How Fear of Failure + Decision Fatigue Keep Your Business Small

How Fear of Failure + Decision Fatigue Keep Your Business Small

Fear of failure can be debilitating, paralyzing, a bane in your life. It is an invisible protagonist. And unless you resolve it, it can rule and derail your business. Fear is what keeps us from making decisions long after the moment has passed. And since your path to success is lined with decisions, your fear of change becomes your fear of success when you avoid making decisions that would lead to change. [<<< That's some serious Yoda-like wisdom right there.]

In truth, we are only willing to change when the pain of remaining the same exceeds our fear of changing. It doesn't have to be that hard...

Fear of failure isn't the only business derailer. You also must consider: 

  • Fear of change
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of ridicule
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success
  • Fear of others’ disapproval
  • Fear of standing out
  • Fear of being taken advantage of once you are successful
  • Fear of envy
  • Fear of being targeted with hate / jealousy



The Cartesian Quadrants model of decision-making encourages the use of both logic and emotions without restricting either at the cost of the other.

Make extensive notes in each quadrant. Think beyond yourself; think of the impact on your friends, family, animals.

Be completely honest in your Cartesian Quadrants exercise. Once you've completed it, you'll not only know what your decision should be, but also whether you should be making it at all. That is the power of the fourth quadrant.

We assume that tomorrow will be much like today. And for the most part, today is pretty similar to yesterday.

A shift in a single variable can change the primary context of our individual worlds. When we make decisions, we are exerting control over specific aspects of our lives.

Nobody makes bad decisions – there are only undesirable outcomes. The good news? If you don't like the results of your decision, you get to choose again. The more times you exert your right to choose by making decisions, the easier it becomes. You start to understand that no decision is permanent; the world changes, and you will need to choose again.


Decision fatigue is what you get when you're constantly presented with near-endless choices – up to 35,000 times a day. To progress and level-up your business, you have to increase your decision velocity, without compromising your decision quality.

By analyzing the science of decision-making, you can make better quality decisions faster.

The thousands of decisions you make every day, consciously and unconsciously, are damaging you, and your business. Your decision-making power can be depleted; the more you use it, the less you have left. It’s a bit like a cash account.

It is critically important that you reduce your non-critical decisions as much as possible, to reserve your capacity for more important, complex thinking. You want to ensure that for your important decisions you have high focus, energy, and attention to spend on it.

Wasting precious willpower on these decisions – which could be automated or routine – is a primary contributor to mental fatigue.

Although the majority of our decisions are made quickly and easily, that's not what matters. What is important is the will power and capacity consumed by all those superficial decisions.

Do this little experiment. A few minutes before your next meal, arm yourself with pen and paper. Pay attention to every decision you make, from whether to eat or not, what to eat, when, where, with whom. Whether the dish has enough salt. What to load onto your fork. Whether you've chewed enough and it's time to swallow, etc. You will be amazed – and then you will really get the decision fatigue concept.

Each decision decreases your ability to effectively make decisions, so we get worse and worse at making decisions as the day wears on. The collective, cumulative effect is what impacts us.

What is important to understand is this: we have a limit on our decision-making capacity. That's right - we're on a budget! Regardless of the magnitude of the outcome, our minds spend energy on every decision at hand. As the day progresses, that capacity reduces until our level of decision fatigue is so high that meaningful decision-making is no longer possible.

Avoiding or postponing decisions is not the answer. That only leads to reduced productivity.


  • You need tools to keep your decision fatigue low
  • You need to time your important decisions for higher-quality decision-making
  • You need to reduce the amount of attention taken up by incidental, unimportant decisions
  • Choose your battles logically; we are constantly bombarded with data designed to make us feel as if trivial decisions are incredibly important. Is your choice of shampoo really that critical?
  • The more options you consider, the greater buyers' regret you're likely to have
  • The more options you encounter, the less fulfilling your ultimate purchase is likely to be
  • Too many choices = less or no productivity (excessive choices are a distraction)
  • Too many choices = less or no appreciation (many beautiful things together make each less beautiful and more pedestrian)
  • Too many choices = a sense of overwhelm

How does this impact your customer when they look at your product or service range? Are you overwhelming them?


  • Set some decision filters based on your goals – When you have to make a significant choice, run your options through your filters. For example, does this support or progress my business goals? If the answer is no, you can ignore it… or pick the easiest option. If the answer is yes, devote attention to it.
  • Adopt minimalism as a life and business philosophy – By simplifying and minimizing all aspects of your life, you reduce the number of decisions you are faced with daily. Eliminate the extraneous, the unimportant, the unnecessary baggage from your life.
  • Reduce variation and limit your choices whenever possible – Steve Jobs famously wore the same basic outfit all of the time. Simplify your wardrobe. Timothy Ferris famously eats the same meal for breakfast every day. Simplify your diet. They both hoarded their decision-making capacity like misers, and see where it got them and their businesses? If it's good enough for them, it's probably good enough for you.


  • Create routines and plan your day – By making your activities predictable, you reduce the number of decisions you have to make. Simplify, and design routines around the repetitive decisions. This will give you more intellectual power and capacity for your important choices. If your prime working hours are in the morning, make all major decisions early in the day while you're fresh and vital.
  • For simple matters, choose the simplest options – Create criteria before you start the process. Set a generic time limit on how long you will take to make the decision. So, for example, if you're looking at a product to buy, decide what the minimum data is that you require for your decision. If you need date, cost, and delivery details, move on to the next one once you have that information. Then make your decision work. No second-guessing yourself.
  • Set boundaries for your activities – Make your workday from X time to Y time, which is especially important if you work alone. Block out times for research and development, for networking, for meetings and then respect your boundaries. Done trumps perfect for business success.
  • Touch it once  – When it comes to emails and other correspondence, either deal with it, forward to someone else to deal with, archive for future reference, or destroy it. Done. For invitations, either or decline. Handled.

Once you've adopted a few of these longer-term and daily decision-reduction strategies, apply them to your business dealings as well.

How many choices do you expect your customers to make before finally making that all-important purchase?

Bibi Van Heerden

About the Author

Bibi Van Heerden is the founder of Small Business Crux. As a dedicated success coach, she relies on her experience as an IT project manager to improve her clients’ profitability through focused productivity and time management tools and techniques. As a solopreneur, she understands the demands of running a small business and provides support through her services and blog at

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