Most of us have big dreams for our lives, but when we think about everything we will have to learn and experience to achieve success and make those dreams a reality, our fears can overwhelm us.
But if you don’t face and overcome your fear of success, you run the risk of experiencing greater negative consequences, such as never getting what you want in life. It’s only by facing your fears and taking action anyway that you can achieve your goals and thrive.
What is the Fear of Success?
Fear of success boils down to the belief that if you pursue your goals and dreams, your efforts will ultimately cost you and your life will change for the worse.
You may avoid success because you worry about all of the challenges you need to overcome to make your dreams a reality. Or you might fear that if you make the attempt, you may discover once and for all that your goals are out of reach.
You might worry that achieving success will turn you into a different person or cause greater negative consequences, such as relationship repercussions or social and economic backlash.
Or maybe you have a subconscious belief that money is bad and “good people” aren’t supposed to be financially successful – so you worry that achieving your dreams will turn you into a selfish person or sellout.
But all of these fears you use to avoid success are just stories you’re telling yourself! They are not objectively “true” in any way. If you allow yourself to believe in them, you will never take action or feel the life satisfaction that comes from discovering what you’re truly capable of accomplishing.
How Fear of Success Shows Up
Fear of success can show up in many areas of your life – here are the most common:
Self-sabotage is when you create challenges for yourself that make it harder for you to achieve future success.
You may consistently “forget” deadlines, make poor financial choices, or always start projects but never finish them. These acts of self-sabotage ultimately cost you by preventing you from moving forward.
Negative self-beliefs are automatic thoughts such as “I’m inadequate,” “I’m weak,” or “I’m a failure.”
We turn these negative beliefs into self-fulfilling prophesies by constantly looking for evidence that proves them correct. If you expect yourself to fail or experience a negative outcome, guess what? You will.
Avoidance strategies protect you from such emotions as anxiety and discomfort in the short term, but in the long run, they cause you to experience more of the feelings you’re hoping to avoid.
That’s because they reinforce your fear around whatever you’re avoiding, so the next time you’re in that same situation, you’ll feel even more uncomfortable and go even further to sabotage your future success.
Fear of success can cause you to procrastinate and delay the completion of your tasks just long enough for opportunities to pass you by, or start projects but never finish them.
You may think you’re sparing yourself from the challenge of taking action, but really you’re keeping yourself stuck where you are.
Perfectionists deal with the fear of success by setting an unrealistically high bar for themselves that they know they’ll never meet.
Low self-esteem drives them to see external validation and other people’s approval rather than relying on their own internal compass to guide them toward a life that will make them happy.
Do you find yourself quitting things at the first setback you encounter? Or maybe you work for months on something then quit when the finish line is just in front of you.
People usually quit because if they don’t believe they have what it takes to cope with the results. And if they never finish the job, they’ll never know how well (or how badly) it will turn out.
Engaging in self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, binge eating, gambling, or compulsive shopping is another sign that you may be struggling with a fear of success.
You may engage in such behavior to prove to yourself that you don’t “deserve” the life you dream of. Or it may be a way to numb yourself to the uncomfortable feelings that you associate success with.
Signs You’re Fearful of Succeeding
To gain clarity into whether your fear of success is holding you back, keep an eye out for these key signs:
When you imagine yourself achieving success, do such emotions as guilt, anxiety, or pressure come up for you?
If the thought immediately makes you feel an intense amount of pressure or makes you worry about relationship repercussions, that’s a sign that fear of success is getting in the way of your goals.
Lack of Motivation
When you think about everything you have to do to achieve your goals, do you get fired up – or does the idea leave you feeling drained or overwhelmed?
If the latter, please understand that those feelings don’t mean you’re lazy! It’s far more likely that your fear of success is the problem.
Achieving success involves outgrowing your current situation and stepping into unfamiliar territory – and that can be uncomfortable.
You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and trust that your efforts will deliver the life satisfaction you seek – and that even if you stumble, you will be able to find your way forward to your goals.
Causes of Fear of Success
Fear of success stems from many different sources:
Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you don’t deserve to achieve success – that you’re not as good as other people in similar fields or you won’t live up to others’ expectations.
But these are just stories that you tell yourself to justify your imposter syndrome, avoid self-promotion, and remain stuck where you are.
You may avoid taking action toward your goals because you are worried about a possible backlash.
If you live in a culture with traditional gender roles or expected norms, you may worry about experiencing social or economic backlash if you pursue a life that doesn’t conform to those traditional gender roles or expected norms. And that might cause you to adopt backlash avoidance strategies that stand in the way of your goals.
Childhood experiences have a long-reaching impact on your self-esteem and lead to fear of success. Getting accused of being a failure or a “show off” when you’re little can stick with you long after you’ve become an adult.
