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Reducing fears of failure and irrational beliefs

By: Steven Campbell
February 17, 2017
Mind, Body and Spirit

Dr. Albert Ellis is regarded by many as the second most influential psychologist in the history of psychology.  (Carl Rogers is usually first, and Freud comes in at third.) Dr. Ellis wrote “A Guide to Rational Living,” one of the first books on cognitive psychology and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

In Chapter 11 of his book titled “Reducing Your Dire Fears of Failure,” he talks about a number of “Irrational Beliefs” that all of us have. The one that touches me most personally (which is also the reason I am writing this) is Irrational Belief No. 2: The idea that you absolutely must be thoroughly competent, adequate, and achieving.  

Many of us have suffered with fears of failure and incompetence. Some refuse to participate in groups for fear that we will not do as well as others in the group. Others panic over not being able to hold a conversation with people we do not know.  

Many will not try something new for fear of failing, or not being “good enough.” Others look at themselves and can see their successes, but these successes are colored by their failures. Others choose to look back on their lives and primarily see the failures.

If I was showing a PowerPoint presentation with a slide that only showed white, with the exception of a tiny black dot in the lower left-corner of the screen, what will you be looking at: the tiny black dot. 

The notion that you only have value as a person when you are accomplishing something is full of irrationalities.


No one is perfect

Virtually nobody can be competent and masterful in most respects, and no one can have perfect achievements.  All of us have a lot of weaknesses.  Indeed, the reason I love sharing my message is that I need to hear it so often for myself.


Your achievements do not make you more “worthy”

Achievements do not augment your intrinsic worth. If you see yourself as a better or greater person because you have succeeded at something, you may temporarily feel worthier. However, those achievements do not raise your intrinsic value one iota. Neither do they raise the value of who you are. Nor do your failures lower your human value. You may achieve greater happiness by achieving this or that for a while, but feeling better off does not make you a better person. 

You are good and worthwhile and deserving simply because you are alive. There is no one in the world who will ever come close to being who you are. There is also no one in the world who can give to the world the things you can give. You are the genius of your own life!

And here is an astounding psychological characteristic of your brain that, I believe, was created by God when He fashioned our brains. (It is also my message which I love sharing with people.) When you say to yourself, “I am worthwhile simply because of who I am,” your brain believes you…without question! In addition, when you insist on thinking this way, it rewires itself so this new thinking becomes a part of who you are!


You are not a particular thing

D. David Bourland, Jr., a student of Alfred Korzybski, the American independent scholar who developed the field of general semantics, observes that when you use any form of the verb “to be,” you’re being sloppy. You are not a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Rather, you are a person who practices those things. 

However, you practice a lot of other things too.

I am not a speaker, because although I spend a good deal of my time speaking, I also spend many hours doing research, and writing, and enjoying my wife, and our daughters, and our grandchildren. When I identify myself as only a “speaker” and rate myself according to how good I can speak, my worth becomes limited to my speaking.

That makes no sense at all. It undercuts the incredible intrinsic value I have, and which all of us have. 


A fanatic devotion to 

success can be risky 

Those hell-bent on achievement (like our present president) commonly push themselves beyond endurance, invite painful conditions, and rarely give themselves sufficient time to relax and enjoy who they are. 


Frantically striving for 

success gives fear of failing

Not only do we feel anxious about failing, we become afraid of taking chances, we flagellate ourselves for making mistakes, and we shirk adventurous projects we would really like to attempt. So how can we think?

• Enjoy the process of growing into who you are still becoming, rather than just your success at it. 


• Accept the fact that you may do well under some, but hardly all conditions.


• Even when you accomplish what you set out to do, it won’t be perfect!  


• When you fail to achieve (and you will sometimes), feel the disappointment, but not the desolation. Acknowledge your failure, but do not rate yourself.

Remember this: your feelings about yourself are coming from what you are saying about yourself, right now. You can therefore change what you are saying about yourself, right now. And your brain will say, “Ok. If you say so!”

All of us are in this together, and are simply doing the best we can.


Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent” and conducts “The Winners Circle” every two months at Sonoma Mountain Village in RP. Contact Steven at 480-5007 or go his website at to ask about his one-day free monthly seminar.