To this day I feel that sinking feeling, the feeling like I’ll vomit any second – audible palpitations, sweaty palms, and visible worry lines… the feeling that I’ll fail despite my efforts and all the work I’ve done and all the resources I’ve invested in that project would be wasted.
I’ve made peace with the fact that my fears will follow me in the future too because as long as I’m capable, I would like to keep trying to achieve my goals. I’m guessing you do too.
Here’s the fun bit – I’m not too bothered about my fears following me. That’s because I’ve figured out a system of working with my fears and leveraging them to play even bigger than I think I can.
And I don’t want you, too, to be bothered about your fears or let them get in the way of you achieving your dream goals so today I want to share that ‘fear-breaking’ system with you.
But before I do that, what I wish to reiterate today is that indeed fear is an inevitable tag-along companion of anyone who sets foot on the path of high achievement.
Once we let this belief sink in and truly open our eyes to the reality that fear will, by default, brew in the hearts and minds of achievers, it’ll be much easier to work with it.
Every person who has achieved anything in their life that was outside their comfort zone had to battle with the fear of failure.
It’s a fact of life that no one who ever steps a foot outside their comfort zone can escape the monster of fear. It is, what we will call, a necessary evil.
We are taught that anything that stops us from doing good is from Shaytan. And we are also taught that whenever he instills his devilish whispers in us, we seek refuge from him in the embrace of the Almighty Allah. (Quran: 7:200)
THE ONLY FEAR THAT HAS A POSITIVE ROLE IN THE LIFE OF A MUSLIM IS TAQWA (FEAR OF ALLAH)
Being Muslims, we know that fear is a word we must reserve wholly and solely for Allah, in other words, the only fear that has a positive role in the life of a Momin and is a positive driving force is Taqwa – the fear of displeasing Allah and incurring His wrath by disobeying Him.
So by that definition, any other fear besides that is a pathological fear. Meaning it is like an expected anomaly on the path of goodness that must be removed by the proper system of Iman and Tawakkul al-Allah.
“O you who believe, be patient, compete with each other in patience, and guard your frontiers and fear Allah, so that you may be successful.” (Quran, 3:200).
Allah says in the Holy Quran: “Verily! He (Satan) has no power over those who believe and put their trust only in their Lord (Allah)” (Quran, Surah An-Nahl: 99).
Since Shaytaan has promised Allah to attack us from every direction, it is expected of him to try and hinder you from achieving your dream goals too. It is his mission to make sure we stay in a low-key, paralyzed state of frustration, excuses, procrastination, self-doubt, and self-annihilation as we set out to do good.
“Satan threatens you with the prospect of poverty and commands you to do foul deeds; God promises you His forgiveness and His abundance: God is limitless and all knowing” (Quran: 2-268)
As we learn in the Quran, the easiest weapon of destruction for man is his Nafs, so really all Shaiytan has to do is to blow whispers in our hearts of doubt and fear and his job is pretty much over as from that point onwards, we self-sabotage. In other words, we fall victim to fear and get in our own way of achieving our goals.
Fear is powerful and it gains its power from the ‘uncertainty’, the ‘unknown’, the ‘mystery’.
So don’t underestimate the part it plays in hindering goal-achievement. It’s hands down one of the biggest obstacles in achieving goals.
Fear Can be Your Biggest Obstacle in
I’ve learned that I could teach someone all the tactics and strategies but they wouldn’t take action on them and no progress would be made because of subtle fears hiding in the cocoon of limiting beliefs.
Meaning, if you don’t learn to identify and conquer your fears, to steelify your mindset, and break past limiting beliefs, you can never achieve the goals to your full potential. That’s just the way the human psyche works.
A classic sign of the fear of failure is worrying too much about what other people think, setting very low expectations for yourself and lowballing yourself, and just ‘trying it out’ instead of putting forth your best effort because deep down you believe that if you fail despite your best effort, there’s no chance of success or recovery from that failure and that you’re truly a failure at that thing.
But if you fail simply because you didn’t give it ‘your best shot’ then there’s plenty of room for you to convert that first failure into success and you failed because you ‘didn’t put in enough effort’, not because you’re a failure. (let’s redefine failure at the end of this article)
By setting low expectations from yourself, you’re protecting yourself from plausible criticism from yourself and others.
As Tony Robbins says “the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, top athletes and famous actors had to learn how to overcome fear of failure in order to soar to new heights.”
Why the Conventional Ways of ‘Overcoming’ Fear Do not Work
Note: please visit a health care specialist in case of debilitating fears or anxiety issues. This article does NOT substitute as a cure for phobias, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.
Now the real headache is figuring out how to deal with it.
If you let fear take over you, it will most definitely incapacitate you from taking any sort of action on your goal.
