here.
Teach yourself that you DO influence things. Things don't just overcome you. You have the power to rule problems.
People with these fears, are often focused more on the failures instead of successes. Successes are too ambitious and will not happen to you ... Now, start telling yourself that if you do something by yourself, that there is also a chance of success. This is an important mindshift to make!
Step 2: Your thoughts.
There's a big difference between your personal thoughts and the reality. You interpret the reality your own personal way. Interpretations are NOT facts.
Now you will learn to distinguish true and false thoughts. You can totally influence yourself and your thoughts. Finding yourself excuses to fail, is now done. Over
Helping thoughts and non-helping thoughts: Here you learn to detect non-helping thoughts and turn them into helping thoughts. You think about this: Is my current thought justified? Does this help to achieve my goal? When your answer is no, it is time to adjust your thoughts.
Step-by-step plan to follow when you're learning to shift your negative thoughts to positive, helpfull thoughts.
1 Write down an event that triggers your performance anxiety.
2 Write the feeling that this evokes.
3 Write down what thoughts produce this feeling you have.
4 Check if your thoughts are helpful. Here you ask the following questions:
- Is the thought justified?
- Does the thought help me achieve my goal?
5 Now replace your non-helping thoughts with helping thoughts.
Step 3: Breathing, relaxation and concentration
After learning about the cognitive / mental side of your fear if failure, we will now look at the physical aspects of it.
Here's an exercise to learn to look at your body and to find tensions in your body.
Where do I have anxious feelings in my body? You look for tensions in your body and register them.You do this while thinking of an event that's stressing you out. You go down your body and focus on your muscle groups. You check where your tensions are and write them down. Follow the next bodyparts and tick them off, when you feel tension there:
Dominant hand and forearm:
Dominant upper arm:
Non-dominant hand and forearm:
Non-dominant upper arm:
Upper cheeks and nose:
Lower cheeks and jaws:
Neck and throat:
Chest, shoulders and upper back:
Lower abdomen and stomach:
After recognising where you feel the tension, it's important to learn how to release the tension: you can do this by breathing and muscle relaxations.
Breathing: abdominal breathing. You first need to learn to properly breath. You probably have heared of hyperventilating before. Well ,this can happen when you start panicking and you stop breathing. This can make you feel overwhelmed and even ill.
Here's an exercise on how to learn to breath and calm yourself down, by only just breathing. It's a form of meditation.
Lie down on a soft surface. Keep your legs spread slightly and leg your head on a pillow. Keep one hand relaxed next to you, the other hand on your stomach. Take a deep breath in and out. When you breathe in, you make the belly thick. When you exhale, you push your belly to the floor. Be careful not to breathe with your chest. Do this breathing exercise first in a quiet environment, so that you can concentrate well. Also try this later in situations that might seem like moments of failure, to learn how to make the transfer to an actual stress situation.
Muscle relaxation: here we are looking for tensions in your muscles, we learn to recognize them and we relax the muscles afterwards. This next exercice can help you:
Go back following the same body parts as in the other exercise. Energize your muscle groups one by one. Hold the tension for five seconds. Then relax that muscle group. Then keep your attention for a short time on the muscle group you just relaxed.
After this exercise you reflect on what you have felt with doing this exercise. What was easy, what was not? Were there muscle groups that went easier than others? Were there more difficult? How can I use this exercise at exciting moments?
All these questions are helpfull to find out on which muscle groups you'll need to focus more later. It's also a good exercise to fall asleep!
Muscle relaxation tip: If possible, go to your exam or stress-situation walking or by bike. This exercise can remove extra adrenalin in your body. This extra adrenaline can give you not-needed extra panick attacks....
Then about concentration.
Concentration increases the quality of your performance. Meditation can help here. You learn to use your thoughts in a more focused way. You focus on the helping thoughts and you block non-helping thoughts.
Learning to meditate is difficult. It takes a couple of weeks to learn to breath well and to not think about anything else while doign so. The step of "meditating" might seem too big for you. What can help is not to use the word "meditation" but just to think about learning to focus on your breathing. You focus on breathing and think of nothing but correct breathing. In the beginning it will also seem that you get fear of failure yourself with this breathing-exercice. At least, that was my case... "Am I doing it right?" You might think. This is also a non-helping thought that you want to think about. Why? Because the whole idea of meditating is to think of NOTHING. Nothing else but breathing.
Step 4: Your imagination
People with anxiety tend to block positive fantasies. They focus on the negative and do not dare to focus on positive things. Positive things seem too far away from them. Yet, you can also control your fantasies!
Here's another exercise to practice:
Imagine that you enter a new class at school. You don't know the classroom, you don't know the teacher and you don't know your classmates yet. Fantasize about everything that can go wrong, in the most extreme way. Then fantasize about what can go well. Take the time to shape your thoughts and focus more on the positive aspects. The trick is to learn to evoke positive fantasies. After doing this exercise, you can try to do it on a situation that has actually happened to you before.
Learning to "anchor": everyone has their own preference for certain senses. When we think back to pleasant memories, we also think back to the smells, images and sounds. This is called “anchors”.
Now you can search for anchors in failure situations that match the feeling you need. For example, I walked to my exam a couple of years ago. There was a magnolia tree, blossoming. This view, relaxed me instantly, it made me think of vacation!
Now that you can do all of this, you can also learn to believe in your own fantasies. This comes from within yourself. "I am as good as I want to be! " is your new mantra.
If you have done all of these exercises, you will find that over time, you will have more control over your own actions and thoughts. This feels super empowering. Maybe after a few weeks / months of hard work on yourself, you will get rid of your fear of failure and be happy again.
Lots of love, Steph