Why you can fear success and how to overcome it
Do you sometimes sabotage yourself? Do you ever feel that you’re on the brink of success and instead you do something stupid that takes you away from success?
Some people sabotage their diets. Others start procrastinating and don’t progress in their businesses. Some people know that if they continued to work hard, they’d be getting a promotion soon, so they stop.
The fear of success is only one of the many causes of procrastination, but it can be debilitating.
Before we get any further, we hate articles that don’t give people actionable steps. Information without action is useless.
We want you to take away as much as you can out of this article, so here’s how you can do that if you want to:
Read the possible causes of procrastination detailed below
Sit down for 5 minutes with a pen and a paper and think about whether you might be battling fear of success.
If you aren't, we congratulate you and you can move on to finding a different cause of your procrastination.
If you do, try to observe which one it could be:
- You’re scared of change.
- You’re scared of failing in the future.
- You’re scared of not having enough leisure.
- You feel you don’t deserve success.
- You’re scared of what other people will say or think.
- You’re thinking that success will come easily..
When you know what could be the cause, return to How to solve it section.
Follow the action steps, try to do what we’re suggesting to, see if it helps.
If it doesn’t, try to figure out why and try a different strategy. If it does, awesome.
Remember - procrastination is a deeply rooted problem. It’s usually a very strong habit that takes some time to root out.
Why would we fear success?
There are many reasons. See if you can find one that fits you.
The idea of success can raise our stress levels. Our bodies don’t like that. As a solution, we begin to look for a way to lower our stress, often subconsciously. That’s where procrastination comes into play. By procrastinating (eating, cleaning, watching videos,...) we escape what’s causing us stress and so it dissipates.
So why would the idea of succeeding produce stress?
1. We don’t like change
We’re scared of new and unknown. We’re usually comfortable with the way we live and we don’t want to change it.
Success means change. It means going into the unknown. And the unknown is full of new challenges that we could fail at miserably. So, instead we procrastinate by not succeeding because we’re afraid we might fail some time in the future. It is called the delayed fear of failure.
How to overcome fear of change
We suffer more in imagination than in reality.
Yes, we might fail in the future. But that’s not the reason to stop moving forward. Because if we don’t move forward, we’ll fail much harder in the future or regret not following through on our dreams.
Mindset shift - Adopt a growth mindset
See failures as an unavoidable part of life and opportunities to learn and improve. We focused on it more thoroughly here with actionable steps.
Action step - Make change a daily habit
If you want to get used to change, the easiest way is to expose yourself to it.
If you are not used to change, make a habit of it. If you make small changes daily, you won’t be off-guard when a big change presents itself to you.
How to start?
Tomorrow, when you’re getting back from work or school - take a different route than usual. (You can put a reminder on your phone so you don’t forget.)
Or use some of these ideas for making daily changes (pick at least one and try it):
- Eat a different meal tomorrow.
- If you cook, make a different dish.
- Meet someone new (go to a meetup or a party)
- Go out with someone you usually don’t go with
- Try exploring a new topic for 30 minutes (like reading about Raymond Loewy)
- You can hold a spoon in your left hand while eating (connected to using your creative brain more)
You can make it habit to do something differently every day.
You can experiment and see that you can embrace change and adapt to it when it comes.
What could you do differently today?
2. Success means I won’t have time for leisure
If I’m successful, I’ll have many more responsibilities. That means I won’t be able to enjoy leisure. I’ll work all the time and have no fun at all. Or so we might think. In reality, you can be successful in what you do and have fun. You can have both.
Mindset shift - How to overcome fear of no fun
Success doesn’t mean less free time. On the contrary, success gives us more possibilities. Success gives us the position of power and the ability to decide for ourselves what we want to do.
On the other hand, if we don’t move forward and act, we can pass up on opportunities and lose our chance to decide.
The simplest example to understand this is money. It’s most often how success is measured. More money = more possibilities. It’s simple as that.
But another example could be a career. Let’s say that you start working as an intern. If you succeed, get more experience under your belt and get promoted, you can always find more easily a new opportunity (a job). Will you have more responsibilities? Yes! But ultimately it also gives you more possibilities to decide. And if you get discontent because of not enough free time, you can find a new job.
However, if you work in some dead-end job where you can be easily replaced, you will have a much harder time finding a new job that suits you. If you change, adapt, learn new skills, there will be a job for you somewhere. If you fear that you might succeed and have no fun in a new position, you will fall behind others and be less employable than before.
When people procrastinate because they feel they’ll be deprived of leisure, we recommend one thing.
Action step - Unschedule yourself
What does typically show up on a calendar? Doctor appointments, meetings with colleagues, deadlines,... What’s a theme that connects these?
For many people, a calendar is a place where all the unpleasant things in the world are. No wonder they avoid it. But calendar doesn’t have to be negative.