If you ignore it, it will brew and grow and ultimately stop you from taking action on your goal.
If you try to beat it, you won’t be able to FULLY destroy it (human physiology) and you will beat yourself up thinking ‘there’s something wrong with me’ for feeling anxious and afraid.
So you are in a pretty pickle, my friend. Or are you?
It appears the only way to not let your fear of failure get in the way of you achieving your goal is to WORK WITH IT – to leverage it – to gain strength from your faith to reduce the intensity of it, and to learn to live with it and still do your best work. That’s what Musa AS did when he felt fear creeping inside him as he (AS) set out for his meeting with Firoun. (Quran: 20, 25-29)
All the successful people out there have learned to manage and in fact, leverage this fear to pull all the stops in achieving their goals with excellence.
I have learned that if you look closely, there’s a simple system for overcoming ANY fear you’ll face and I’ve been using this system every time I’m about to do something bold and challenging and I start feeling the negative energy seeping inside me.
Today I want to share that system with you. This simple system has been my savior (and still continues to be) in the scariest times of my life and has not only helped me be bold in everything I do but has also done the same for my Balance Deen and Dunya students.
Behold! I bring forth to you the AMA system for conquering your fears:
A Simple System to Conquering Your Fears
THIS IS HEADING 4 FOR SUB-HEADINGS
When dealing with any sort of fear, the first and foremost thing to do is to accept it. A lot of people forget that they’re human, that it’s OK to be afraid of something.
Just because you’re all rough and tough or you have to be the pillar of support for others around you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever feel fear.
Just because you face fear when doing things doesn’t make you any less resilient. It only makes you a human.
Resilience is not to never feel fear. Resilience is to face all fears head-on and use courage to overcome them. Resilience is not letting your fears and the emotions associated with them control your actions.
We must acknowledge the presence of these deep-rooted obstacles in our mind stemming from fear of failure and start our management strategy from this point onwards.
Do that and only then can you open the door of the next step.
B) MINDSET SHIFT:
Since fear starts in the mind, percolates into your emotions, and ultimately stops you from taking action… to have any chance at undoing the work of fear, you must beat it at its own game.
The best approach at creating mindset breakthroughs that I’ve been using for ages with my students and clients, and that I can swear by, is actually quite simple to implement.
Here it goes:
- You must start with pouring out your negative thoughts from your head onto a piece of paper or sharing them with someone else such as your family (if they’re understanding), a sound friend, or your coach.
This step is required in creating Mindset shifts.
- The next step is to remove the mask from your fears and see what it’s hiding beneath.
A lot of coaches will tell you to check if your fear is rational or irrational. The truth is – it doesn’t matter.
When we start measuring the ‘rationality’ of fear, we completely lose sight of the fact that there’s nothing rational about fear and simultaneously everything about it is rational.
Meaning, as we start measuring the rationality of fear, what we’re actually doing is finding out if the outcomes/ scenarios that we’re thinking are possible or not? Even though aliens invading your house or monsters coming out from the ground are not really ‘possible’, we will be generous in our assumptions and will answer that question with “Anything is possible.”
After we’ve established ‘anything is possible’, the next question in this quizmo would be “but is that probable?” Or a better way to put it would be, “how probable is it?”
Now suppose the probability of something happening is quite low, like in the case of aliens invading your house or monsters coming out from the ground… does that make the fear go away? Not at all. You tell a child that it’s not ‘logical’ or even ‘probable’, and yet the child is still scared. I’m not saying rationalizing is useless. Of course not. Rationalizing a fear is an effective strategy that can work to reduce the intensity of the fear. But it’s not the full solution. Keep reading to find out what is.
Now let’s think of the other scenario – suppose the probability of something happening is quite high, like in the case of not getting the job because the competition is too high, or failing a product launch in your business. May Allah make matters easy for us, Ameen.
Although this fear is way more rational than the first one, the experience the person is going through is unpleasant in both cases. Because that’s what it is – fear is an emotional experience.
In fact, when we establish the rationality of fear, we may even make matters worse by confirming our anxiety, telling ourselves “You should be afraid.”
And if we’ve established that it’s not rational, we lower our self-esteem by guilt-tripping ourselves into thinking, “You shouldn’t be afraid of this. What is wrong with you?!”
The important thing to understand is that the intensity of fear definitely does not depend on the ‘rationality’ of it. Meaning, just because something you’re afraid of happening CAN actually happen vs. something someone else is afraid of has zero chances of happening doesn’t mean you are MORE afraid than the other person.
The intensity of fear depends on things we can’t even fully comprehend.
Fear is from the unseen part of the world and just like any other emotion, we can only make a rough quantitative judgment on how scared someone is.
Plus, the way different people will respond to the same level of fear is also very different.
And you’ll agree that you’ll experience a different intensity of fear under different circumstances.
