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Zen Master Reveals How to Overcome the Fear of Failure and Use It to Your Advantage

Nobody wants to fail, but for many the fear of failure presents such a psychological hurdle that their fear of failure exceeds their motivation to succeed.

Recent studies have shown that the fear of failure inhibits innovation within organization by suppressing new ideas and discouraging managers from pursuing risky concepts.

The problem seems to be wider than this:

Some experts have made the case that we live in a generalized “culture of fear”, with the media and politicians recognizing and tapping into this collective state.

How can we combat a culture of fear that exists in society and also inside our organizations?

As with any kind of change we want to see in society, it all begins within. This is why love the perspective on confronting the fear of failure offered by the Zen Buddhist spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

Thich Nhat Hanh on How to Confront the Fear of Failure

In his book Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, Thich Nhat Hanh explains how to release ourselves from the trap of fear.

As he says:

“We may think that if we ignore our fears, they’ll go away. But if we bury worries and anxieties in our consciousness, they continue to affect us and bring us more sorrow.”

This is why we need to face up to our fears without judgment:

“The first part of looking at our fear is just inviting it into our awareness without judgment. We just acknowledge gently that it is there. This brings a lot of relief already. Then, once our fear has calmed down, we can embrace it tenderly and look deeply into its roots, its sources. Understanding the origins of our anxieties and fears will help us let go of them.”

This of course isn’t easy to do. It takes a lot of courage to admit to yourself what is causing fear and to confront it. However, once you’ve been able to do this, then the state of fearlessness results.

“Fearlessness is not only possible, it is the ultimate joy. When you touch nonfear, you are free. If I am ever in an airplane and the pilot announces that the plane is about to crash, I will practice mindful breathing. If you receive bad news, I hope you will do the same. But don’t wait for the critical moment to arrive before you start practicing to transform your fear and live mindfully. Nobody can give you fearlessness. Even if the Buddha were sitting right here next to you, he couldn’t give it to you. You have to practice it and realize it yourself. If you make a habit of mindfulness practice, when difficulties arise, you will already know what to do.”

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Applying Mindfulness Practices to Your Daily Life

The most effective way of applying mindfulness practices to your daily life is to do this now. Take this moment to breathe deeply and acknowledge the fears that have been controlling you, even if they’re below the surface.

There’s a wealth of material here on this blog discussing techniques of mindfulness which are wonderful to getting started in confronting your fears, such as these:

You can also join in the discussion happening on Ideapod where people are sharing their ideas on how to confront the fear of failure. It was started by Kat Dunn using the hashtag #foff.

Dunn has also created a forum for people to discuss the fear of failure. If you’re in Sydney you can join them in person on 1st February for their charity event supporting beyondblue, an NGO supporting people with depression and anxiety.

Here is Dunn’s idea starting the discussion of failure on Ideapod: Can you say “F-OFF” To Your Fear Of Failure? #foff

Some of the responses so far:

“I think people who suffer fear of failure will not, in general, grow as well as others. If you always exist within tight bounds or rules, never push the envelope, never learn other ways of doing things, you will be further constrained. people who embrace change are more likely to be flexible or dream up new ideas.” – Graeme

“I live in a society (U.S) where the notion that failure is not an option and despite the ideas revolving around the embracing of failure, it is not accepted as it should be and so we’re teaching one another that it is not OK to fail at something because of the high expectation to succeed in whatever you’re doing no matter what.” – Boonn R. Hem

“I think it is also not just about the individual being unafraid to fail, but for all of us to look at how we become more supportive of those who are trying something different. Perhaps if we celebrate what was attempted rather than the outcome, we foster a safer environment, and trying something new becomes a little bit less scary.” – Tim Grady

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