Why do we say a person who gardens has a “green thumb?”

If you said it’s because plants are green, you’d be wrong.

Here’s the real reason: In the past, many gardeners used earthenware pots to grow flowers. Algae would grow on these pots and leave a green stain on their fingers. You could tell who liked to garden just by looking at their hands, hence the term “green thumb.”

The stain from earthenware pots is the hidden cause of the term “green thumb.”

Similarly, there are hidden causes behind other phenomena, including our emotions and behaviors. So, what’s the hidden cause of fear of failure? Ability beliefs.

What are ability beliefs?

Ability beliefs are beliefs that say you either have or don’t have an ability. They can be very broad, such as “I’m not capable,” or very narrow, such as “I’m not good at math.” They contribute to the fear of failure in two ways.

First, they make you expect to fail.

If you think you’re not capable and you are presented with a difficult task such as writing a book, you’ll feel like you can’t do it even if you’ve never tried it before.

Second, they make you feel that failure would confirm a negative view of yourself.

If you don’t do a good job in writing the first pages of the book or struggle with the outline, it will feel like more evidence that you really aren’t capable. And to get more evidence of a negative view of yourself is scary.

So how do we find the ability beliefs in our way?

One way is to use the thoughts-to-beliefs technique. You do that by first imagining yourself taking the action at which you’re afraid to fail. Next, you notice the thoughts that arise. Finally, you convert some of those thoughts into beliefs.

One facilitator was a public school teacher and had a student who was worried about math.

This student got As in her other classes but would freeze up on math tests. He had her imagine taking the exam and notice the thoughts that arose.

The student said, “I’m just not good at math.”

Next, he asked her, “Do you believe ‘I’m bad at math?'” She said yes. They had found the belief. Finally, he used the Lefkoe Belief Process he’d learned in Lefkoe Method Training 1 to help her get rid of that belief. Later, his student told him that not only had she started to get As on her math tests, but her worries had vanished.

But is it always that simple?

In short, no. Sometimes, there are more than just ability beliefs in the way. However, even when that’s the case, it’s still worthwhile to find the ability beliefs stopping you. They are fairly simple to find and, once eliminated, will, at the very least, reduce your fear of failure.


Ability beliefs are beliefs that say you have or don’t have an ability.

They can be very broad or narrow.

They contribute to the fear of failure by making you expect to fail and by judging you negatively if you fail.

You can find ability beliefs by using the thoughts-into-beliefs technique.

Ability beliefs are not the only beliefs causing fear of failure, but starting with them is a good idea since eliminating that type of belief will help you make progress in reducing your fear.

Remember the green thumb?

When we’ve developed an ability to do something, we often conclude we are good at that thing. We easily forget the process that helped make us good. That’s why we hear phrases like “She’s a natural” or “He has a green thumb.” The same is true when we don’t do something well.

However, no matter what judgment you make about yourself (good or bad), it is not the truth. Seeing this is liberating as it means that no matter whether you succeed or fail, it means nothing about you.

This truth is easy enough to say but much harder to live by. It becomes far easier, though, after you eliminate a few beliefs in the way. We have a program called Natural Confidence that helps you eliminate the beliefs that cause fear of failure in most people.

Click here to see for yourself

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