The Shadow Behind You Fear of Failure

The Shadow Behind Your Fear of Failure

This is why you don’t take action on your good ideas.

It seems everyone nowadays wishes they could earn passive income online or in person. Rather than just another article touting success stories, I want to focus on the people living in the shadows of successful startup founders and affiliate bloggers.

First things first, has there been an increase in the number of people planning on starting their own business? 

The Global Entrepreneur Monitor (GEM) has been surveying over 45 countries for decades to answer this and other related questions.

Let’s start with the USA where only 13% (Up from 12.2% in 2013) of people report that they expect to start a business within the next 2-3 years. This number is about the same as pre-pandemic numbers in 2020. 

0.8% may seem like nothing in over a decade but it’s roughly 1,260,000 million people more with the startup itch. 

In the USA, nearly half, 46% of people think that it’s a good opportunity to start a business and those same people 2/3 believe it’s easy to start a business and they have the skills and knowledge the start one. Everything looks good so far… what’s the catch?

43% of those same wantrepreneurs are paralyzed with fear. 

Close to half of the people with bright ideas and slick skills are doing nothing because of their fear of failure. 

It should not be a big surprise that so many of us hesitate to take any action on a bright idea.

If you’ve ever had a bright idea and shared it with your friends and family, their first response is typically to punch holes in your idea as a helpful devil’s advocate.

But is it the fear of failure stopping us from moving forward and trying an idea that may change our lives and potentially make a big impact on others?

The fears of failure could be anything from losing our hard-earned savings to feelings of shame and embarrassment when our idea flops. It’s hard to separate ourselves from the idea so when one fails we feel it’s ourselves that is a failure.

The GEM doesn’t define fear of failure in detail but after talking to hundreds of people, they come up with any number of reasons which in most cases fall under two buckets.

I can’t do it or I won’t get the results. Internally or externally focused problems that stop people.

But most of these tangible fears can be overcome and most entrepreneurs have removed the obstacles with some patience and help.

It’s something hiding underneath these fears that is the core of why so many of us freeze when it comes to action.

This shadowy and slippery fear is really hard to pin down or even explain unless you know what to look for because of its very nature.

Here is an experiment that illuminates this underlying fear of failure.

In 2016 there was a study where participants had to guess which stones in a computer game had snakes. Every time they found a snake they would get a painful electric shock. Controlling the odds of finding a snake, they found as the randomness increased so did stress levels. 

In other words, we prefer to be wrong with certainty than take a chance of being right.

The darkest secret on why so many wantrepreneurs who have great ideas fail to take action is fear of the unknown. 

Fear of the unknown encompasses several distinct aspects that contribute to its paralyzing effect. 

Imagine you’re standing in complete darkness in an unfamiliar terrain. It would be scary to take a step and not know if there’s a cliff or a wall in the way.

You have the unknown surroundings, how to deal with the obstacles as you find them, how you can recover when you make mistakes, and if you’re even heading in the right direction.

The first aspect is when you try to do something for the first time like starting a business. You don’t know how much there is to learn and it can be paralyzing looking at the invisible mountants of work ahead. 

The second aspect is when you encounter the unexpected like lawsuits or a viral video. You’re not equipped or familiar with how to deal with the bad or good surprises. You get stuck in indecision 

The third aspect is when things go wrong, you don’t know how fast you will recover and how bad it will be. You become scared of making the wrong move.

The fourth aspect is how long you can tolerate uncertainty. You will have nagging doubts saying the work and effort you are putting in won’t get the results you hope. 

This experiment looked at people’s tolerance for waiting for a reward.

“…participants have the chance of winning a little money. The outcome of each trial is purely random, but the participants do have a choice to know the result immediately, instead of waiting a few seconds before they find out. The immediate knowledge comes with a penalty, though: if they do win the trial, they will have less chance of winning and the prize will be smaller. 

Despite it being the more rational option, only 37% of the participants opted to wait on every single trial. The rest were willing to take a financial hit to avoid some of the anxious waiting in a state of uncertainty.”

Humans are poor at handling unknown negative and positive outcomes.

You can even do a similar experiment on yourself. 

Pick something simple like Jumping jacks something that you could do quite easily for a while and then all you need to do is use this random time alarm, make sure the show countdown is checked off so you can’t see it, and set it to max 30 to 60 minutes. Start jumping and see how long you can go without checking a clock or the timer.

 How do you overcome the fear of the unknown?

Here are four ways to overcome the fear of the unknown and finally get started on your business idea.

  1. Education and research

  2. Social connection

  3. Building self-efficacy

  4. Meditation

1. Education and research

Perhaps the most obvious solution to the unknown is to learn what’s out there. Just starting with one part of a business and researching what you need to do can raise confidence. 

There is a mental trap to watch out for which is constantly trying to learn everything before taking your first step into a startup. It’s tempting to continually prepare yourself since it feels safe to learn without taking action. 

With a host of ethical and unethical gurus hawking their educational products, it can be tempting to hop from one program to the next without taking significant action.

You’re trying to learn the unfamiliar terrain of starting a business, so it’s best to focus on learning just what path you want to take and research that.

2. Social connection

Having someone physically with you can increase your feeling of security. If something goes wrong, they can come to help you get back on your feet.

In one small college study, they asked students to visually guess the steepness of a hill. They had others bring their friends and do the same. They found that having a close friend next to them made people underestimate the steepness of the hill by 10-15 degrees.

Social support makes surprises like customers canceling or systems breaking in your business more manageable not just as an emotional safety net but can offer motivation as well.

Body doubling is a term that’s popped up as a tool to help people do tasks they’re avoiding. Two or more people work on their projects in person or online via video chat. This technique has been especially popular for those with ADHD. 

I’ve personally experimented with the type of relationship of a body double and found the closer the body double is to the idea the more motivation I feel.

3. Building self-efficacy

If you strengthen your confidence in entrepreneurial activity you will be able to handle more of the unknown. In simple terms, find tasks that are within your current skill set and focus on increasing your confidence in doing them in different environments and difficulties.

For example, if you were to start an affiliate marketing blog selling environmentally friendly products, you would focus on how consistently you could write 900 words when you switch where you work. From coffee shops to train stations. 

Once you have some self-confidence in your existing skills, find the entrepreneurial skills you need to develop and break them down from the challenging projects you face into the simplest forms of exercise. An example would be public speaking could be broken down to talking in front of a mirror until you remove all filler words “uh” and “umms”.

People with high levels of entrepreneurial self-efficacy tend to be bolder in overcoming obstacles than others with low levels of it”. 

It’s hard to start at simple tasks that are well within your ability with most of your expectations set to the high standards we often set for ourselves. We are constantly shown successful people and it can undermine our own performance when compared to those years ahead of us.

4. Meditation

The common phrase, get comfortable with being uncomfortable gets tossed around in entrepreneurial circles quite a bit.

With most new businesses results are very slow and sporadic in the early stages. It’s tempting to switch tactics or strategies when you feel you’ve waited too long using one. But just like going to the gym or eating healthy, results are hard to see in the day-to-day but sticking to the regimen will show results for almost everyone if they continue long enough.

To help cope with the gaps between results, meditation can help train your mind to calm down when there’s no immediate feedback. Start with a short time like 3-5 minutes a day and focus on clearing your mind or practicing mindfulness. The more comfortable you can sit with doing and thinking nothing, the better you will be at keeping course.

It can be hard to move forward outside your comfort zone but with a bit of work, you can expand your comfort zone bigger.

The fear of the unknown can be as daunting as standing in the shadow of a mountain but with the right resources and mindset, you can illuminate a path ahead.

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