It’s natural to be introverted or shy and suffer from social anxiety. But these things don’t have to be an insurmountable obstacle to your success or cause you to avoid self-promotion.
A lot of extremely successful people are introverted or suffer a certain amount of social anxiety – but they didn’t let that stop them from acquiring the skills and expertise they needed to achieve their ambitious goals.
Fear of success can show up in a variety of mental health-related ways. You may experience depression or anxiety. You may struggle with self-esteem issues, engage in negative self-talk, and even self-harm.
If you experience any of these symptoms I urge you to consult with a medical professional to get the help you need to improve your mental health and cultivate a more positive mindset.
When you suffer from poor self-efficacy, you have a hard time believing in your own ability to succeed.
As a result, you are more likely to focus on your failings, assume a negative outcome, and avoid challenging tasks because you’re convinced your efforts will be fruitless – and so your negative beliefs become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How to Overcome Your Fear of Success
It’s not your fear of success that’s holding you back from reaching your goals. The most successful people still experience fear. But they don’t let that fear stop them from taking the actions needed to achieve success.
Here’s how they do it – and how you can too and embrace change.
Identify Your Obstacles
Take some time to reflect on where your fear of success has come from. What experiences caused you to develop this fear – and what roadblocks are you putting in your own path as a result?
Overcome Negative Beliefs
The mirror exercise is a simple yet powerful way to combat a fear of success and reframe how you think about yourself and associate success with yourself. Here’s how you do it:
Before going to bed, stand in front of a mirror and appreciate yourself for all you have accomplished during the day.
Start by looking directly into your eyes for a few seconds, then address yourself by name and begin appreciating yourself out loud for the following things:
- Achievements: Business, financial, educational, personal, physical, spiritual, or emotional
- Personal disciplines you kept: Dietary, exercise, reading, meditation, prayer
- Temptations that you did not give into: Eating dessert, lying, watching too much TV, staying up too late, drinking too much
Maintain eye contact with yourself throughout the exercise. When you’re finished appreciating yourself, complete the exercise by continuing to look deep into your own eyes and saying, “I love you.”
Then stand there for another few seconds to really feel the impact of the experience—as if you were the one in the mirror who had just listened to all of this appreciation.
I know, you might feel a bit goofy at first – but if you do this exercise every day for at least three months, you will be amazed by the results!
Alleviate Your Stress
By lowering your stress levels, you alleviate the fear of success and make it easier for yourself to remain calm and make grounded decisions from a place of clarity without succumbing to avoidance strategies. Here are some tools that can help:
Journaling: Journaling allows you to connect with your thoughts, reflect on where fear of success shows up in your life, and identify ways to overcome it.
The Hour of Power: Every morning I start my day with “the Hour of Power” – 20 minutes of visualization and meditation, 20 minutes of exercise, and 20 minutes of reading inspirational or informational books. This practice has had a profound impact on my mindset and my life.
EFT Tapping Exercises: EFT Tapping is a technique that allows you to liberate yourself from limiting beliefs, fears, and internal obstacles by releasing your stored anxieties, stresses, and emotional hurts.
Breath-Focused Awareness: Breathwork grounds you in the present moment and quiets your “monkey mind” chatter. The simplest way to practice it is to simply sit and focus your awareness on the inhale and exhale of your breath.
When you notice your attention wandering, bring it back to the breath. This is a powerful way to reduce stress and tension within your body and dissolve your fear of success.
Visualize Your Success
Spend at least a few minutes a day clearly visualizing what your life will look like once you achieve your goals. Imagine what it will feel like, smell like, and taste like – and how YOU will feel when you wake up into that life every day.
This will help you keep that image top of mind and subconsciously prompt you to make decisions that will lead you closer to making that vision a reality.
Partner with a Success Coach
If you find it challenging to do this work on your own, you will likely find that you’re able to make much faster progress if you work with an experienced coach who can give you the tools and support you need to overcome your fear of success and take brave action toward your dreams.
I have personally trained and certified thousands of people as success coaches and if you google “Canfield success coach” you can learn more about them and find someone to support you in your goals.
Find Your Path to Success
“The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
The reason this saying is such a common cliche is that it’s true. Your fears are the only thing holding you back from taking action toward your dreams.
If you take action to dissolve them, you will discover that your own success has been within your reach the whole time.
I would love to help you liberate yourself from fear once and for all. A great way to get started on the journey is to watch my webcast, “The Success Formula: A Proven 3-Step Process for Getting Unstuck and Creating Breakthroughs.”
It will teach you how to:
- Build awareness of where you’re settling in life – and how to move past these obstacles once and for all
- Take full control over your life
- Take action and stay focused on your goals to achieve your own success.
Plus, you’ll receive a special surprise gift!