Face The Fear of Artistic Failure in 6 Steps: Uncanny Creativity 31

Part of being a successful artist is knowing that you’re going to fail and having the tools to deal with it. Fear of failure can negatively impact motivation and attitude to learn, according to a study led by the Bilkent University (Turkey). Those who expressed a higher degree of fear about failing were less likely to adopt goals for personal interest and development. They were also more likely to cheat and less likely to learn. How can we handle our fear as part of the process of success?

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Thomas Edison

Step 1: What are some realistic or helpful views?

Test the beliefs that cause your fear. Psychcentral.com gives the following tips to avoid perfectionist thoughts: First, identify the perfectionist thoughts. Then list alternative thoughts, thinking about the pros and cons of both the original thoughts and your internal. Now with your choices in mind you’re empowered to pick a more realistic or helpful view.

Step 2: What did I learn?

Redefine success as learning. If your aim is learn, according to Forbes magazine, you’re always succeeding and never technically fail.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
-Henry Ford

Step 3: What are the positive things?

Try to see yourself as positive and practice gratitude. The field of psychology has moved away just treating mental illness. Almost 1,000 articles published in peer-reviewed journals between 2000 and 2010 focused on well-being, pride, forgiveness, happiness, mindfulness and psychological strength according to the American Psychology Association.

While positivity doesn’t solve everything, there’s growing research showing there are benefits. We don’t have to be roaring smiling optimists.  Every glass full is half empty and half full. Acknowledge both. On a truly bad day where things really did go wrong, can we still see what good is happening?

Step 4: What am I afraid of?

Allow yourself to be afraid, recognize that it’s common and manageable. According to research by UC Berkeley psychology professor Martin Covington, the fear of failure is directly linked to your self-worth. Noticing that we can face the feeling of fear, that it’s not really the end of the world, makes us less likely to avoid it. According to the book Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, this fear is a holdover from our primitive ancestors when fear kept us alive.

Step 5: What am I willing to do?

Emphasize effort instead of current ability. A study by the University of NC Greensboro found that those who emphasize effort over natural ability are motivated more to succeed.

Step 6: How can I be kind to myself?

Encourage self compassion.  Research also found those who practice self-compassion recover more quickly from failure and are likely to try new things.
What would you say to encourage a friend? Treat yourself as a friend by being kind to yourself, remind yourself that you’re not alone, and by being mindful and present in the current moment as if you were an outside and loving observer. To be a success we must decide that success is possible.

“All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so.” – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas.

Rewrite your story with these questions

  1. What are some realistic or helpful views?
  2. What did I learn?
  3. What are the positive things?
  4. What am I afraid of?
  5. What am I willing to do?
  6. How can I be kind to myself?


Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.


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