• Coach Kate

6 Strategies to overcome your Fear of Success and achieve more.

You have probably heard of or even had a Fear of Failure before and for many this can be incredibly debilitating. So too, however, can be Fear of Success.

Success leads to change – often huge change to our entire lives and therefore often leads us to being well outside of our comfort zone. Failure, on the other hand, leads us back to our comfort zone. Oh yes, we may have been in our stretch or even panic zones when striving for success, but invariably we return to our comfortable and well-known normal.

Is success merely defined in your career?

What is this Fear of Success now?

Take a read of the below and see if you identify with any or perhaps a few of these fears and anxieties:

  • Fear of not living up to high expectations once you are successful

  • Anxiety at being the centre of attention

  • Fear of the results and potential consequences that come with success (for example – if you determine success through money and you make a huge amount this may attract unscrupulous people into your life)

  • The fear of the unknown and uncharted territory which success invariably brings

  • Concern or fear of not being able to cope with criticism

  • Fear of not maintaining the success (this is mine – when it comes to successful romantic relationships – how do they last?!)

  • A deep concern that you will become a different person: will you like who you become? How will this affect those around me? The rest o my life?

  • Feelings of inadequacy and constantly asking yourself “Am I worthy of success?”

  • This can lead to us to self-sabotage and to actively pull ourselves away from success, despite all our hard work and blood, sweat & tears in aiming for it.

What is success…to me?

Let’s start by defining this word ‘success’.

Now, this is going to look different for pretty much everyone you ever meet. For some people their success is defined through their career – how far they can get up that ladder, for others will be how much money they can earn, whereas other people will consider their families their success or their travel adventures, the fact they started and run a successful non-profit business, or the money they have raised for a charitable cause. For others it will be certain health milestones or fitness achievements. The possibilities and variations are endless.

Ask yourself “What does success mean to me? What does it look like? Feel like? Sound like? Taste like?”

Really define what ‘success’ is to you and then ask yourself “What is happening in my life when I am successful?” You may have experienced success before and want more of it or you may still be wanting a taste of the success cherry pie (insert preferred pie flavour here)

I ask these types of questions to all my coaching clients. Why? Because each and every one of them wants to be successful in some way or some area of their lives but something is holding them back. Invariably this is themselves and our coaching journey I am constantly uncovering these blocks with clients and then creating ways to overcome them and push through to gain that elusive S-word.

How do you see success? (Photo by Thought Catalogue, Unsplash)

Where does my Fear of Success come from?

This is less easy to answer and, unsurprisingly, is rooted in different ways in all of us. Here are a potential few causes you may recognise:

  • You have low self-esteem or self-worth (give confidence coaching a go to help overcome this)

  • You invent stories in which you remain the victim rather than become the hero (this is me – I have a story in my mind which constantly replays of being left at the alter – never finding love and even when I thought I had I am the one abandoned. I even have a speech prepare of what I will say to waiting and uncomfortable guests!)

  • You have suffered trauma from a young age – perhaps an abusive childhood where it was safer to remain ‘unseen’ rather than show off your academic or sporting wins.

  • Linked to the above are certain learnt behaviours which may have been imprinted on you; for example, the inadequacies of a parent haunt your psyche and stops you from ‘getting too big for your boots’.

How do I overcome Fear of Success?

Start by understanding where your fear of success comes from – what is its origin? Once you have discovered that it helps to validate your fear or shame or guilt or pain – whatever it is you are feeling around your success.

Easier said than done right? Try writing down your earliest memories of this fear or feeling and consider the following questions to help prompt your thoughts:

  1. Who was involved?

  2. What was it like?

  3. What happened?

Do this several times until you gain a clear picture of the incident(s)

Then track your avoidance strategies – these are the ways in which you get in your own way. Perhaps you procrastinate or refuse to take on a big project due to all the other little things you simply must do or maybe you suddenly get very busy doing things which means you simply don’t have time to go on a date let alone start a relationship (ahem!)

Whatever these strategies are you are using them to self-sabotage and ruin your chances of success by getting in your own way. By identifying them and noting when they appear you can begin to take back control over them. You will begin to recognise this self-sabotage quickly – just perhaps you did not put in 100% on that last project – oh you may have told yourself you did but really you held back in some way or even gave the credit to someone else.

What are you avoiding? (Photo by Toa Heftiba, Unsplash)

Thirdly, face your fear. I know, I know – easier said than done but please – hear me out on this one. You need to prove to yourself – well to your brain that you are no longer afraid of success and you need to do this through the actions you take. Words are empty in this scenario, so it is time to get out of your comfort zone and start working in your stretch zone.

Don’t worry, we will start small (-downloads dating app)

Identify the small wins and when you have done them celebrate them. These are your confidence booster shots – the easy wins which start you off (-sets up profile on dating app)

Now let’s come back to those avoidance strategies and choose a small one which still makes you feel uncomfortable. Approach it rather than avoid it – as Sheryl Sandberg said, “lean in” – accept that compliment with grace and dignity, message the hot guy/girl and say “hi”, ask to be involved in a bigger project.

Now – note your anxiety level on a scale from 0 – 10. Write it down.

Do this every time you approach this particular avoidance strategy and watch your anxiety level recede. When you feel comfortable with this one move onto another one and repeat the process until you have conquered all of your avoidance strategies.

This is all about becoming more comfortable and accepting of being uncomfortable and will build your inner resilience.

Fourthly, ask yourself “How much do you really believe in yourself?” don’t be shy – think about this.

You don’t need to tell anyone (well perhaps your coach!) but you do need to start assessing the language you use with yourself. Words are incredibly powerful (d’oh!) and the way in which we speak to ourselves is often derogatory so start changing what you say and how you say it to establish stronger self-belief.

Number five of my top tips is saying no. Say no to negative influences on your time, your mood and whatever it is that drags you away from your aims. Instead say yes to the positives and introduce more of these into your life – the people you surround yourself with, the environments in which you live & work, your interests, your habits.

Finally, and this is an odd one for a coach to say, remain in the present and don’t be too goal/outcome focused. Emerson’s saying “Life is a journey, not a destination” rings loud and clear here. This will keep you focused on your small wins and stop you feeling overwhelmed by the big success picture. Do have a plan though!

Where are you on your success journey? (Photo by Mantas Hesthaven, Unsplash

If you feel that you need more help with your Fear of Success, then consider working with a CBT counsellor or a confidence coach like myself - you are worth it.


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