Christopher Clai

I am an IT Professional a Tech Evangelist an InfoSec Professional a Microsoft Aficionado a Radio Personality a Rugby Player a Community Builder a Developer an Advocate

Afraid of Success? Self-Sabotage Through Limiting Beliefs and Anxiety

August 2, 2009 Musings

Now here’s a radical concept. Someone being afraid of success? Believe it or not, it’s more common than we’d like to think. Whether it’s a complex emotional state or a limiting belief that is preventing it, it can be a huge hurdle for one to overcome.

Tonight, I had a bit of an epiphany in my mind that I might be afraid to succeed in certain aspects of life. While I thought I was never one to be afraid of success, there are some noticeable events that make me take note. I notice that as things got good, and were close to the point of success, I’d intentionally, subconsciously sabotage myself to prevent me from reaching the goal.



A quick Google Search can yield considerable results into the subject, “Afraid of Success”. Though for each person it may different. A post by Jane Chin, PH.D. entitled “Are You Afraid of Success?” was a pretty good eye opener into this subject. Her post brought to light, at least in myself of the exact reason that I am afraid to succeed. It’s a consistent fear that I continuously need to one-up myself otherwise, I fail. A mindset that I got from when I was growing up, when I heard the phrase “that’s great but you could do better”. Such words are open to such interpretation by the mind, especially at a young age. While I feel that no doubt those who said those words to me, were only doing it with good intentions, it came with dangerous mental consequences.

Here’s how it would work in my mind:

  1. I would get excited and energized about a project or goal.
  2. I would begin to execute on the project or goal.
  3. As the process continued, I would conceive the success approaching.
  4. As it got nearer to completion, my mind would begin to doubt success or cloud it in negativity.
  5. The project or goal would then fail. Sometimes being achieved / completed or otherwise being left in the dust of what it once was.

Now that I’ve identified the behavior, I must correct it. This limiting belief, must be taken out of my mindset, out of my frame, and put 6 feet underground. Oddly enough though, it seems like the process started just last week. Last week I took some drastic measures in my mindset after I reached the peak of stress that I’ve reached in a long time. Instead of thinking, I would come up with something, and would do it. I wouldn’t think about it. My mind can come up with the necessary details to achieve the goal. Once you start, your mind has gotten into the mindset to achieve. It’s an “approach anxiety” on steroids except with something you cannot see or feel. Only experience. This Anxiety is the byproduct of a limiting belief. A limiting belief that I will never be able to continue progressing.

My Action Plan

  1. Stop over-analyzing my goals and intentions. Come with a basic goal, and run with it.
  2. Focus on the process, and completing it.
  3. Enjoy the Success, with nobody being the judge of how much that “success” was rated.

The Factors of Reality

There are two factors in this fear, that are both driven from our mental mindset.

The first factor, is that we are seeking acceptance or approval from someone of our achievement, even if they are not near us, or physically aware of what is going on, our mind wants their acceptance or approval. Even if it is to hear those behavior affirming words of “good job, but you can do better”.

The second factor, is that we believe there is a limit to our progression. An invisible glass ceiling that we can never break or get through.

Both of these factors meld together to create this destructive mindset that you have to break through. Understanding that the only person who you should be seeking acceptance from is yourself, and nobody else. Sometimes we can be our harshest critic as well. More often than not however, we will find ourselves being that “person(s)” who affirmed the original behavior. In which case the goal is to purge your mind from that concept completely.

The less we seek acceptance, and the more we just work at what we want to work at, the more we can achieve what we want.

So what other ways can someone be afraid to succeed?

  • Fear of being too successful
    thoughts that you will be too busy, and no longer have any free time for yourself.
  • Guilty about outshining others
    a belief that your success may hurt emotionally, your friends and family who are not experiencing success.
  • Unsatisfied accomplishment
    a belief that once you succeed, that you still won’t be happy, content, or satisfied with yourself.
  • Afraid of sustainability
    a belief that you will not be able to sustain success.
  • Afraid of recognition
    an anxiety of those who are quiet or shy that are concerned about the recognition and attention that goes along with success.
  • Failure anxiety
    an anxiety that if you failed once, you will fail again and success is no longer achievable.

So if you find yourself afraid of success, create an action plan to reverse that pattern. Stop seeking acceptance, and make yourself the judge of yourself. You’ll then find that success, is not that far from reach like you thought it was, and you will be more successful, more often. Even if you had a subconscious correction of your behavior, like I had last week, consider that only temporary. Once you are consciously aware of the limiting belief, or anxiety, you need to immediately build an action plan to correct it otherwise you have the potential to go back into the old behavior.

Have you ever been afraid to succeed? When did you realize it? How did you handle it?