Fear of Success – Is There Such a Thing?

Fear of Success is a Thing!

We’ve all experienced the fear of failure, especially on things that we have a lot riding on –  In relationships, jobs, business, health career, investments, and so on.  Yes, it makes sense to have a fear of something not working out the way you want it to.  “What if it doesn’t work?”  That is the question that comes up with a fear of failure.

But does it make sense to have a fear of something working out the way you want it to or expect it to?  Does it make sense to fear your own success?  I know this sounds contrary to common sense, but it is something that happens to a lot of us.

What is Fear of Success? First of all, let’s define success.  Success can be many things.  At first glance, people might think of money.  Yes, success can be the ability to create wealth.  However, success and fear of success can come in so many other ways.  It can be just getting what you want or expect out of an activity, strategy, job, career, or project.  Getting what you want or expect sounds reasonable, if not, common sense.  Most of the time, the Fear of Success entails the fear of what the success means or what it brings with it, or our beliefs around it.  This can be complex, so let’s break it down.

“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.” – James F, Byrnes

Let’s just say that you are working with a new prospect.  This deal will be the largest in your career or business.  It will make a huge difference for you financially.   Of course, you want this.  Who wouldn’t?  Fear of failure may be there – It’s not a make it or break it deal but it would be nice to achieve and get some of the things that you have started thinking about since this possible deal came along.  However, the closer you get to successfully closing this, the more you may start to feel uneasy in some way.  What it you do get it? Will it raise the bar in expectations that others or you have on yourself?  Will you be able to follow-through on this?  Will the increase in business and money change you at all?  There are all sorts of things that can run through your mind at a deep level.

These thoughts originate from beliefs. The beliefs originate from early experiences in your life.  For instance, you may have a belief or prior experience that, when things get too busy, you get overwhelmed.  Or, you may have an issue that comes up when people have high expectations of you, and you feel that you cannot consistently meet those expectations.  Or, you may have a belief that successful or wealthy people are not ‘good’ people.  This could stem from childhood experiences, perhaps things that you heard from adults about people who have money – even phrases like ‘filthy rich’ can have an adverse effect on us.

I remember a gentleman who would self-sabotage every time his business got to a certain level of income.  He would stop doing the things that he successfully did to bring in new clients or would change the level of care that would normally bring clients back and bring in referrals.  He could not figure out why.  It turns out there was a belief that, if he got too successful, something would happen to ruin his life.  This went back to when he was a kid and his father’s very successful business went down the tubes (because of a partner) and their life got turned upside down.  He had a fear of success that was so strong, it caused him to sabotage his business.

This was an extreme but not unheard-of example.  Self-sabotage does happen to many of us.  Fear of Success shows itself in many other ways such as procrastination, loss of focus, loss of motivation, indecisiveness, or an actual fear that arises as you get closer to your goal.

Procrastination is the fear of success. People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success that they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success is heavy, carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the “someday I’ll” philosophy. – Dennis Waitley

 I love the example that my mentor would often tell.  He was standing in line at an outdoor event in Hawaii.  There was a guy a few people in front of him, in a muscle tee shirt.  He was very muscular with well-defined arms and back.  He looked like he took his body seriously and took care of himself.  There were two people in the back of my mentor, who were talking about this guy, saying things like was probably real dumb and probably only ate a handful of raw vegetables every day.  These were judgments they were making, based on his physique.  When my mentor turned to see who was talking, he saw this could who were very overweight, drinking their Slurpees, while putting this guy down.  They, obviously, had beliefs around people who took their body and health seriously, that would impact their success, every time they wanted to get their bodies in shape and have better health.  They would definitely have a fear of success, thinking deep down inside that they might turn into this ‘dumb, raw vegetable eating’ person.

I know that this sounds farfetched and even illogical, but our subconscious mind is not logical.  It’s built on beliefs that were formed so many years ago when logic was not our strong suit.

Still not convinced that logic can’t take over and allow me to see success for what it is? Think of a not-so-good habit that you have.  No matter how many times you say, “I really want to stop this.” You cannot easily do so.  Logically, it is a habit that is not serving you and you know that you should stop doing it.  Habits are formed over a period of time and most often they are formed when the habit ‘seemed’ the logical thing to do.  Though the habit no longer serves you, and can actually cause problems, your subconscious mind cannot see this logic.  It just continues to do what it ‘believes” or is programmed to do.  That is how our inner beliefs impact us, no matter how illogical they may seem.

Hopefully, you are starting to understand how something as common sense as success can be feared.  So, what do you do about these inner beliefs that might keep you from succeeding?  You work at the level that they originate from – the subconscious mind. 

You do have two minds – one that is working all of the time and one that is working most of your waking time – Your Subconscious and Conscious mind, respectively.  The conscious mind is no problem, you are using it now to see if what you are reading is making any sense.  If what you are reading starts to bring up any emotions or memories, then your subconscious is at play.

“Freud described the conscious mind as consisting of all the mental processes of which we are aware, and this is seen as the tip of the iceberg.  … the unconscious mind is the primary source of human behavior. Like an iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you cannot see.” – Saul McLeod

So, again, how do you work on this Fear of Success?  You work in the realm of the subconscious mind.  I like to talk about the subconscious mind as 5-year-old child.  In a lot of ways, it communicates at that level.  For instance, you can try many times to tell a 5-year-old child to do something and get no results.  The same is with your subconscious mind, if using just words.  Now if you use imagery, emotions, or metaphors/stories, you will have much more success with your subconscious mind, as you will with a 5-year-old.

So, if you suspect that you have a Fear of Success, start to reflect on all of the good things that will come with the success, if not fully fantasize them.  Walk through what you will be doing, and how you will be feeling, having successfully completed what you are working towards.    If any negative issues come up, walk through how you will handle them.   Do this exercise often and you will melt down any resistance to success.  Of course, if you feel that you have deep seeded issues or if the reflection does not seem to help, see someone that can help.

The bottom line is that thinking of success in any endeavor that we take on, should not bring any fear, heartache, or barriers.  If so, it is time for some self-discovery.

If you want more information on FEAR OF SUCCESS and how you can identify and eliminate it, contact us through www.peakperformancemindsetcoaching.com or email me at kevin@peakperformancemindsetcoaching.com or Lisa at lisa@.peakperformancemindsetcoaching.com 

Other related blogs that you may be interested in are What Will a Positive Mindset Do For Me?, Peak Performance and Mindset Coaching.

2 thoughts on “Fear of Success – Is There Such a Thing?”

  1. I think fear of success can be at a much deeper Freudian level. When I was young I was raised by a narcissistic mother who emotionally abandoned me once I became autonomous. Years later in therapy I remember standing up for myself in a session. I was trying to make a counterpoint to the therapist and I had a strange transference. The therapist appeared to my childhood mind to have turned into a violent enraged creature who was going to attack me for my independent thinking. the fear of success can run deep.

    1. Thank you Steven. This is very interesting. Yes our fears can come in all shapes or forms, and from all places. Most originate from childhood.

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