All of that data only confirms one fact — fear is relative.
The point is – instead of measuring the rationality of fear, first note whether it’s affecting your actions, and second, dig deeper to check the exact cause of it.
Only when you have a clear insight on why you’re afraid and what’s stopping you from taking action, can you move forward…
For example, you may be afraid of your product launch failing because you’ve never done something like this before… because you’re not an expert at business… because you’ve invested so much time and resources into this… and that everything will be wasted if this doesn’t work out the way you planned for it…
Now that you have a bunch of different reasons for being afraid, it’s time for tinkering with the mindset and creating shifts towards a positive outlook. This is when you will wear the ‘greener glasses’ and start seeing the same thing from a whole different perspective.
- Now is the time to convert those negative thoughts (that are giving birth to your fear) into positive thoughts to reduce the intensity of the fear.
This step will help you feel less afraid, more courageous, and capable of working with that particular fear to move forward.
BTW, this type of negative-to-positive thought conversion is not the same as false positivity which is more like a band-aid solution and can be more toxic than beneficial.
- Now you will take strength from faith and use your fears to become more faith-driven and Akhirah-focused. Every human being feels afraid but Muslims take their strength from their faith to be bold, courageous, and resilient. Only then can one infuse the element of spirituality into their work, add barakah to their efforts and have the army of Allah support them in their goal.
This is where you will extract lessons from the Quran and Sunnah to encourage yourself to put forward your best effort, expect the best from Allah, prepare for the worst, and after you’ve done everything you could do to give the outcome of your work the best chance of success, then to fully rely on Allah.
Allah loves intentional Muslims who do everything they choose to do for the right reasons – which is to ultimately please Allah by following the guidelines that Allah has instructed, by remembering Allah when doing the work, and by having tawakkul, sabr, and gratitude every step of the way.
Tawakkul makes the foundation of a Muslim’s fear-conquering system.
So if we focus on solidifying our Tawakkul (Trust in Allah’s plan for us), Allah will remove all unhealthy fears from our hearts.
We must believe with our eyes closed, wholeheartedly and firmly, that no matter what it is that we wish to do, we can for sure achieve it if we add in the essential ingredient of Tawakkul al-Allah.
If this belief is engraved in your heart and mind, then there is no power on earth that can deter you from your path or make your fears feel bigger than your faith.
Allah says in the Holy Quran: “And whoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make a way for him to get out (of every difficulty). And he will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine” (Quran, Surah At-Talaq: 2-3).
Notice how the word “fear” that has been used in this ayah is for fearing Allah. Never once has Allah said, fear the circumstances and difficulties instead of Me.
So if we learn to fear only Allah + place our trust in Him alone = Shaytaan will have no power over us and we will find the courage within ourselves to break free from our fears.
My clients share with me the negating thoughts and limiting fears that they’re feeling as they work through their goals. I help them read their own fears and then we work together to transform the way they think and feel about the thing they’re afraid of happening on their way to achieving their goal. When the burden of fighting with fear is removed, they are able to move forward on their projects with ease while keeping their emotions under check.
Since thoughts are associated with emotions… if you can conquer your thoughts, you’ll conquer your emotions.
From that point on, taking action on your goal will become a mere triviality.
That brings me to the third and final step in this approach – the action step.
C) ACTION STEP:
Although fear is an ‘abstract’ thing, you can actually take tangible, concrete steps to get on the other side of it. The first steps were to accept its presence and then to create mindset shifts. Now it’s time for you to take concrete steps to move forward on your goal with all the fears that are trying to bog you down.
And this becomes very easy after you have created the mindset shifts that position you in the best place emotionally, and spiritually to take action.
Here are a few concrete action steps to help you decrease the intensity of fear, prevent it from rising again, and allow you to move forward with courage.
1. FUTURE PACING
This is where you sit in your time machine and take a trip to the future to peek into all the possibilities the future holds for you.
There are two parts to future pacing. Future pacing into the ‘bad’ and into the ‘good’. Let’s start with the bad:
Imagine all the bad possible outcomes of you working on your goal around which you have these fears.
Imagine the worst of the worst that could happen – what is that one thing that if it were to happen you’d call your goal a ‘failure’.
Now let’s swing over to the positive side:
Imagine all the amazing outcomes of you working on your goal.
Imagine all the ways in which your life would change if only you achieved this goal.
Imagine how you’d feel after this goal becomes a reality, and how it would affect the people you care about.
2. MITIGATING THE RISK
Think of all the ways in which you can reduce the risk of the possible ‘bad outcomes’ that you imagined above.
Write down your plan B and plan C in case things don’t work out the way you want in your original plan A. What will you do to move forward with your goal if you didn’t reach the outcome you hoped for and originally aimed for?
