Often, what keeps us from success is our own fear.
When we don’t dare to express our opinion or take the initiative, when we procrastinate, when it’s hard for us to make decisions, or when we’re not able to impose limits on things that hurt us, we’re probably dealing with a deep fear that’s keeping us from realizing our full potential.
Three basic fears that could be affecting us are:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of what people will say
- Fear of the unknown
As a result of these fears, our mind overflows with thoughts that paralyze us and stress us out. What if it doesn’t turn out well? I’m sure they’ll figure out that I’m not really good at this. They’ll never let me forget it if I fail. Better stick to what I know.
When we’re too demanding with ourselves and let perfectionism hold us back, it means we’re too afraid of making mistakes and of not being up to what other people expect of us. There are three parts to the problem in cases like these:
- We’re interpreting the situation in a negative light. There are many factors that can distort our view of things, such as tiredness, insecurity, and stress, among others. We might also be influenced by past experiences of failure, especially if we were humiliated or punished, making us afraid of failing in the future.
- We are only considering the possible negative outcomes and consequences, being afraid of the possibility of punishment, rejection, humiliation, not getting other people’s approval, etc.
- We think that to fail once means that we are complete failures. This thought is irrational and limiting. You can’t judge someone’s overall ability on the basis of one concrete success or failure at a given moment in time.
These fears may have their origin in our childhood:
- Our parents may have been too demanding, or too harsh when we failed.
- We may have been humiliated for our mistakes, such as if people made fun of us, criticized us, were sarcastic or ironic, etc.
- People may have constantly been comparing us to other people (such as our siblings, other family members, friends, or classmates), always giving us the impression that we fell short.
- We may have been severely punished—physically or emotionally—for not achieving goals.
These past experiences color our interpretation of the present and make us afraid of going beyond our comfort zone, where we’re confident of success. We can end up being overly critical of ourselves, constantly feeling guilty, having low self-confidence, and having low tolerance for frustration.
Overcoming our fears
A good rational analysis of our fears will help us face new challenges more realistically and effectively. We need to move on and dare to grow, understanding that making mistakes and failing at things is a necessary and inevitable part of learning and growing.
We need to see fear for what it is: an instinctive emotion that has a specific biological and psychological function—to keep us safe from a perceived threat—but which can be irrational and can get out of control. As we mature into adults, we develop the rational ability to analyze our fears to see if the perceived threat is real, and to what extent we should let our fear affect our behavior.
As we’ve seen, past experiences can instill fears in us that go beyond the objective threats we face and keep us from realizing our full potential. We need to address those fears with reason.
- We need to learn to accept failure. If we don’t take the risk of making mistakes, we won’t make any progress. No one is perfect. We need to balance the likelihood and seriousness of possible risks with the likelihood and possible benefits of success.
- We shouldn’t worry so much about what other people think. We can never please everyone, and besides God, the first person who needs to approve of my decisions is me. If we know we’ve done our best, what other people think shouldn’t make us feel bad.
- We can’t always avoid the unknown. Only those who are willing to try new things can advance in life.
Overcoming fear takes courage and strength, but we can only succeed if we try. We also need to remember that we’re not alone. We can turn to our trusted friends and family members to help us see things objectively, to support us when we step out of our comfort zone to try and grow, and to either comfort us in failure or celebrate with us in victory.