Instead, schedule on your calendar fun first. That way you will clearly know when the time of work will end. If you know in the morning that in the evening you’re meeting with friends to have a beer, you will be much more relaxed.
By scheduling fun on your calendar, you can clearly see how much time you have to work in between all the fun.
You can see that your days aren’t just work, but also fun.
You can connect easily work to fun using the Grandma’s rule: first work, then reward.
You can also realize that you haven’t been rewarding yourself enough if your calendar is devoid of fun.
Try using the Unschedule for 7 days. Put in the fun first, obligations second. And if it doesn’t work, you can always go back to your own schedule.
- Take your calendar
- Schedule fun for every day of the week ahead (ideally in the evening as a reward)
- Remind yourself in the beginning of the work day what you will do as a reward
We can wholeheartedly recommend this technique. It helped us and helped many, many, many other people.
It’s easier to work when you know you also have fun ahead.
3. I have low self-worth
If you ever have thoughts like I don’t deserve this, I coudn’t ever do that or something similar, you probably have low self-esteem. Very close to it is the imposter syndrome. You feel like you’re pretending and people could find about it.
It’s hard to stop procrastinating if you think success is not for you because you aren’t good enough.
Low self-esteem can be caused by many things. It can be based on your childhood, different experiences, or damaging relationships. If it's serious, get professional help.
However, you don't have to see a therapist to take some steps right now.
Action step - Find small wins
Low self-esteem may come from many things like your parents never giving you any praise for your efforts or downright ignoring you, or it may be caused by procrastinating for so long that it’s become a part of your identity. Whatever it may be, the remedy is simple - small wins.
We aren’t gonna ask you to suddenly become Mr or Mrs Confidence and start a rocket company. No, the way to have more self-esteem is to start with tiny wins.
Here’s a list of small wins to get you started:
- Make your bed in the morning
- Can’t go for a 5k run? Cool, take a 15 min walk
- Can’t lift 200 lbs? Cool, lift 50 lbs
- Can’t go an hour without checking your phone? Go 10 min without checking your phone!
Get some small wins. If you start getting things done, it will give you sense of achievement and your self-esteem will go up, one bit at a time
Once you start succeeding at completing even the smallest tasks, your self-worth will rise.
4. I am scared of other people’s opinions
Another reason why you might procrastinate because you fear success is what you think others will think of you.
You might hear yourself saying or think to yourself something like this:
- What will my family or friends say
- People will envy me
- I will get haters
- I will hurt someone by my success
Here’s the thing: most people don’t care about what we do.
We overestimate how much they really care. Do you think your high school classmate Mike cares about whether you complete your thesis or not? Or does he care more about getting his next paycheck to feed his family? The truth is that most people are concerned mainly with themselves.
Excuse the cliche, but we do live only once. People 50 years from now won’t care about what you did or did not do today.
Do you want us to prove it? Wear something shitty. Wear a T-shirt 2 sizes small with moon made out of cheese and add a hat with butterfly wings. Then go down the main street wherever you live. Most people won’t care, they will glance and go on about their day.
Don’t care about most “people” in your head or in the world.
Action step - Make a list of people whose opinions you care about
We underestimate how other people influence us. The simplest example is what you say. Think about when you spend time with someone and you start saying same phrases and use same words. When you spend together too much time, you can often start guessing what he or she will say.
And isn’t only only speaking. But it’s the same with how you think and mainly with what you do. All of us should choose very carefully who to spend time with. What does this mean in practical terms?
Realizing who you listen to
- Sit down with a pen a paper
- Write down people whose opinions matter to you and also why
- Keep your list somewhere where you can see (or in your wallet)
- Ignore every criticism from people not on your list
5. If I start working, I’ll succeed soon. What would I do next?
Is success around the corner for you? Do you have a book draft ready to be published or app coded up that you just don’t feel is good enough?
You may be procrastinating because once you’ve achieved what you wanted to, what then?
You have to realize that success isn’t the destination. The place of neverending bliss doesn’t exist.
And also probably you’re underestimating of the amount of work to be successful. Achieving success isn’t a breeze.
If you can really achieve success by just snapping your fingers, then awesome, more power to you! You’re talented and you can achieve big things.
But with much higher probability, you’re scared of failing. What if you try to succeed, but instead you fail? That would make you vulnerable.
Action step - reflect
- Take pen & paper (or sharpie and post-its, or your phone)
- Write down anything that falls under - “Yeah, I could do it if I wanted to”
- Think about whether you’re afraid of succeeding. Are you trying to hide your insecurity and doubt that you might not be good enough?
- What would the first step be to actually succeeding?
These are the 5 most common causes of fear of success. Fear of success is a less known sibling of fear of failure. If you didn’t find your problem here, we recommend you looking for the cause there.