The Fear of Success (yes, success)

I am doing some reading on motivation for my upcoming book (yes, book…if I tell people, I am more likely to get it done). I just finished the book The Life You Want by Bob Greene and while little lengthy, he and his team provide the reader with some useful information, tips, and next steps.

At the outset of the book he discusses some of the barriers people tend to experience along their weight loss journey. Fear of success was one such barrier.

As Greene points out, it seems counterintuitive to be fearful of actually meeting or surpassing your initial goal, but as a trainer he has seen it time and time again.

Why? Making a big change in your life, whether it is losing weight or embarking on a new project at work or starting your own business, can be intimidating. Not only intimidating because of the time, effort, and energy required to get the job going, but because with success comes with great responsibility (close but no cigar eh Spiderman fans?). If you lose weight, your friends, family and coworkers are going to take notice. If you win another project at work based on the success of the last, your coworkers are going to take notice. And as Greene points out, some people do not like upsetting the apple cart.

Another reason, you may not be able to utilize the same coping strategies you once did. The example Greene uses is associated with food as he is writing a weight loss / health book, but it’s still relevant. If you’ve always used food to cope, knowing that you can no longer turn to a pint of icecream after dealing with a stressful day at work may provoke anxiety. Thus, not only are you losing weight, but you’re also being forced (by your very own decision) to find new ways of coping. And if you’ve got a tried and tested technique up your sleeve, finding and implementing a new one on a consistent basis can be daunting.


So in some cases we end up sabotaging ourselves. We end up finding a way to interrupt and alter our path to one that is slightly less than what we originally intended. And it’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because it speaks to a larger issue – feelings of low self-worth.

Greene also talks about feeling of unworthiness as a potential barrier. If we don’t think we deserve to be fit, happy, successful, etc. we will find ways to ensure that we aren’t. Greene aptly points out if you were to ask most people “Do you feel worthy of having a good life?” most would answer “Of course”. But as you dig a little deeper, the answer is often no.

How do we overcome this? With time and continuous practice. It comes back to the practice of mindfulness, which I have mentioned many times on this blog. It requires you to spend time listening to your inner dialogue and cataloging what you hear. I would hasten a bet that it’s going to be predominantly negative self-talk. While scary to hear what you think of yourself, you now have a better sense of why you feel the way you feel about yourself. Even better, you now have the power to work on and improve that inner dialogue to something more positive. Note: that’s a lot easier said than done.

My belief, is that in order to overcome the fear of success you need to spend some time tapping into your self-worth. If you don’t really like yourself that will largely determine your success rate with any challenge you decide to take on. I promise. If you’re constantly beating yourself up for mistakes in the past, you’re likely going to make the same mistakes in the future.  I promise. Thus, it’s imperative that you set aside time to tune into your inner workings and begin addressing the issue of low self worth (if it’s an issue).

Writing these steps is a lot easier than doing them. Evaluating and working to improve your feelings of self-worth will take time. Not days. Months. A year. Maybe more than a year. But there will be moments of clarity along the way. There will be positive reinforcement – trust me, I’ve been on this journey for 3 years now. While difficult at times, it has been 100% worthwhile.



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