Fear of Failure

Many people strive to achieve their goals in life. What motivates them is individual, but what they all have in common is that their emotions and achievement goals help define their motivation and behavior. But what do you do when your fear of failure is holding you back from achieving the goals you have set out to achieve?

In their study Sagar and Stoeber (2009, 26) found that "perfectionistic concern over mistakes and perceived pressure to be perfect show strong links with fears of failure and negative affect after failure." Therefore, before looking at the fear of failure it is important take a moment to look at perfectionism. Sagar and Stoeber (2009, 3) defines perfectionism as "a personality disposition characterized by excessively high standards for performance and accompanied by tendencies for overly critical self-evaluations of one’s behavior." Perfectionism can be viewed as something that can help achieve elite sporting performance, enhance learning a new sporting skill, or as a characteristic that undermines performance and obstruct athletic development (Sagar and Stoeber, 2009). Bottom line perfectionism can be good and evil. The good side of perfectionsim makes you work harder and harder to achieve your goals. However, the dark side of perfectionism and fear of failure can lead to unhealthy types of behavior such as overtraining, training when injured and eating disorders. One of the most effective coping strategies to deal with perfectionism and fear of failure is through self-compassion (Kuchar, 2015).

Women tend to have higher self-criticism than men, so how do we get the tools to have more self-compassion and help ourselves cope with the fear of failure? Kuchar (2015) found in her study that athletes practicing self-compassion had more sports satisfaction and decreasing fear of failure compared to the athletes practicing traditional sports psychology. So how do we learn to have more self-compassion and accepting a non-perfect performance?   

Offering kindness and understanding towards one self and being open to and aware of one’s own suffering is part of self-compassion. It also requires taking a non-judgmental attitude in regards to one’s own inadequacies and failures (Neff , 2003) Luckily, self-compassion is a skill that can be learned. In the end it is all about finding the best way for you to learn how to be self-compassionate and learn to deal with fear of failure.

A quick Google search will give you some tools that will help you on your journey to self-compassion and coping with fear of failure. There are many different tools available out there, it all comes down to choosing what is right for you, so you can start facing your fears.  

1. Kuchar, A. (2015), Overcoming Fear of Failure: Self-Compassion in Sports Psychology, Fort Lewis College

2. Neff, K. D. (2003b). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2, 85 – 102

3. Sagar, S. S., & Stoeber, J. (2009). Perfectionism, fear of failure, and affective responses to success
and failure: The central role of fear of experiencing shame and embarrassment. Journal of Sport &

Exercise Psychology, 31(5), 602-627.


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