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For over a decade, David Tian, Ph.D. — a uniquely qualified therapist, life coach, and former university professor — has coached tens of thousands of people from over 87 countries to achieve happiness and success in their relationships, dating, psychology, and lifestyle.
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How Can You Overcome Your Fear Of Failure?
- David Tian Ph.D. gets to the root of our fears, what started this fear of failure.
- David Tian Ph.D.explains what the fear of failure tells about us and our upbringing.
- In this Man Up episode, David Tian Ph.D. identifies three points to getting over the fear of failing.
Boom, stop! I’m David Tian, Ph.D. In this video, I answer the question: How can you overcome your fear of failure? Welcome to the Man Up show.
Masculinity for the Intelligent Man. I’m David Tian, Ph.D and this is Man Up!
Hey, I’m David Tian, and for the past 13 years. I’ve been helping hundreds of thousands of people in over 87 countries attain success, happiness, and fulfillment in life and love. And in case you didn’t know, it’s been a very long time since I’ve done a Man Up episode. We’ve been traveling all around the world super busy in the Freedom U course and all of that. I know if you’re watching this for the first time, you absolutely do not care about me or anything that I do. You just want to know the answer to the question we posted. So, let’s get right to that and then we’ll give you a quick update.
So, we got a question here from John Kristoff from the Man Up Facebook group. He’s asking about the fear of failure. Now, he’s given quite a lot of background. So, I’m going to include as much of that as necessary to answer the question. So, let’s just get into it. And just to preface everything, there are two types of fear of failure. The first type is fear of failure because you don’t have a track record of competence or you don’t feel autonomous. You don’t have a track record of autonomy. Another type of fear of failure is having too high of a level of standard, or maybe I would call it unrelenting standards. All right, so there’s two type of fear of failure, one where there’s too much pressure from unrelenting standards, another from the fact that you suck at everything, and you haven’t been good at much at anything, and you actually have a legitimate fear of failure because there’s a pretty high chance objectively that you will fail.
So, just putting that out there. Which one do you think John Kristoff is? So, let’s get into it. Here’s his question. “I understood something.” He says. “I always had thought I knew the definition of wanting, but deep down I didn’t.” So, I think his first language is not English, so just bear with that. “I thought that to want something implied that you desired something. I want a Lamborghini means that it’d be cool if I had a Lamborghini. It doesn’t mean I’ll do everything I can to get a Lamborghini. I was wrong.” And then he goes on to say there are a lot of things in life that he wants but that he’s not motivated enough to work at getting them. So, this is some of the background of his life here.
“One of the biggest roadblocks I’ve identified is that I’ve never wanted anything in life.” I have desired and fantasized about everything instead. There a lot of people who were replying inside the Man Up group saying, “You haven’t hit rock bottom yet.” And his reply was, “I don’t think that would matter because I’ve done this exercise,” actually, from one of my mini courses called Drive. That actually gives him that visualization experience of hitting rock bottom. So, he’s going to talk about his experience with that in just a minute here. But just to give a little bit more background. He says, “I watched my actions, and here is what came of it. Playing video games for two to 12 hours a day.” So, I think he’s in his mid or late 20s. “Playing video games for two to 12 hours a day” and it turns out he is not a professional video game player.
If you are a professional video game player, that’s awesome. But he’s not. He’s just dicking around for 2 to 12 hours a day playing video games. Taking my car for a drive for about 90 minutes about three to four times a week. Again, if that’s your commute, I guess it’s a necessary evil. It’s not his commute, he’s just literally driving and not doing anything else in addition to driving. And again, if he’s a professional driver, that’s awesome. But he’s not, so he’s really just wasting time. “Sleeping.” I guess that means excessive sleep because we all need that restorative sleep. “Watching Netflix.” So, we all know what that’s like. And Netflix is awesome in gaming your brain, and just going to the next episode, right? So, watching Netflix.
