How anxiety and fear hinder your efforts to reach success
Fear and anxiety are commonly the greatest obstacles to a fulfilling life and can be powerful enough to keep you from reaching goals and maintaining healthy habits.
Fear and anxiety can make you delay something you don’t want to deal with. And how do we do that? We allow ourselves to get distracted! The more unfocused we get, the longer we take to finish whatever we’re trying to avoid! That’s the root of procrastination. The reason we procrastinate may well hide in unconscious fears and insecurities. We may not feel confident enough to face a challenge that comes with the task or we may be afraid of what the results of the goal can unleash.
I met an aspiring author a few years ago that had been writing her debut book for almost a decade. She really wanted to finish it and get it published, but at the same time she was terrified of the idea of being a public figure. She was extremely shy and felt like she wasn’t going to be able to deal with the popularity that might come with a book. She told me she couldn’t imagine herself giving interviews, being on TV or worse: being asked to speak at an event.
The fear and anxiety she experienced from ‘imagining’ how it was going to be like if she ever published her book, having to do things she wasn’t comfortable with, fueled all kinds of distracting habits. She would spend her days doing anything but writing her book.
Of course, she was making a big deal of something she didn’t even know if it was going to happen or not. Most authors never get to be asked to be interviewed on TV or speak at an event, but evidently, all authors need to be available to market their books, if they want to be successful. However, I told her of the many authors I know that are very shy and don’t like publicity. I also explained to her that publishing a book isn’t a sentence to become a permanent public figure. For some reason, the fact that most authors live and die in anonymity and would kill for a change to be on TV, didn’t seem to impress her in any way. She seemed convinced that once she published her first book she would be harassed like a celebrity. Explaining about the reality of authorhood didn’t do much.
So I switched my strategy. Instead of trying to get her to understand that she was picturing a dream that wasn’t going to happen that way, I told her she had two options:
1. Give up being a writer and just do something else;
2. Learn to be comfortable with different levels of self-exposure – but also understanding that she would always had the right to refuse speaking requests, interviews or whatever she wasn’t comfortable doing.
Surprisingly, that conversation had a tremendous impact on her. Somehow, she just couldn’t register that no matter how famous she could possibly become as a writer, she would always had the right to choose whether to “expose” herself or not.
Our insecurities usually hinder progress when we are afraid of what success will bring, especially when we don’t feel like we’re up to the challenge. We create mechanisms to avoid doing what needs to be done to accomplish our goals, even when we really want to reach them. Disorganization and lack of focus start to fill up our time and space with unnecessary activities and things.
Perfectionism may be the culprit in these ‘fear of success’ situations, when we believe we’re not ready yet or we’re not good enough. This ends up creating a state of anxiety mixed with a naïve expectation that eventually everything we fear will go away, we’ll reach our goal and won’t be afraid anymore. We just don’t want it to happen soon, because right now we’re not sure we can handle it.
However, there’s also the other side, we may be afraid of the negative consequences that may come with accomplishing a goal. Sometimes the perspective of what is negative or unwanted is subjective and, like my writer friend, if we stop to think about it, we might see that things are not as bad as we make them. Changing careers, starting a new business, having an important, but difficult conversation are all examples of how we can mix fear of success with fear of failure and in the meantime, we procrastinate. Instead of feeling anxious about our responsibility – or lack of preparedness – to deal with the success side of it, we fear what can go wrong.
Focused action depends on our ability to keep doing what needs to be done until the desired results are achieved – or indefinitely in some cases. Persistence, motivation and discipline are some of the things we need to keep going strong. However, fear and anxiety, sometimes about a single aspect of the results, can spoil all that. If you have the habit of procrastinating, avoiding what needs to be done to reach a certain goal, ask yourself: what are you actually afraid of? Write it down, make it clear, open the curtains that hide your fears and try to understand where it’s coming from and how realistic is that. Think in terms of statistics: what are the odds that you’ll have to face what you fear the most? Obviously you won’t have exact figures, but you’ll be able to look at other people’s experiences and assume the majority of cases results are X or Y. Never assume you are an exception! The odds are against you! Also brainstorm strategies to deal with the things that scare you if they end up happening. Writing things down forces you to bring unconscious feelings and impressions to the surface. You may notice that you cannot find logic on your own arguments. You might be afraid of some ghost that doesn’t exist.