5 methods I used (and still am using) to manage my fear of failure

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” – Vincent van Gogh

I was on my way to being an entrepreneur. My finances were in order, as discussed in a previous post. Now all I needed was a million pound business idea, right?

Wrong. If only it were that simple.

As with any good wantrepreneur, I’d been devouring as much information as I could about generating business ideas, testing an idea and getting started. Web sites, podcasts, books, you name it. I soon learned that the difficulty was not coming up with an idea, or even testing it, as there is a tonne of free material helping people to do this.

The reason I was yet to get started was purely psychological. Deep down I knew that I’d learned enough. I knew that I was procrastinating and calling it research, or whatever. The truth is that I was scared of starting because I was scared of failing. And I knew this was counterintuitive because the only way to guarantee failure is to never try at all.

So, to try to understand more, I turned my attention back to the world wide web. Tony Robbins’ TED talk discussing the Six Human Needs we all have, as well as Karl Albrecht’s post called The (Only) 5 Fears We All Share, really helped to put things into perspective. What I began to understand was that this fear of failure was completely normal. It’s a protective mechanism we’ve evolved with to help ensure our survival in the past. It’s not something I, or anyone else, should be ashamed of. It is, however, something I would have to recognise as being unhelpful and manage in order to move forwards.

With a new found understanding, I’ve been able to take significant strides forward. Summarised here are the things I’ve found most useful to date in managing my gremlins:

1) Commit publicly. One of the first things I did was to announce to my friends, my boss and my colleagues that I was planning to leave my job to start my own business. The urge to stay true to my word has at many times trumped whatever fears I’ve been facing about doing something, allowing me to just get on with it.

2) Talk to people. Talking to someone be it a friend, mentor, or the barista at the local coffee shop always seemed to help put any worries into perspective. For example, when I first spoke to people about my plans, I soon realised that most of them were proud of me for even having the courage to give it a go. It didn’t matter what the outcome was, really. I also realised that the only one putting pressure on myself was me. That was a huge weight lifted.

3) Be mindful. There’s growing medical evidence to show that people who practice being present in the moment, trying not to concern themselves with what has been or may be, are generally better at coping with the stresses life throws our way. Of course, this isn’t something we can just switch on but it does get easier with practice. To get started I used Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Prof. Mark Williams.

4) Take some time out. In March 2016 I took a two week holiday, my first in nearly four years, to the Philippines. By getting out of the daily grind I was able to stop worrying about replying to that email or preparing for my next presentation at work. I was able to think more clearly about leaving my job to start a business and all of a sudden, it didn’t seem so daunting. In fact, I was super excited. So much so that I came back from my holiday with two new ideas that I got to work testing straight away (details to follow in a later post).

5) Practice. Courage is something I’ve had to learn, and still am. And like learning anything, you practice walking before running. Over the last few years, I’ve made an effort to overcome smaller fears, such as my fear of heights when I went cliff jumping in Croatia and my fear of public speaking when I spoke to a group of nearly 100 people in 2015. These experiences have provided an anchor to help me tackle larger fears such as leaving my comfortable, well-paid job.

I’ve also found that it helps to keep topping up with a healthy dose of motivation. Most mornings I like to start the day with a watch of Tony Robbins’ emotional flood exercise; Jia Jiang’s TED talk titled “What I learnt from 100 days of rejection” is another personal favourite when feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Whatever works for you, try making a note of it, make it accessible, and watch it or read it as often as you need to.

To round off this post, Seth Godin via Tim Ferris’ podcast provides an excellent perspective on making major transitions in life. Check it out here. And remember, the only way to guarantee failure is to never try.

Diary of a Wantrepreneur

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