7 ways to overcome your fear of failure

6 July 2022

Do you find the idea of failure crippling? A fear of failure can be a major barrier to achieving your goals but here are a few steps you can take to rise above this and take on any challenge.

fear of failure

University can come with lots of obstacles and barriers to achieving our goals and the grades we want. One barrier to success can be our own fear of failing, stopping us from even trying to attempt our goals and/or leading us to self-sabotage our progress. Combine this with the pressure to do well at university and it can easily become overwhelming.

Here are a few tips for dealing with this fear of failure:

  1. Recognise how you feel – recognising that the fear of failing is stopping you from trying in the first place is a great place to start. Recognise and acknowledge how you feel – it is common and OK to feel this way.

  2. Change your perspective on failure – society has told us that failure is a bad thing. However, we often learn more from our failures than our successes and it can be an invaluable experience. One quote which summarises a positive perspective on failure is from author Eloise Ristad - “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” 

  3. Practice self-compassion – remember you are trying your best and that is enough. Failure is part of life and whilst it is not pleasant, it doesn’t make you any less valuable or loveable as a person. Try acknowledging the feeling of fear rather than distracting yourself. Accepting and being mindful of this feeling can help the situation feel more manageable. You may find it helpful to learn more about mindfulness through reading, you can find a list of self-help books here. Also, UCL Student's Union have a Mindful Society that practise regular mindfulness during term time. 
  4. Speak to someone – if you are feeling academically crippled by this fear of failure, it can help to discuss it with a trusted friend or family member. It is likely that some of your student friends are experiencing the same feelings and it can help to off-load to each other. You can also speak to one of Student Support and Wellbeing's adviser in a drop-in session or appointment.
  5. Get organised – recognise any easily removed barriers that are getting in your way of starting your essay or project. Maybe you need to tidy your desk and/or organise your revision notes – remember this is not procrastination and can actually be a necessary first step in getting started.
  6. Just do it – when avoiding starting an essay or exam revision it can be because our avoidance is often rooted in a need for everything to be perfect. Get started as soon as you can and even if it is not perfect, remember you can come back and edit it later.
  7. Find a positive quote – there’s a number of quotes out there which touch on this subject, find your quote and repeat it to yourself whenever you’re feeling like you’re holding back out of fear of failing. Examples: feel the fear and do it anyway; we miss 100% of the chances we don’t take; it is better to try and fail than to never have tried at all.

If you continue to feel overwhelmed and are held back by this fear of failure or other feelings of anxiety or sadness, you may wish to speak to your GP and Student Support and Wellbeing.