You’re failing wrong! There’s a better way to do it. It’s called deep practice.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself here. Let’s start from the beginning.

Atychiphobia: the abnormal and persistent fear of failure, to the degree that it has negative effects on the pattern of one’s life[1]

According to, atychiphobia is a clinical diagnosis with associated physical and emotional symptoms. The severity may run from mild to severe.

Chances are that if you’re still reading you can identify to some extent with this phenomenon. Not sure? Perhaps a look at some of the symptoms will help you to decide.

Physical symptoms include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • unusually fast heart rate
  • tightness or pain in your chest
  • trembling or shaking sensations
  • dizziness or light-headedness
  • digestive distress
  • hot or cold flashes
  • sweating

Emotional manifestations include:

  • intense feeling of panic or anxiety
  • overwhelming need to escape a situation that produces the fear
  • feeling detached from yourself
  • feeling like you’ve lost control over a situation
  • thinking that you may die or pass out
  • generally feeling powerless over your fear

The risk factors that predispose you to develop a fear of failure include past experiences where you’ve failed (especially if the experiences were traumatic or had important consequences, like missing out on an important job) and perfectionism.

Now, before you self-diagnose and start thinking about claiming disability benefits (or using your new diagnosis as an excuse/justification to stop trying), let’s acknowledge that a certain degree of apprehension is perfectly normal whenever we encounter high-stakes situations. However, to successfully navigate life, we must be able to feel that fear or apprehension and move forward anyway. That imperative is amplified when we’re dealing with a new assignment at work or a personal drive to master a new skill- e.g., writing a book, playing an instrument, taking up a new sport, figuring out how to use social media to effectively market your business etc.

Famous Failures

As we work to change our mindset and relationship with failure, we have several high-profile success stories to guide and encourage us.

  1. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
  2. Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as a news anchor, because she “fit for television”.
  3. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for “lacking imagination” and “having no original ideas”.
  4. The Beatles were rejected by Decca Recording Studios who asserted that the band “would have no future in show business”.

What did these famous failures have in common? A determination to fail forward. This contrasts starkly against those who allow failure to derail them… i.e. those who fail backward. The table below contrasts the two responses or mindsets in the face of failure.

Think About Your Response to Failure and Consider Failing Forward - A  JOURNEY TO FI

While our ultimate outcomes depend on our attitude towards failure, that attitude is not the sole determinant. In addition to thinking differently about failure, we must be prepared to do the work. That’s where deep practice comes into play.

Deep Practice

Deep Practice consists of stretching yourself just outside your comfort zone, stopping and reflecting when errors occur, making adjustments, and continuing this process over time.[2] 

There are three fundamental steps to deep practice.

Chunking: This refers to the process of breaking down that big, scary task into manageable pieces. So, let’s say that the task at hand is to delegate more effectively, or to coach your direct reports or to convert your side hustle into your primary source of income. In order to chunk those huge challenges, think of the riddle “How do you eat an elephant?”

Repetition: You didn’t learn to walk on your first attempt. You didn’t succeed in riding a bicycle on your first attempt. You had to work at it. The principle holds whatever the new skill is. Repetition won’t make you perfect. It will make you better – if you combine it with the third and final step.

Feedback and Adjustment: By critically analyzing our performance and actively soliciting feedback – e.g. from a trusted peer, boss, coach or mentor – we can identify specific areas for improvement and incorporate that feedback into the next round of practice.

Transcending Your Fear Zone

To leverage the benefits of deep practice, you must be willing to move beyond your comfort zone and enter your zone of learning. The kicker is that the fear zone stands between them.

If you are to cross the threshold and claim the benefits that await you in your learning and growth zones, there’s some internal work that needs to be done.

Success is not final. Fear is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.

—Winston Churchill



As a new or developing manager/author/entrepreneur, you simply must develop the virtuous cycle described by Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett and reflected in the diagramme below.


In doing so, you will conquer your fear of failing – not by eliminating failure, but rather by learning to fail faster, fail more often and generally fail better.

Try it!

[1] According to Collins Dictionary, this word is in the ‘pending investigation’ status.

[2] For an excellent read on the nature and benefits of deep practice, check out Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code.


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