Denying your fears will sabotage your chances of success.

Setting meaningful goals can be scary and anxiety-provoking. Unfortunately, our mind is likely to respond to our fear by providing us with excuses that encourage us to give up before we start, that sabotage our efforts once we do begin, or that send us into an endless cycle of procrastination. Here are five common excuses we give ourselves when we fear failure—and what we should say to ourselves instead. The key is to acknowledge our fears, recognize the challenges, and set correct expectations, yet create an open path to success.


Guy Winch, Ph.D.,Guy Winch, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, keynote speaker and author. His books, Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014) and The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem (Walker & Company, 2011) have been translated into twenty languages, and his TED Talk Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid has been viewed over 4 million times and is rated among the top 5 most inspirational TED Talks of all time on ted.com.He received his doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University in 1991 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in family and couples therapy at NYU Medical Center. He has been working with individuals, couples and families in his private practice in Manhattan, since 1992. He is a member of the American Psychological Association.

Editor: Muhammad Talha


1. What you feel: “This goal will be very difficult to reach."
What your mind tells you: “I’m not capable so there’s no point in trying.

If you believe you’re incapable, there is indeed no point in trying. But if you acknowledge the difficulty, you can begin to strategize, plan, and figure out what you will need to do to overcome the challenges—which will make you more likely to succeed once you do try.

2. What you feel: “I’m afraid to fail."
What your mind tells you: “I don’t want to try.” 

It's your goal, so of course you would like to try and succeed. Therefore, if your mind is telling you that you don’t even want to try, know that this is actually false and a response to the fear of failure you feel. The good news is, acknowledging fear is the first step in overcoming it. Own your fear and then confront it.

3. What you feel: “This is going to take a lot of effort and preparation."
What your mind tells you: “It’s not worth it.”

Again, the more meaningful the goal, the more effort it might take. But meaningful goals are also the most rewarding, empowering, and life changing. So the effort is well worth it.

4. What you feel: “Setting a clear start date makes me anxious."
What your mind tells you: “I’ll get to it when I’m ready.”

One of the most common reasons we fail to meet goals is that we fail to set a clear start date that could hold us accountable and prevent procrastination. Simply setting a start date, and putting it in your calendar to make it "official," can give you the extra kick you need to get going.

5. What you feel: “If I try really hard and fail, I’ll be devastated."
What your mind tells you: “I’ll give it a try but there’s only so much I can do.”

Fear of failure often manifests in making excuses upfront that can then be used to explain the failure, such as expressing pessimism about your chances of success, and using that as an excuse to limit your efforts. The problem is, the excuse mindset then turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy: By holding back your efforts, you’ve increased your chances of failure. So acknowledge the fear, but instead of imagining what it will feel like to fail, imagine what it will feel like to succeed. And go for it!