So, it sounds like his life is video games, Netflix, oversleeping, and driving around for hours, three to four times a week aimlessly. So, he asked himself, “Am I happy?” And one part of him he says is happy because he’s comfortable and he doesn’t have any responsibilities. And the other thing is, he lives with mom and dad and still is late in his late 20s. “One part of me is unhappy and shames the first part because I’m not doing jack shit with my life. One part of me tells me that I have to do something and get uncomfortable if I want a brighter future. Another part of me tells me that what is uncomfortable always ends up traumatizing me so I should stay in comfort.” And then he goes on. This is actually quite poetic, but the screenshot is now blocked. “One part of me tells me that I’m making it a bigger mess than it actually is, and being in my mother’s basement for the rest of my life.” He’s like literally in his mom’s basement, “playing video games ain’t that bad.”
“As you can see, it’s a big mess of cognitive dissonance and contrary beliefs leading me to being paralyzed in this position. A lot of people who are in deep shit do whatever it takes to get better. I wish I was like that, but I feel like all my parts fighting between themselves prevent me from doing that.” Okay, then he went into my mini course called Drive, and he went through a very powerful transformative emotional process that usually does it for like 99% of people. But there’s an exception for the type of person that John Kristoff is describing himself, that if you react without the bigger context, it could actually make you feel worse. And without further guidance, and now I’m giving that further guidance here. So, during the part, first part of the process that he’s referring to, “I was exposed to the fact that only I can save myself, and me not doing so would kill me.” It traumatized me and my mind reacted by cutting me off the program emotionally for the rest of it which prevented me from reaping benefits from the program.” So, this is interesting. He was exposed to reality. Reality was too scary for him.
So, he shut down. And in fact, that’s what he’s been doing since he was a kid. And that’s why he’s still living in Mom’s basement as a bum. He’s just shut down when he has to face reality. So, one thing that Drive did was expose him to reality, and that scared him too much, and he went hiding, which is what he always is doing anyway. So, he’s just back to his normal state. And then I asked him about the background to try to suss out whether the fear of failure comes from, perhaps, unrelenting standards, though. I doubted it did. And he came back to say that it was from bullying. So, he does see a therapist though. His initial post was, “Therapy sucks. It doesn’t work. I just wasted money, wasted time.” And then he came back saying, “Actually, I saw my therapist, and my therapist pointed out that led me to a realization of a memory of being bullied when I was 13 to 14 years old.”
So he says, “When I was 13 to 14 years old, I was a social recluse and solitary type of kid. Nobody seemed to care about me except the bullies who didn’t miss an opportunity to bother me.” And by the way, that’s a common pattern that I see from guys who are struggling with women and struggling with life, is that they’ve been bullied. That’s just a common — not all guys who are bullied. Like, I was bullied. But over time, like by the second year after I started getting bullied, I turned into the bullier. Like, I basically said, “Enough of this.” And I fought back, and they’re like, oh, hey, you want to join us? And that was just sort of like — that’s a history of my life. Like, I will reach that point personally where I have such unrelenting standards. I said, enough is enough. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get there.
But I do know that there are plenty of people who don’t take that choice, who don’t make that decision to step up. And instead, they step back. They withdraw. They give up. They roll up into a little ball, or you know, they ball up. So, this is one of those cases where now as an adult, he’s dealing with that — the fallout of that decision to withdraw and give up. Now, you still have to make a living at some point, right? So, this is his issue here. “I couldn’t handle these bullies by myself. I didn’t have the strength or the confidence to do that, so I hid behind my parents’ backs and asked them to save me. Which they eventually did by communicating with the school.”
So, this is an interesting thing. When I was in the sixth grade, I had bullies at the Chinese school on Saturdays, and they just kept taunting me. And my mother was actually a teacher at the school. And I felt enmeshed enough to think I don’t want to embarrass my mom by creating an incident where I’d beat these guys up. Because by then I was already well on my way to a black belt in Taekwondo. So, I was ready to go but I didn’t want to get her in trouble. So, I never involved my mother. And eventually, it took me that whole year to figure out how to win these guys over, and that was just one of those character transformative experiences.
