We all have fears. What are yours? Some common fears like snakes, spiders, small spaces and public speaking are pretty obvious in their reasons why some of us are afraid of them. However, what I want to talk about today are two types of fears that are very common when dealing with clients who are trying to lose weight or get in shape: Fear of Failure and Fear of Success.
When someone starts a new weight loss program, they do so with gusto and with the best of intentions. “THIS is going to be the thing that finally works; the missing key” they think to themselves. However, buying a gym membership and not using it after 6 weeks or starting a new diet and not following it through to the end is so common most people don’t even question it. But why is this failure so common?
The main reason people so easily jump from one diet to another, I believe, is because of their unspoken, and unrecognized, fear of failure or success.
Our fears reach back to our early childhood experiences. The way we were raised, coupled with our own life experiences, mold our reactions to situations today. Our fears can be realistic and rational, or they can be irrational. Though we all have fears, we may not reveal them, not even to ourselves.
For millennia, fear has kept people alive. Being afraid of a predator or dangerous situations is one of the reasons our species has survived. We don’t have the same threats as we used to, but fear is still a healthy mechanism for keeping us safe and improving our performance. It can be used for motivation, either with yourself or someone else. Many athletes use the fear of failure to help them train harder. It allows them to anticipate the competition and gets them up at 5 in the morning for that run in the rain before work. Fear is a marvelous tool – when used to your advantage – but it can be harmful too. Fear can cause stress and anxiety to grow out of control, debilitating a person and making rational thoughts difficult.
Fear of Failure
Fear of failure is quite common. We have all felt that nervous pang in the depths of our guts when we embark on something new and are afraid to fail, embarrass ourselves or let anyone down. We are all bound to fail at something, since we were babies taking our first steps and falling flat on our behinds. But we tried again. As adults that we think too much and get in our own way. We weigh the risks so high that we sometimes don’t want to try again for fear of failing another time. How many times have you started a new diet on a Monday or on January 1st, only to “fail” by day three and start all over again the next week? Does this make you feel like a failure? I’ll bet you have mitigated the offense on your ego with rational reasons why it didn’t work this time – but will the next.
Fear of Success
On the flip side of the coin is the fear of success. That sounds crazy, how could anybody be afraid of success? Don’t we all want success, in some way? In reality, the fear of success actually boils down to fear of failure, at some level.
There are three main categories for fear of success:
1) Wanting success but fearing the reality once you have it.
- Friends and family might be jealous and won’t like you any more.
- You might change into a person your friends won’t like.
- New friends won’t know the real you.
2) Wanting success but fearing you won’t be able to maintain it.
- Losing weight only to gain it back later.
- Complete a marathon, but never run again.
- Elevated expectations from others. Now you always have to “win.”
3) Wanting success but not really believing you can achieve it.
- “I never have before”.
- “It will be a wast of time, effort, and money.
These are all reasons for fearing success. Can you relate to any of them? You have to decide if the effort for success is worth the possible pain. To help with this, I use an old fashioned technique called a “Pro and Con List.” (Reasons For (PROductive) and Against (CONtrary). Start by pulling out a pencil and paper, sit down in a comfortable place without distractions and brain dump (write everything that is on your mind related to this topic.)
Make a Pro and Con List
The meaning of this phrase is:
- Pro: “Productive” – in favor of, want, benefit, etc.
- Con: “Contrary” – against, do not want, harmful, etc.
Using a blank note pad, legal size is best) draw a line vertically down the middle on two pages. The top of the first page you will write:
- Con of Success
- What are the reasons you have against succeeding at your weight loss goals?
- Pro of Success
- What are the reasons you have for succeeding at your weight loss goals?
On the top of the second page you will write:
- Con of Failure
- What are the reasons you have against failing at your weight loss goals? Why don’t you want to fail? Name everything that will happen (real or imaginary) if you fail.
- Pro of Failure
- What are the reasons you have for failing at your weight loss goals? This may not seem obvious at first, but will likely surface when you look for some benefits (experience less stress or expectations, status quo, the unknown, live down to expectations, etc.)
Go crazy with this and write down everything you can think of, even if it sounds ridiculous. This is your chance to blurt out anything you want. Have a drink and loosen up first. Whatever it takes to get at the nitty gritty and help you find the path of least resistance to your success and eventual betterment.
To Be Continued
In part two of this article, I will show you what you can do to overcome fear in all its forms!
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