Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Change Perspective To Change Your Fear of Failure

There are lots of things that we cannot control in life. One thing that we can change is our perspective. Like the lens on a camera, how we see things belongs to us and can be adjusted to see things differently, more clearly, and from a different angle. Given that our perspective bears on our feelings, our thoughts and our behavior—the ability to change perspective can be a resource for changing aspects of our life.

In their book NLP: A Changing Perspective, Dr. Rachel Hott and Steve Leeds lay out some principles for looking at life from different perspectives. What if we applied some of their principles to the “Fear of Failure?” girl with ball

“What would you do if you were not afraid?”Spencer Johnson

If you have ever held back from doing something you aspired to do because you feared failure—you are not alone. Given that research suggests we have a more compelling memory for negative events than positive ones, most of us can easily pull up the memory of something we failed to do somewhere along the line.

  • Sometimes the fear of failure develops from a history where perfectionism was demanded or recorded. When we think of doing something, we consider the need to be perfect and that jumpstarts the fear of failure.
  • Often fear of failure comes from the memory of unkind reactions of others in the face of failure. Stuck in the place of viewing self from a judgmental world-view is enough to stop most people in their tracks.
  • At times, fear of failure comes from a traumatic event beyond our ability to prevent—like the safety of a buddy, the health of a child or the success of a marriage. It seems that as humans we would rather hold ourselves responsible for not succeeding than tolerate our helplessness in the face of untenable life events.

Whether we struggle to the point where fear of failure immobilizes us from risking anything new, keeps us from embracing our goals or causes us to avoid, deny or procrastinate to the point where we guarantee feeling like a failure, we need to change our perspective.

What if you adjusted your lens to consider fear of failure from these two perspectives?


If your instinct is to dismiss this as semantics, just try it out for size.

  • Your golf game is really off – you are depressed or you try to reconsider your grip.
  • Your business closes. You catch your breath, struggle, come up for air, maybe go into debt but go back into business with the wisdom you can only get from going under! (How many successful entrepreneurs tell this story?).
  • You remember with horror the sport you played in Junior High and your inability to score or even come off the bench. You consider,” What if I just didn’t have the physical strength to play, the permission to play something else, or the supportive coaching that might have helped?”
  • Instead of staying with that failing image, you might use that feedback to shape your parenting skills,  choose a sport you now love, put that time of your life into context. It was big then. You can’t change that; but you can on with curiosity now.
  • You failed out of college. How do you go back in retirement? How do you not go back? Who were you then? Who have you become? You now know what you couldn’t know then. You know what you want.
  • Your first marriage hit the rocks after two years. Regardless of whether you blame self or partner, most people feel like this was a failure. Notwithstanding the pain of loss, can you take feedback from your experience to better understand yourself? Do you have a sense of what you need to be happy, what type of person would be a better match in a way that you could never have known? At some point, can you proceed with lessons learned?

I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  ~Thomas Edison


  • If we view life as the journey of many miles, some of which will be impossibly difficult and some very fruitful and rewarding, then no failed event, job or relationship stands as proof of our worth or prediction of failure.
  • Rather, the road to success and a full life is the road of trial and error.
  • To consider changing perspective is to see the road as one worth taking.

“I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.” – Tony Robbins

Listen In As Dr. Rachel Hott Discusses her book, NLP: A Changing Perspective On Psych Up on Cosozo Radio