John Kristoff went the route of get mommy and daddy to do the fighting for him. So, early on, you already see the creation of character, the formation of your character that plays out for you as an adult. Now, if you didn’t make those choices to step up and rise up to challenges and your masculinity suffered as a result, or just your drive in life and your own belief in your own competence and autonomy suffered as a result, you’ll need to go through the therapy.
But sometimes, the therapy might be too much of a dose of reality. It’s like, whoa. This is what I ran away from in the sixth grade already. I don’t want to face it now, even though I’m almost 30. I can’t do it now. That’s what I ran away from. And for 20 fucking years of my life, I’ve been a runner. I’ve been a wimp. I’ve been the guy who will ball up. So, what does he do? Well, that’s what I’m going to get to. But in case that’s the reason for your fear of failure, rather than the fear of failure that I and my cohort tend to have, which is the fear of failure from too much pressure and unrelenting standards, that would be a different type of fear of failure. If your fear of failure comes from a bad track record, no sense of confidence in yourself, because you don’t have deep competence in anything, that’s the sort of audience that Jordan Peterson really resonates with because that’s the type of people he’s speaking to, the ones who are coddled.
So, John Kristoff got coddled. His parents went in and saved him from the bullies at school instead of giving him a sense of autonomy and teaching him how to fight back or how to deal with them. They instead did it for him and that ended up with the situation now where he has this debilitating fear of failure. “So, when they eventually did by communicating with the…” Okay. “Then they created a trauma cocktail,” he calls it, “of being afraid of social rejection and not being able to be saved when I’m alone in these settings.”
So, he’s dependent. He’s codependent with mommy and daddy. He’s codependent with some authority figure who will take care of things for him. “Back to now, anything, and I really mean anything that has the potential to pull me closer to independence.” That’s like getting his life together in any way, right? “Terrifies me because it reminds me that it could be 7th and 8th grade all over again, and I’m an adult now, so my parents can’t save me anymore from that.” Yes. It is time for you to fucking grow up, and that means facing these fears.
The problem is interesting. You’ve been running and these guys who have this fear of failure have been running from their fears for as long as, in his case, eighth grade. So, let’s say he was like 12 years old, and it’s like for 12 years, 12 or more years, maybe fucking 20 years for all we know, he’s been running from these fears. And now, he has to face them. What happens when you don’t face the fear? So you have this fear and you put it off for a whole year. Does it get easier to face it later?
Imagine putting it off for 20 years. Does it get easier to face it by putting something off? No. I mean, there’s just more pressure, right? It gets stronger. Okay. “So, while my friends see moving out and going to a new school as a fountain of opportunities and excitement, I see it as impending doom and a move towards a realm of absolute fear and chaos.” So, just a little bit more clarification. He says, “Yesterday was one of the most effective therapy sessions I ever had” when it popped out that memory of his being bullied. So before, look all of this time, so he’s now close to 30, I think. This whole time, he has not remembered the root of his problems. He’s just like, “I have this debilitating fear of failure. I’ll just be a bum. Oh, David, you’re showing me reality. I don’t like this. Move away. I’ll just go back and play video games for 12 hours a day.”
And he’s not even realizing that this is a result of his bullying experiences when he was 13, 14 years old. That’s how important therapy is with the grief work and the inner child work to see the root of it. Because if you don’t even know where it comes from, then you’re just basically doing palliative care. You’re just basically putting Band-Aids over the wounds, but not actually healing the wounds. You’re not cleaning the wounds out and letting them heal. You got to go back to the original source to find out what the fucking problem actually is. That’s what therapy is for. And that’s what my transformative courses are, like Total Transformation, this course he’s referring to, Drive, that force them to face that reality. And then I would recommend for him the course Heart which balances out Drive. Because if Drive is too much achiever for you, and you’re not an achiever, and you’re not used to that kind of energy, then Heart is sort of the counterbalance to that. Heart will get you into that self-acceptance and self-love, which let me get to the answer, right?
