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  • mestratton1

Paralyzed By Fear

We all have fears. For some it is talking in front of crowds, while for others it is heights or spiders. These fears often are not innate, but rather learned or acquired through life experiences. Take fear of failure, for example. This fear commonly arises from the feelings of disappointment, discouragement, or frustration brought about by either ourselves or our peers upon a "failure". It is a learned association between failure and the consequences of it. However, I use the term association lightly because failure is based on perception - it is based on a discrepancy between expected outcome and real outcome, but who has set this expectation? This is a fair question because in reality who determines what is a failure? Is it ourselves, our peers, society, our family? I would argue that by changing our perception of what is considered to be a failure, we could progress further than we've ever dreamed. Once we establish that out of any situation or outcome we can take away a positive and use this as a learning opportunity to grow and make adjustments, we are prepared to become better. We set ourselves up to consistently be improving upon past mistakes and  transforming from average to good and good to great. You see, fearing failure leaves us stagnant in our journey. With this fear we avoid taking risks, taking chances - we dream big, but we settle for complacency because it is safer than pushing for our very best. This supposedly saves us from the humiliation of failure. But I ask you to think: does this really saves us from humiliation? In all truth, is it not humiliating to underperform your potential  to settle so beneath what you are capable of simply from lack of trying? So it has to begin with our mindset. The transformation begins by acknowledging that our biggest failure resides in not trying. Those who put forth a valiant effort, no matter the outcome, should not be deemed failures, but rather should be recognized for their progress along their journey. Most importantly is that this recognition must come from us because, as I mentioned in my last post, internal motivation is what sustains consistency, progression, and success. 

Based on my experience, ironically the fear that is arguably the most paralyzingly in one's journey to success is actually the fear of success itself. This may seem absurd to you now, but give me a few sentences to explain. In order to understand this sentiment we must first understand what the consequences of success are. Sure there is often praise, feelings of accomplishment, excitement, and more when you become successful. But there is also a newfound expectation, pressure, and standard that is put forth. When we fear success, we fear that this success is not sustainable; we fear that we can not consistently live up to the increased expectation or standard. We feel uncomfortable with the added pressure of performing at a higher level - of being a role model perhaps or being the person that people expect to count on. We fear that our success was a fluke, that it is not replicable. So how have you taught ourselves to attempt to cope with this fear? We resort to self-sabotage as I refer to it. This occurs in all walks of life, all journeys from weight loss to athletics, from job hunts to promotions, from dating to pursuing a dream. Let's take weight loss for example. Many times people desiring to lose a significant amount of weight might fear that once they lose the weight (I.e. Become successful), they will not be able to maintain this and will rebound back to their previous weight. They may fear that their diet or exercise routine is not sustainable; they may fear that the pressure to remain consistent with these things to maintain their weight loss is too great. So what happens? People in this situation may self-sabotage via binge eating or making poor diet or exercise choices at moments when they feel overwhelmed by these fears. Over time, continued self-sabotage results in a stagnant weight loss program. But this is comfortable because now there is no new expectation of what they should look like, eat like, workout like, or weight they need to maintain. Fear of success is therefore dangerous. It is dangerous to the process of achieving our dreams and goals because it goes unrecognized by your peers. It is easy to blame not being successful on external factors when in reality we can manipulate what we are doing to ensure we don't reach that level of accomplishment and the new standard that comes with it. 

For years while I was competing for track and cross country fear of success was my biggest limiting factor. It held me back from achieving my wildest dreams because I was, to be quite honest, scared of what it was going to take to maintain being at the top of the competition. This started to manifest in coughing spasms in practices or races that were mini "panic attacks" because it was an excuse. It was something I could claim for being the reason I didn't hit my goal or run to my potential. It took me years to identify why I was doing this and it all came down to fear of success. I was afraid to reach my full potential. I was afraid at the expectation that would come with running what I was capable of. I feared not being able to maintain that level of competition. In doing so, I took away my chance of ever finding out just how good I could have been - that is, until I dealt with the issues of fearing success. Since then, in working on coping with fears of failure and successes, I have been able to run lifetime bests on my own and push harder than I ever thought. It all came from changing my mindset. It comes from developing your self efficacy (I.e, your belief in your ability to accomplish a goal or task) and your confidence; it comes from believing, gosh darn it, that you can do this and you will do it. Belief in yourself is how you defeat this fear.

In order to be successful, to truly realize your full potential, first ask yourself what has stopped you so far from achieving this - what do you fear? Is it failure? Is it success? Once you can honestly answer this question and the reasons why that fear exists, you are ready to accomplish far beyond what you ever thought was possible. Remember, you are not a failure if you try and the power to control your destiny, your own success, is in your hands. Be cognizant of your actions and give yourself a fighting chance to succeed. Once these fears are pushed aside, you will be free. 

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