Fear of failure. We all have it.

These feelings, rooted in self-doubt, can emerge when one begins something new, whether it be starting a new job, a new course for school, a new relationship, moving into a brand new home, or any brand new initiative, for that matter.

Many of us are left grappling with this destructive self-doubt: “I’m going to fail at ____________.”

In order to unpack this fear of failure, which shakes us all, Dr. Tayyab Rashid, a clinical psychologist from the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Health and Wellness Center, speaks on how the fear of failure happens. And how, most importantly, key components of positive psychology can tackle it.

According to Dr. Rashid, the combination of a larger pool of competition and fewer spots for success contribute to this anxiety..

“We have a long historical, sociological, cultural, institutionalized fear, and it has intensified because there are now 7.5 billion people in the world.”

He emphasizes that social media can exacerbate feelings of failure. Scrolling through newsfeeds, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram doesn’t help, says Dr. Rashid.

“People share their successes of all varying degrees, from making a salad to finishing races. Social media has portrayed some wonderful stories that have inspired people to do good things, but it also leaves room for a negative comparison. For those that can’t accomplish certain things for a variety of reasons, such as genetic dispositions, social, economic causes, environment, they feel discouraged. It encourages emotions of jealousy. [And] jealousy invokes negative sentiments.”

There are instances in which fears of failure can become harmful. Dr. Rashid emphasizes that this becomes self-destructive when one’s internal dialogue constantly shifts from “I can do this” to “I can’t do this”. Furthermore, he suggests that there are three dimensions to this self-destructive internal dialogue: (1) I’m always going to be like that; (2) I’ve failed at this one, I will fail at everything else; and (3) the most pernicious and harmful, It is because of me, there’s something wrong with me.

These three dimensions can lead an individual to stop trying, and when you stop trying, you become psychologically paralyzed, says Dr. Rashid.

Dr. Rashid is a proponent of positive psychology. He suggests that acknowledging the good and the positive within oneself may be the answer to countering these fears of failure.

According to Dr. Rashid, positive psychology is a field of psychology that questions “what is right with you? And how can we bring that right into your awareness? How can you use it to make your life more meaningful?” This “right with an individual” includes the strengths or talents that an individual possesses and has accumulated through his or her experiences–both good and bad.

After having encountered patients who experience fears of failure and self-doubt within his clinical work, Dr. Rashid describes the ways in which these negative emotions can be addressed by emphasizing one’s strengths.

Individuals need to acknowledge the fears of failure they are experiencing and why they are experiencing them. “A grounded human being needs to know what their own processes are. What triggers their own fear of failure?”

For very many individuals, these fears are triggered by fabricated notions of perfection. In reality, perfection is unattainable and coming to this conclusion is the only way to create a space for self-growth, Dr. Rashid asserts.

“To change cognitions, behaviors, and actions and everything, one has to realize that no one in this lifetime has been successful all the time in every situation with everyone… that’s impossible. Failure is a part of and parcel of our growth. Without it, we don’t grow.”

Following this realization, positive psychology is accompanied by the acknowledgment of one’s strengths, abilities, and talents.

As in the case of Dr. Rashid’s work with students who have learning disabilities, he tells them to think of a tough situation, one which they didn’t come out of successfully or the way they wanted to, but did so resiliently and adaptively. Positive psychology, he says, is identifying the high points in a negative experience, confronting the failures, and then aligning both instances together.

For example, when an individual has experiences of resentment, such as doing poorly in a class, he or she should also identify the strengths and abilities they gained from the experience, such as being able to learn new information or strengthen their own knowledge base about a particular topic.

Dr. Rashid asserts that acknowledging the good within oneself can transform one’s daily thoughts because it can change one’s internal dialogue, and can shift one’s attitudes about failure to ones that are less rigid or negative. This, in turn, dispels self-doubt.

“Positive psychology is a wonderful way to change the frozen mindset: I can’t do this. Whatever I start, it won’t be successful. Everyone hates me. I’ve tried many things.”

Rather unpacking and repacking the negatives within oneself, we insert real authentic positives about ourselves, which pushes us to move forward with our goals and take chances, he claims. Positive psychology can be a great vehicle to battle voices of self-doubt. It can create authentic change in mindset and one’s positive outlook. The ultimate table-turner is when one becomes comfortable with the idea that the fear of failure exists within all of us, that perfection is unattainable, and then realizes that seizing individual strengths can possibly do the trick.

By: Antu Hossain
Edited by: Veerpal Bambrah
Image by: Samer Lazkani

Categories: Articles