So, this is the answer for people who have fear of failure as a result of incompetence, or just a lack of a track record of competence, and the lack of stepping up to fear, and those who have trouble with autonomy. So in other words, they’re dependent on mommy or daddy or dependent on whatever authority figure or caregiver is taking care of them even now as an adult. So, what you need to do is get to the point of self-acceptance. And that means that, contrary to what you would do with an achiever, who — they don’t generally need more praise and encouragement, these guys do. So, what they’ve been lacking is, among other things, praise, encouragement, and validation. So, they actually need validation, like, good validation. Like, you’re doing well, you can do it. You haven’t even proven yourself whether you can. But if you step up, you will surprise yourself at how much amazing stuff you can do.
And again, another reason why Jordan Peterson has proven to be so popular among that set, the fear of failure set, because of lack of competence and a lack of history of competence. So, one thing that you should do is to find out what you are good at. Maybe it’s video games because you’re playing it for 12 hours a day. You must be pretty fucking good at it. Just start a Twitch channel or something, right? Enter a competition. Whatever it is. Whatever you’re really good at. Maybe you’re really good at driving because you’re doing it 90 minutes a day extra. Whatever it is. I don’t think there’s a sleep competition, but for driving, and video games, and whatever it is you’re good at, maybe it’s actually something that there is a job for, right? But maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s actually a hobby. Luckily, now, with the freakin internet, you can make a living off of unwrapping presents.
I mean, you can make a living with millions of views just putting a fucking video over your hands as you unwrap toys. So, anything. You can make a living off of anything if you’re good at it. So, just get good at it. If you like it and if you’re not bad at it, okay, you don’t even have to be good yet. You just like it, and you’re not bad at it, and you keep doing it, and you get better at it because you get to a certain level of competence, you might seek out a teacher, or a coach, or join a league group at it, or something like that, and you just get better and better, you could actually just teach it. That would just be the most obvious way, right? But you could also package or course like I have for these sorts of things to teach people that way. There’s all kinds of things.
You might get sponsorships, right? That’s the YouTube way if some company wants for you to have some kind of sponsorship, and they’ll pay you for that. There’s all kinds of ways, but you can actually make a living off of something you’re good at. But you have to be good at something. So, you got to pick something, even if you can’t figure out how to monetize yet, just so you can prove to yourself that yes, you can succeed at shit that you so don’t be afraid of failure if it’s just a matter of failing, because you can — if you keep at it, prove to yourself that if you keep at something, you will improve, you will get good, and then figure out monetization later.
But just get good at something. Just find something you’re good at or not bad at that you enjoy and go as far as you can with it. See how far you can go with it. Okay, so that’s how you can develop competence and a track record of competence that you should have been developing along the way as a child. But that was prevented from that because of the coddling of your parents, who had the best of intentions, I’m sure. Just like the university’s nowadays have the best of intentions but they’re fucking up their university students by coddling them. So now, they’re going to go to the real world and find out what reality really is like.
And then secondly, you’re going to get encouragement along the way as you persist at that task. Let that sink in. So, it’s been like decades since you’ve said to yourself that you can do it. And if your teacher or if a peer, while you play video games for instance, says, “Dude, you’re really good.” You should enter that competition. You’re like, “Nah, I can’t do anything. I’m not very good at these things.” No. Repeat that, any positive things you get, you hear it from people, repeat it to yourself. “I am good.” Just say it like that. Just throw. Instead of ‘you are good,’ put ‘I am good’ and just say it out loud. Like, even if you are having a fear of failure because of unrelenting standards, that’s something that you should do, too. That’s something I had to learn how to do just to repeat to myself that that good result was from me.
Because there’s also that Asian fake humility that becomes internalized where it’s hard for you, there’s like shame associated with taking accolades or shame associated with saying that you are good at something or being above others. You have to let that sink in. Thank you, like, that whole Asian thing of instead of saying thank you when you get a compliment, you say, “No, I’m not very good.” That’s like the default response. That’s a horrible response. That’s a really great way to just make more shame into kids and stuff.
