by John Ellsworth
Overcoming fear of success requires you to admit you are the #1 road block to your success in the first place. This sounds strange coming from someone who thrives on success, but I run into this all the time with athletes who want it really bad, but unknowingly end up becoming their own biggest hurdle to success.
Feeling the fear of success or fear of failure is not abnormal by any means; it comes with the territory. Every athlete feels fear of failure at one time or another. It’s about confidence and believing in yourself and your skills as an athlete. What happens, however when one feels afraid to succeed? When you fail at a task you just try and figure out what went wrong, and then put a strategy together and then go make it right. But for the timid and shy athlete success is a whole different can of worms. Success can be intimidating, tough to handle, involves more challenges, responsibilities, and is sometimes threatening. It’s the exposure that often causes the athlete to fear the success.
From time to time we are always going to fear failure and less often fear of success. The following tips will not make your fear disappear, but can serve as a guide or road map to help you manage through the fear.
1. Ask yourself, “Why am I killing my own success?” Check in with yourself and if you have a journal take time to put your thoughts down in your journal. What is it that’s holding you back? A sports psychologist or mental game coach is an excellent resource that brings the skills to help you get to the “What, When, and Why” behind the fear. Keep it simple. There is no need to figure it out, but just accepting or coming face to face with the fear is an excellent beginning.
2. Preparation, Prepares for Peak Performance. If you are procrastinating or wait to the last minute to get things done it could be that you are a perfectionist, have an attention deficit challenge, or you subconsciously or deliberately do things to limit success like partying, or being late to practice, or simply not working on skills. Practice is safe for the fear of success athlete, but when the time comes to actually perform is when the subconscious avoidance program starts to kick in.
3. To have success you must first fail. I worked with a world class Olympic track and field sprinter that had a fear of success. He had gone through a dry spell where he was not getting the results he was expected to get. He started doubting himself and started to fear what was expected of him. The fear became so intense that he often failed, because he wasn’t sure what to do with his success once he got it. Once he figured out his fear of success was the hurdle he had to overcome he welcomed the prospect of success by planning what to do with it once it came.
4. You are #1. So much of the fear of success or failure has to do with the “others” in your life. The others are people you feel you need to please to feel good or be recognized as a true champion. I’m here to tell you, it’s not about them, but is totally about you and trusting in yourself. If you focus on you it narrows the focus to the things you can control.
5. Become multidimensional. Accept yourself as someone that has a diverse array of skills. As an athlete you may be a sprinter, but that does not mean you aren’t capable of mastering another skill or event. Just because you are poor at math doesn’t mean you can’t be a math teacher. See yourself in the world as a collection of talents rather than build your self-esteem around one aspect of who you are.
To solve the fear of success dilemma I ask the athlete to imagine what it’s feels like to succeed void of the attention, and the notoriety. Write down on paper or in your journal what imagined success feels like without any judgement. Create as vivid a picture as possible using all the five senses.
Creating what it feels like to have success on your own terms empowers the athlete to see success without stress and avoids predicting an imagined unpleasant future. Planning in advance how you would like success to look and feel places all the cards in your hands and empowers you to accept success on your terms. This can be a very powerful tool in helping the athlete manage the feelings that come with being successful.