There’s always at least two ways to go when designing: punish – reward, easy – hard, simple – complex, visible – invisible, big – small, casual – hardcore, and so on. If you’re not sure which one between the two would work, maybe try them both. Or if one side is not working, try the complete opposite. Especially with smaller elements of the game this can really help out. It’s easier to see the effects of big design changes in comparison to small subtle ones.
For a long time Circles felt too punishing. I tried dialing it back with some iterations, but it didn’t have much effect. At some point I made a build where it was impossible to lose. Playtesting was a disaster, but it was a new starting point. From there I experimented with various ways to make it a bit more punishing again. There was one iteration where the player could touch a circle, could still go on, but would lose it as a reward at the end of the level. This turned out to still be too forgiving, but the idea of rewarding the player this way stuck and made it into the final game.