Instead, just say thank you and let that sink in. So, that’s like a sub point of point one. So, point one is develop competence in something, and then sub point one is any kind of praise, encouragement, or accolades, or validation that you get, repeat it to yourself and let it sink in. Okay, then the second point out of three is autonomy. So, for John Kristoff, he lives in his mom’s basement and he’s a fully-grown adult. That means he probably doesn’t have to make a living. He can get mom to do his laundry. She can make dinner for him. Maybe she washes his ass. I don’t know. So, anyway, he’s still dependent. And I know a lot of guys in Asia who are like this because it’s actually culturally ingrained in some places like Singapore where it’s shameful, in fact, at some levels, for the son to move out before he’s married, which is horrible.
So, you just create dependency in the modern world among boys in Singapore. So, if you are a man and you care about your gonads, okay, if you’re a man and you want to be a real man, you’ve got to move out of your parent’s basement, at least, or out of the home, and develop your own life. You have to establish your own independence. You have to establish your own autonomy. You have to prove to yourself that you can do it. You can do it for yourself. You don’t need mom to rescue you. You can do it. You have to actually prove that to yourself. No amount of affirmations will help that much without the proof.
And then we bring in the affirmations later as just like a little bit of icing on the cake, right? Which is what I mentioned, let those good things come in. But you got to prove it to yourself with real action. So, take steps to move out of your parent’s basement, just at the very least make enough to support yourself. So for your own food, your own shelter, your own roof over your head, and so on, your own bed. So, that’s really important. So, that’s step two: get autonomy. Create autonomy. Get out of your mom’s basement, whatever it takes.
Even if you have to share a room with a buddy or share a flat farther out of town. Whatever that is. In fact, you’re already driving 90 minutes a day so you got plenty of time to commute. So, there’s that. So, autonomy, competence and autonomy. And then the third, I’m just going to say this for the people who clicked on fear of failure because of other reasons, for unrelenting standards reasons. This is the more common fear of failure reason that I have and that my cohort has, which is that there are these unrelenting standards that you hold yourself to, and your — you think that if you don’t get those — if you don’t meet those unrelenting standards, then some horrible thing is going to happen, which always leads to the fear of that you’re not enough. And why is that scary if you’re not enough? Because thinking that you’re not enough, that you’re not worthy, is actually related to love. So, you’re not enough to be loved because that’s really what it’s all about.
Not getting that promotion, why is that so scary? Because you’re doing fine with this level of income. It’s not really about the money. If you’re feeling all that stress in this fear of failure, it has to do with something much deeper. And then you eventually want to find the roots in your childhood. But how do you relieve that pressure? Remind yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to have fun, to enjoy yourself, and reach that point of self-acceptance just like the first case, fear of failure because of lack of competence and autonomy. It’s really about reaching a point of self-acceptance. It’s the same with this fear of failure from unrelenting standards. It’s about getting to that point of self-acceptance.
So, treat yourself well. Find your inner child. Love your inner child. Let that inner child grow, and flourish, and incorporate that inner child into your life again, as a way that will counteract your fear of failure and destroy your unrelenting standards, paradigms, and lenses that are neurotically hampering your life. And then before you know it, you will be interested in many other things that will be much more enjoyable and fulfilling and might even be more monetizable… Like, it might even mean more monetary reward. So, don’t be afraid of that, thinking that you have to meet that particular standard, even though there’s so much crushing stress and fear for you. That’s related to the fear that you’re not enough, that you’re not going to be loved, because ultimately when you were a child, that meant that you were going to die.
So, I’ll leave it at that. Three things just to wrap up: the fear of failure coming from a lack of competence, a lack of autonomy, and possibly from unrelenting standards. All three of them, the way to counteract those are to prove to yourself through a track record of competence and autonomy, or to love yourself and your inner child, do the grief work and relieve that stress and pressure. Okay, so we are here in Taiwan, our new home here. Relocated to this wonderful place, which is a much better place just for like living. It’s also a good party place too, but wonderful place for quality of life. Don’t come here though. I don’t need more expats invading this beautiful place, they’re enough as well. All right, so what am I doing here? Man Up.
I’ll see you inside the Facebook group. Click the link, join the group. See you inside the group. Thanks for watching. And please leave us a comment. Let me know your feedback on this video, and join the group. See you inside the group. Until then, David Tian, signing out. Man Up!