cognitive behavorial cycle, psychology

Fear of Success or Fear of Failure?

What’s stopping you?  Do you know?

What blocks you from pursuing your dreams with all that you have, all that you are, all of your might?

Often when asked this question, the answer is either:

Fear of Success

or

Fear of Failure

 

And often it’s even expressed as both – “Maybe it’s fear of success or failure.  I don’t know….”  Really, the truth is, it doesn’t matter which.  Because it’s not logical.  And you’re not going to be able to logic yourself past it.  Although understanding the underlying belief that’s driving your fear can be an important step in moving past it.

But Debra, how can you say it doesn’t matter?!?

In our society we’ve done ourselves a major disservice when it comes to Emotional Intelligence.  We’ve confused, disguised, conflated or combined thoughts with emotions.  The statement, “Fear of Success,” is emotion + thought/belief.  A better way to look at it is “I have beliefs about Success, and those beliefs cause me to feel fear!”

Remember the Cognitive Behavorial Cycle:

Belief, emotional intelligence, Fear

By saying Fear of Success, you are combining two different steps in the cycle!  But what you’re really experiencing clearly is the Feelings State.  And most likely the beliefs that are causing that feeling state are unconscious!  Which is why you might be unsure – is it success or failure or both that you fear?

As you can see from the cycle, what’s stopping you is the emotion, which is fueled by the beliefs.  Clearing or shifting those beliefs is the best, most long term solution to the problem of being stopped by fear.  But that’s a longer term project.  What if you just need to get into action now?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Remember that fear is just an emotion, like happiness, sadness, anger.  But fear has been hardwired into our neurology because reacting strongly to fear was an evolutionary advantage.  But unless your fear is a lion about to eat you – just breath and move forward.
  2. Notice what you’re telling yourself about the action you’re afraid to take.  Could you reframe it so that it’s not quite so life and death?  If you take a risk and it doesn’t work out – could that just be an interesting experiment, instead of the end of life as you know it?
  3. If it’s a big project, break it down into bite size pieces and then promise yourself you only have to take one action today.  Just a nibble.  You don’t have to eat the whole elephant today.  Just one nibble…

In last month’s ArtistsMBA class, How to Move Past Your Fear of Success or Failure, I explained several specific and concrete methods for managing your fears around success and/or failure.  The most important first step is to acknowledge that this is what’s going on.  Because often, we miscategorize what’s going on.

You might name it procrastination or avoidance.  Perhaps you just feel pulled to take any action EXCEPT the one you know you need to take, even allowing other people’s needs to distract you from moving forward.

Haven’t you noticed that when you operate from fear, you end up manifesting the very thing you’re afraid of?

I’m not going to tell you that facing the fear, feeling the fear and moving through the fear will be easy and light.  In order to move through it, you must own it.

What I will tell you is that moving in the direction of the fear, rather than at the behest of the fear will create amazing results in your life and your career.  Fear can be a wonderful guide.  If you’re willing to let yourself feel it.

And let me leave you with this inspiring TED talk by Brene Brown:

In order to embrace your path to success in the Arts & Entertainment Industry – you must allow yourself to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

How can you use this to overcome your fear?  Please share with me what you discover!

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  • Russell Landwehr

    Thanks Debra! I look at the Cognitive Behavior Cycle and I see only two places that I can control. Either Beliefs/Thoughts/Ideas or Actions/Behavior. And I relate this to being a child on the 10 foot dive platform. The first time I stood looking at the water far below, I walked back down the ladder. This kept my Behavior Cycle on the path of stasis and decay. Then one time I took control of the “Actions” and just jumped. And the Outcome of still being alive afterward changed my Beliefs! And I did it again and again, Each time, my actions changed my emotions through the rest of the cycle until the freedom from the fear was exhilarating. Thank you for reminding me to “Just Jump!”

    • You’re correct Russell! According to CBT there are two places to interrupt or change the cycle – at the place of belief or behavior. The mistake many make is trying to create the change in the emotion. The emotion is just a result of the belief, so if you want to feel differently, you must think/believe differently!

      Your actions didn’t change your emotions, your actions actually
      empowered or energized different beliefs. Beliefs you already
      hold, but were neglecting by focusing on others. And by vibrating a
      different set of beliefs, you created a different emotional tone.

      You can actually change your beliefs by acting “as if”. However, I find that can be a really hard row to hoe! Because you have to push against the emotions created by the old belief in order to behave differently. To create real lasting change, the change must originate at the belief point.

  • Aoede

    These are great suggestions Debra-for me I always tell myself, just because I am scared something bad may happen doesn’t mean it will happen; it’s just fear. I find confronting my fear head on is the way to get through it for me! “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!” ♥ Aoede ♪♫

    • That’s awesome – but it can get exhausting if you have a lot of beliefs that generate fear. I would suggest a middle step – 1) feel the fear, 2) uncover and clear the belief, 2a) take care of any logistics that the fear is pointing you at (or protecting you from) and 3) do it anyway!