And the loser is…

Yesterday, we discussed thanatophobia. Fear of death is classified as a fear of an event. Can you think of another event people commonly fear?

  • Mathis WeddingWar
  • Wedding
  • Funeral
  • Public speaking
  • Job loss
  • Court appearance
  • Evaluation/ examination
  • Doctor/dentist visit
None of these top the list for fear of an event.


Arguably, some of the event fears include the fear of failure. Nothing is worse than the dream of giving a speech in the buff or thinking your job evaluation will end in termination. However, the pervasive fear of failure is riddled with anxiety for more people than any of the other event fears.


Brain Chemistry

The amygdala is the part of the brain that sends signals to the hormone producing endocrine system telling them to produce the chemicals associated with the fight or flight survival instinct. From adrenaline to dopamine, hormones rule the human reflex to anxiety. Keeping the hormones at a healthy level is imperative.


The delicate chemical balance to keep the brain from such crippling psychiatric disorders as depression and paranoia is not as simple as measuring flour to make cookies. When learned behavior is added to the mix, the balance can be thrown so far out of kilter keeping one’s wits is impossible.

Learned or Instinct

Run. Hide. Live.

Fear is a combination of instinct and learned behavior. The instinctual part of fear comes from the theory of natural selection. The humans who learned to fear and avoid the sabre-toothed tiger were the ones who survived. They taught their friends and family how to avoid or kill the beast.

Humans generate natural fear reflexes after they are subjected to trauma or dangerous circumstances. When you fall from a tree, you may become fearful of heights. Once burned, you will appreciate the danger of fire whether you fear it or not.

Phobias are born when the appreciation turns into irrational fear, like when you assign fire the human will to stalk you in your sleep or plot to burn your business.

Pieces Parts

The fear of failure is a learned response. The most prevalent variations of the fear of failure are decreased self-worth, fear of upsetting important people and uncertainty about outcomes. Studies continue to show, fear of failure leads to procrastination and is self-fulfilling.

The Big P

Procrastination is often a side effect of the fear of failure. We put off things we should do because we fear they will turn out badly (uncertainty of future). In other cases, we procrastinate to put off the failure for as long as possible (decreased self-worth). Lastly, we try to preserve others’ opinions of us by accepting the reprisal for failing to do something because it is ultimately less painful than what we perceive the failure to be (upset peers).

Flunk it before you take it.

You were right.

The last example shows how self-fulfilling the fear of failure can be. Another example is test anxiety. When faced with an examination, rather than committing full attention to preparation for the test, precious energy and emotional capital is spent worrying about failing the test. Ill-prepared, test failure is imminent.

Track Record

Past failure is not predictive of future failure. The single exception is the colloquial definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Adaptability is the human characteristic which belies the fear of failure. When you are willing to try a different, more effective tack, chance of failure decreases.

This is poignantly true of failed relationships. Just because you have been through a break up or divorce is no reason to fear failing at a subsequent relationship. As long as you recognize your part in the break up, you can change your future behavior to increase your chances of success.


Brain exercise conquers fear of failure. Those willing to engage the same behaviors expecting a different result are not showing adequate competence to break the cycle of failure and are blaming their track record for the irrational fear.

Choose a new path.

Those willing to engage new behaviors, learn new techniques and adapt to situations are the ones who find success in the new methods. Those willing to recognize the fear and approach situations from a different perspective overcome the fear.


As long as you are willing to try and try something different when you do fail, sticking to the problem will result in success. Success inherently increases self-worth and reduces the uncertainty of future attempts.

Which fear of failure have you seen most often in your life? How have you seen self-fulfilling fear of failure? Have you overcome your fear of failure? Can you name a technique of overcoming the fear of failure?

© Red Dwyer 2012
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  1. Overcome fear of failure in your writing by giving yourself permission to write poorly when writing a first draft. Just let it all hang out. I read a great essay last night: “Shitty First Drafts” by Anne Lamott. It’s funny and great advice.

    The politicians are insane by your definition (which I agree with) because they insist on doing the same things over and over expecting different results. Doh! Whoops, no politics. Well, just this one teeny bit.


    • Politics forgiven as on topic. And if I tossed out all the crappy poetry I had written, I would have a collection of three poems. Red.

  2. bear

     /  January 11, 2012

    Failure is not an option! Well, sadly it is, but a lot of us fail in a lot of different ways. Some as friends; some as a father, mother, sister, brother,and so on. The problem is that most dwell on their past failures. The key is to learn by your mistakes and do not repeat them. Move on.

    • The hard part for most people is the not repeating it part. Learning from them is necessary, but not exercising insanity is even more difficult. The rose-colored glasses leave a lot of people thinking they can do it the same way and the (person, company, sibling, parent, spouse) will act differently making it the way it should be. This is rarely, if ever, the case.

  3. Hey you are rushing ahead with these postings Red
    and I am getting further behind, but I will try and catch
    up soon, I hope your holiday is an exciting one 🙂 😉

    Androgoth XXx

    • I thought you knew I was going to schedule these. I worked hard to get ready! Now, I am behind again with so many comments!!! I have the blogosphere’s absolute best audience…ever. 😉 Red.

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