Why Fear of Success is More Powerful than Fear of Failure – And What You Can Do About It


Have you ever wondered what keeps people from achieving their goals? Maybe what’s stopping you from achieving what you want?

There is much talk about the fear of failure. I’m sure you’ve felt this way before: you were too scared of failure which resulted in you going back to your comfort zone.

Did you know that research shows that fear of success is holding you back more than fear of failure?

Fear of success is linked to concerns about increased responsibilities, higher expectations, and potential changes in social relationships. This fear may lead you to self-sabotage or avoid opportunities for success.

The reality is that many people inadvertently sabotage our success because they are subconsciously scared of how their lives are going to change.

Change is not something your brain is too keen on. Change creates fear and anxiety in the brain, it’s fear of the unknown and what it brings.

Everyone fails. For many, fear of failure is paralyzing and holds them back from trying something new, taking a risk, or taking a step toward their goals.

Conquering that fear of failure, not letting it stand in your way, and learning how to rise from failure to success, are all important things that we all need to know and master.

Table of Contents

Why Do You Fear Success?

Fear of success is somewhat of a rather counter-intuitive concept.

You are actually scared of achieving what you want to achieve, which is more subtle, harder to recognize, and more real, and impacts you more than you think.

The main reason for fear of success is that success means change.

Change can be scary, even if it is the change that you have always wanted. The unknown can be unsettling for many people. Self-doubt, past experiences, and uncertainty all contribute to the fear that change can bring into someone’s life.

You can associate it with the feeling of losing or not being in control.

The fear of success can also manifest in self-sabotaging behaviors, creating a situation where you undermine your own chances of achieving success. Shifting your mindset it’s important in order to understand that change can improve your life in so many positive ways.

When you’re so consumed by the negative outcomes success brings it will interfere with your mental health, your well-being, and self-esteem.

The Trap of The Comfort Zone

If you try something and fail, you go back to what you knew. You may not be happy about it, but you go back to your comfort zone.

People go back to their comfort zone because it’s what they know. They are used to it and know how to deal with it. But let me tell you something. The temptation of going back or not venturing off from your comfort zone is what keeps you stuck.

In order to grow you need change. Change can be scary, painful, and difficult but it can also make you overcome fear, become more self-aware, and achieve success in business or in life.

Staying within your comfort zone is common. It’s the human desire for safety and familiarity.

The comfort zone provides a sense of security and control (but are you really in control if you’re tied to your comfort zone?), fostering lower anxiety levels and reduced stress by dealing with known variables.

While the comfort zone offers stability, it is crucial to acknowledge the negative consequences of not leaving your comfort zone.

Remaining within your comfort zone may slow personal growth, hinder the development of new skills, and limit your potential.

This can lead to missed opportunities, a stagnant mindset, and a lack of adaptability in the face of change. Striking a balance between the comfort zone and stepping into uncharted territory is essential for your development, success, and overall life satisfaction.

Fear of Success and Impostor Syndrome

If you try something and succeed, you head into uncharted territory. Things are different. Things change.

Success also often means a bigger impact on more people. It could be a bigger role where more people depend on you.

It could be that more people care what you do and say and that your opinions are further reaching. This sounds great, but a bigger impact can also actually make you feel vulnerable. You are now in the spotlight and under more scrutiny.

Fear of future success may also make you feel ill-equipped to handle the scrutiny, the judgment, and everything else that comes with that broader exposure.

It often prompts questions about whether you can live up to people’s new expectations of you or your own perceived expectations.

Fear of success can exacerbate impostor syndrome. When you doubt your own accomplishments you have the fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Success can also bring about a fear of failure in maintaining or surpassing the achieved level, leading to performance anxiety.

Understanding and addressing these fears can be crucial for individuals to fully embrace and navigate the challenges that come with success.

The 7 Ways Your Fear of Success Holds You Back

Fear of success can manifest in self-sabotaging behaviors, understanding the mechanisms behind this can help you overcome fear and self-sabotage and become to feel confident in your abilities.

1. Staying Stuck in the Comfort Zone

  • Fear of the Unknown: The fear of the unknown can trigger a subconscious desire to maintain things as they are, leading to self-sabotage as a way to avoid venturing into uncharted territory. It’s truly important to challenge this in order to build confidence and grow.

2. Imposter Syndrome

  • Self-Doubt and Negative Beliefs: Fear of success is closely tied to self-doubt and negative beliefs about your capabilities. You may doubt your own worthiness of success, leading to imposter syndrome—the belief that your achievements are undeserved. This internal conflict can drive you to self-sabotaging behaviors as individuals may unconsciously seek to validate their negative self-perceptions.

