07/07/2014 12:15 pm ET Updated Sep 06, 2014

Outsmarting the Fear of Failure

For so many of us, the fear of failure is crippling. It stands in the way of us achieving what we really want in life. With our pride at stake, many of us prefer to take the easy, safe option. Perhaps we save face. But at what cost?

Have you ever really wanted to ask a girl on a date, but you didn't because you feared she would say no, only for you to feel like a coward afterward? Have you ever feared giving a speech or a talk in front of a room of people because of what people might think if the speech isn't perfect? Only for you to regret not giving the speech because you know you had something valuable to say.

Until recently fear of failure had a stranglehold over my life. I would take the safe option of doing nothing. Why would I want to risk failing and look stupid?

To combat the fear of failure, all the books I read recommended "taking action" to overcome my fear of failure. People would tell me "taking risks and making mistakes is how you learn and grow." Deep down I knew this. But there was still a blockage somewhere. I was always a deep, analytical thinker. I always considered all potential scenarios, and eventually I would talk myself out of taking action. Searching in my mind to find the answers to overcoming my fear of failure was not working.

Recently I discovered the blockage causing my fear of failure and inability to take action. It was my lack of self-compassion. What is self-compassion? Self-compassion is responding with kindness and understanding to one's self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. It comes from the heart, not the head.

When I failed in the past, I was very hard on myself. I would beat myself up and tell myself how useless I was. I would make myself feel so shitty that I thought, "Why would I ever want to do something where there is a chance I am going to fail?" Especially if I am going to berate myself and make myself feel like I am the size of an ant.

Reading about and practicing self-compassion was what helped me discover the blockage causing my fear of failure and inability to take action. That and a real life experience of failure. At a toastmasters meeting recently, I was volunteered to give a table topics talk, where I was asked a question and then had two minutes to give a speech off the cuff. The question was challenging and long-winded. When it came time to start my speech, the audience waited silently, in anticipation. You could hear a pin drop. I stood there, all alone on stage. Nothing came to me and I didn't say a word, for what felt like eternity, but was closer to 30 seconds. After the long pause, I was eventually able to mumble something and I finally got going and was able to complete the speech.

In the past, I would have considered this experience a failure and I would have beat myself up. I would have told myself I was useless and I should have been better prepared. But utilizing the self-compassion technique I had read about, I told myself that it was okay, we all have blanks and struggle at times. We are only human. And in the whole scheme of things, it was no big deal. That perceived failure does not make me who I am; I am so much more than that one speech. It actually provided me with a learning opportunity and gave me the impetus to write this post.

Another realization from that experience was that people from the audience focused on the positives of what I had said as opposed to what I had not said. They could relate to me and said it was good to see that I am human just like everyone else. I am starting to realize that even when I do fail, the outcome is never as bad as the one I had imagined in my head beforehand.

As a result of treating myself with more self-compassion, I am meeting my fear of failure head on. I am beginning to take more risks, which is leading to increased confidence. I am discovering new things about myself and I am expanding what I previously thought was possible for me.

Does the fear of failure hold you back? I encourage you to consider if it has anything to do with how you treat yourself after the failure. Are you very hard on yourself? Or are you kind and caring towards yourself?

If you are very hard on yourself, I encourage you to learn more about self-compassion. The book titled Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff is a great place to start.