Regaining Focus: 4 Ways to Harness Fear of Failure

I passed my UK driving test this past weekend. It was the second of two tests, and the whole process took around six months. Needless to say, the British take driving seriously!

At the end of my test, I was pulling into the test centre with my examiner in the passenger seat, and another test-taker was doing a manoeuvre in the car park—the dreaded reverse park. And she was butchering it. Like completely. Every foot or so, she stopped to turn the wheel the opposite direction . . . then inched back, stopped, turned the wheel, inched back. It was painful to watch!

I looked at my examiner and asked if he ever got nervous for people he tested. He said, "Yep, I feel bad for people sometimes because often, decent drivers fail and not decent drivers pass."

This was obviously what we were watching. There's no way this young woman would've shown up for a driving test if she hadn’t known how to reverse park. Most likely, she had nailed this exact manoeuvre a dozen times on her own.

What was the difference? This time, she wasn't focused on driving; she was focused on failing. And the fear of failure creates paralysing anxiety.

When we’re practicing, all our attention is poured into getting our skills honed. But for this girl, the possibility of failing the test grew bigger in her mind than the manoeuvre she’d practised.

Fighting anxiety is essential to victory in life. Here are four things to do when you can't get anxiety under control:

  1. Have fun. It's amazing how bringing fun into any situation gets weight off your mind and puts it back on your talent, skills, and experience. I tried doing this during my driving test by making small talk with the examiner. I felt much more relaxed after some light-hearted conversation.
  2. Remind yourself that failure isn't the end. When we're failure-minded, it's proof that we're banking on the success of our current project too much. It's a silver bullet mentality that can't see past our current situation. Worst case scenario, I'd have to retake the test. I can live with that. Failure isn't the end.
  3. Focus on mechanics. Most of us do what we do—whether work, hobby, or ministry—because we have at least a basic skill set to succeed. When I lose focus, putting my efforts on the nuts and bolts of my work reminds me that I can do this, and I actually love doing it. You don't have to write a best-selling book to love writing. It's doesn't take an interview with Fortune magazine to prove that you're a skilled business person. Focus on the mechanics, and you'll feel life return again.
  4. Pray. The Bible is clear that prayer is an effective weapon in fighting anxiety. Prayer helps in two ways. First, it moves us from circumstantial awareness to eternal awareness. When we compare what's eternal to what's finite, eternity always wins. Second, our faith positions us to receive from God's unlimited resources. Peter writes in one biblical letter that God has given us all we need pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). I'm pretty sure that covers whatever you're anxious about!

Fighting anxiety and regaining focus may have more to do with succeeding than you realise. Don't let anxiety cripple your preparation, planning, experience, talent, and God's promises.

Have you been in situations where you couldn't see past the fear of failure? What did you do?