3. Fear of Increased Responsibilities

  • Overwhelming Expectations: Success often comes with increased responsibilities and higher expectations. The fear of not being able to handle this pressure can lead to self-sabotage. By avoiding success, you avoid the perceived burden of additional responsibilities or a negative outcome.

4. Fear of Social Consequences

  • Changes in Relationships: Achieving success can bring about changes in social dynamics. Fear of potential jealousy, resentment, or even isolation from friends and family can trigger self-sabotaging behaviors. Individuals may downplay their achievements or sabotage opportunities to maintain existing relationships.

  • It’s really important in your journey to find your purpose and not be influenced by what others might expect from you. Your path to growth will be so much smoother if you focus on what you actually want for yourself.

5. Low Confidence

  • Belief in Inability to Sustain Success: The fear of success is often rooted in a belief that you cannot sustain the achieved level of success. You may doubt your ability to meet the ongoing demands that come with success, leading to self-sabotage as a way to avoid facing this perceived inadequacy.

6. Fear of Backlash

  • Fear of Criticism: Success often attracts attention, and with it, potential criticism or backlash. The fear of negative judgment can lead to sabotage success as a way to avoid scrutiny and maintain a sense of safety(aka The Comfort Zone that it’s so good at keeping you stuck in business and life).

7. Past Experiences

  • The Trap of Not Letting Go: Past experiences, especially those associated with failure or negative feedback, can create an expectation of negative outcomes. I’m really big on moving on from your mistakes fast. It doesn’t mean that you refuse to learn. Mistakes are a normal part of growth. They should be embraced as an opportunity to learn something, not something to beat yourself up for. When you linger on past mistakes you hurt your confidence and you’ll have a harder time trying new things and growing.

How to Deal with Your Subconscious of Success?

You often self-sabotage without even knowing you are doing it OFTEN, if you give it everything you have and still fail, you get pats on the back and respect for having put it all out there.

It’s the “you left it all out there on the field” concept.

What if you convinced yourself that you were putting it all out there and giving it everything you had even though you knew deep down that you weren’t? You’d still get the pats on the back and could walk away from it knowing “it just wasn’t meant to be.” Then you could go back to what you knew.

Confronting your subconscious fear of success involves acknowledging and understanding the triggers behind it.

Challenge negative beliefs, visualize positive outcomes, and break your journey into manageable goals. Celebrate small wins and cultivate a growth mindset, viewing challenges as opportunities for learning. Seek support, gradually expose yourself to triggering situations, and reflect on past achievements to build confidence. Incorporate mindfulness practices to create a positive mental space, and challenge perfectionism by embracing the learning process. This holistic approach fosters a healthier relationship with success, facilitating personal and professional growth.

So What Do You Do About It?

Two things: first, knowing that you could be sabotaging yourself is half the battle.

The next time you are confronted with a new thing and conquer your fear of failure, make sure you give some thought to your fear of success, too, so you can really move all of the barriers out of the way.

Second, prepare yourself for success.

Run that scenario of success in your mind and break it down into what it really means for you, and if you are ready to face it, no matter what. If you are, raise your head, pull your sleeves up, and move forward with confidence.

Success is attainable.

The key to unlocking success lies in building confidence.

Confidence shapes your attitude toward challenges and influences your perseverance in the face of adversity.

Believing in your capabilities is key.—acknowledge your strengths, skills, and past achievements to foster a positive self-perception. Acknowledge where you need improvement too. Confidence also comes from learning.

Break down your goals into manageable steps, celebrating each accomplishment, no matter how small, as these victories contribute to the construction of your confidence.

In conclusion, fear of success and fear of failure undermine your ability to grow and succeed. By being self-aware of these behaviours you are taking the first step to conquer these fears.

Don’t let fear overwhelm you.

Going after success and pursuing opportunities is totally doable if you are taking one step at a time.

And guess what? Feeling good about yourself is a huge part of the journey. It helps you tackle challenges, learn from mistakes, and be open to trying new things.

Celebrate those little wins, imagine yourself doing great things, and build up your confidence.

Remember the good stuff you’ve done before and learn from mistakes.

Success becomes more real, not just a far-off dream, as your confidence grows stronger.

Pursuing success is discovering more about yourself, getting better every day, and challenging your limits.

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Dr. Michelle Rozen

Dr. Michelle Rozen, Ph.D., is a highly respected authority on the psychology of change. She is one of the most booked motivational speakers nationwide as well as internationally, and a frequent guest on media outlets such as NBC, ABC, FOX News, and CNN on topics related to dealing with change in our world and in every aspect of our lives, so that we can do better and feel better.

Her most recent book, 2 Second Decisions helps people power through with their most challenging decisions through turbulent times.

Dr. Michelle Rozen consistently speaks for Fortune 500 companies and her clients include some of the most recognizable companies in the world including Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, and The U.S. Navy. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Psychology and resides in the greater NYC area.

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