Some common ways to reduce the risk that should be an integral part of any kind of project management are:
- Educate yourself on the project/ goal. Make sure you have spared no effort to learn about your goal. You can educate yourself using free and paid resources including books, videos, courses, etc.
- Learn from the experience of other people who have worked on a similar goal. The best wisdom comes from learning from your own experiences, but the second-best wisdom comes from learning from other people’s experiences. Learning from your past mistakes requires measuring progress, so if you’re not in a habit of doing that, make that an integral part of the goal-achieving process from now onward. Otherwise, you’ll be making the same mistakes again and again without even knowing you are.
- Fully prepare yourself for handling all sorts of problems along the way by keeping all the resources you may need on standby. What are the tools you will need while working on your goal? Keep them ready for when you’ll need them.
This level of preparation will give you peace and reduce the anxiety around your goal. You will find comfort in knowing that you’ve done your best and prepared well in advance, there’s nothing more you can do except Tawakkul al-Allah.
This preparation is basically equivalent to complying with the advice of the Prophet SAW which was ‘to tie the camel’ before relying on Allah (Tawakkul).
3. REDEFINE FAILURE
“Do not lose heart and do not grieve, and you are the upper-most if you are believers.” (Quran, 3:139)
Recall the worst-case-scenario that you thought of while future pacing… the one you associated with ‘failure’? Now think of that exact scenario as a learning opportunity if it were to happen, NOT as a failure.
Even if the outcome of your efforts is not as great as you hoped and planned for, you are not a failure as long as you handle the disappointment with grace, learn from your experience and turn failure into success.
Allah says in the Quran: “Why [is it that] when a [single] disaster struck you [on the day of Uhud], although you had struck [the enemy in the battle of Badr] with one twice as great, you said, “From where is this?” Say, “It is from yourselves.” Indeed, Allah is over all things competent. (Quran: 3-165)
In the above ayah, Allah is telling the Muslims who lost in the battle of Uhud that failure is a result of the lack of effort or our mistakes. And every human makes mistakes. So we need to accept failure as a part of life.
In any case, we should take responsibility, have no reason to blame anybody if things don’t turn out great despite our best efforts, and get up even after being struck down with disappointment.
If that becomes your default mechanism for handling disappointment, you won’t be so afraid of failing or of being disappointed.
You won’t shy away from big goals just because you’re afraid of failing.
In fact, you will welcome failure if it is written in the Qadr for you and use it as a learning opportunity for growth.
4. ELIMINATE THE ‘FEAR TRIGGERS’
Just because you have imagined the worst possible scenarios and prepared for them in advance doesn’t mean you’ll stop being afraid. We discovered that high achievers don’t aim to eliminate fear because ‘eliminating emotion’ is not a very measurable target.
Instead, we will aim to reduce the intensity of fear and avoid it after we’ve faced it boldly. So once you have been candid with ‘what are you afraid of?’ and have taken all preparatory measures, there’s no point in exhausting your energy in dealing with the same kind of fears again and again.
Your best option then is to remove the common triggers that ignite the spiral of thoughts producing the fear.
You won’t be able to remove all triggers because even the work related to your goal could be a fear trigger.
But let’s take an example of a removable fear trigger:
Maybe there’s a certain person who keeps bogging you down, or you’re getting negative remarks on your work from people around you. In that case, removing the fear trigger would mean communicating with that person or reducing the interaction with that person while you work on your goal or changing the environment.
5. SET UP YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
This is my favorite action step. Setting up your support system of like-minded people, who not only understand what you’re doing but also cheer you on because they BELIEVE in the work you are doing, can be the best thing you can do for your goal.
Because no matter how well you prepare in advance and how many triggers you remove, you will still have to face fears from time to time and your support system can be that never-ending well of courage. You visit it once and get charged for a long time until you need a dose again.
“A person is on the religion of his companions. Therefore let every one of you carefully consider the company he keeps.” [Tirmidhi]
Another reason why it’s necessary to have a support system is to find comfort and strength in case you have to face one of the ‘unpleasant outcomes’ that you predicted in risk management.
Your support system will be there for you when you run into problems, face failure, and disappointment and need courage and motivation.
“And keep yourself patient [by being] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever [in] neglect.” (Qur’an 18: 28)
In fact, having a support system is from the Sunnah of the Prophet SAW. He SAW always had a strong support system that started with his wife Khadija RA and his companion Abu Bakr RA.
Phew! After you’ve done everything in your control, now it’s time to sit back and relax. Now it’s time to let go of the control and leave the reins of your goal outcome with Allah!
Stay tuned for part two of this article where I’ll reveal the 7 most common fears of failure you must watch out for whenever you make up your mind to do something nerve-wracking that either you’ve done before and still gives you anxiety OR it’s something new, scary and bigger than you’ve ever done before!