Achievemephobia, How Athletes Can Develop A Fear Of Success

Updated: Apr 12

“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” - John D. Rockefeller

HAPPY MASTERS WEEK!

As golfers compete on one of the most famous and historic of golf courses, we will dive in to understand what it's like to compete, yet fear success.


Achievemephobia, better known as the Fear of Success, is an ongoing fear of succeeding and performing well. To be more specific, the fear of success involves fearing change and the expectations that come when athletes start to consistently perform well.


Fear of success is often categorized with fear of failure. While they may seem the same, here is how they differ (Brito, 2020):

  1. Fear of Failure involves beating yourself up when you think you have performed poorly.

  2. Fear of Success is about anticipating how others will react to your successes.

Reasons Why Athletes Fear Success

a. Pressure To Be Successful. Most athletes dream of success. However, once they start to experience success, the knee jerk reaction is that they don’t feel ready for everything that comes with it. It’s the new found attention and social pressures that make it stressful. When athletes experience success, the bar gets raised. This change in expectation can be a hard adjustment, at first. It’s uncharted territory, it’s different, and it can feel uncomfortable.


b. Backlash From Others. The new found attention includes judgement, public scrutiny, and expectations of others. It’s also the trolls and detractors who are just there to be mean and want you to fail. The more success athletes have, the more attention they garner. The additional attention and notoriety attracts both admirers and the haters.


c. Imposter Syndrome (IS) is where athletes think their successes are just a charade. When athletes let the backlash distract them, they start to question their success. Despite all their hard work and accomplishments, athletes fear that they will be exposed as a fraud. Meaning, they feel like every accomplishment was by chance or by luck, and with each new performance, they fear that it will be the moment they perform poorly and get exposed as a fraud.


d. Self-Destructive Behavior, when expectations seem overwhelming, athletes will cope by doing things that derail their success. This includes self sabotage by overtraining because they think their success is just related to training hard; underperform by taking less chances and being more conservative; or they will just get too overwhelmed and give up before the start of competition, thus choosing not to perform.


e. The Stereotype of Successful Athletes can include the following: they are popular, outspoken, and can seem somewhat narcissistic and cocky. It’s stereotypes like these that can make athletes fear success because it goes counter to their personality or they fear becoming something they aren’t.


f. The Cost of Success is where athletes group success with sacrifice. They feel that the more success they have, the more time they will need to dedicate to their sport and the more they will need to sacrifice. Meaning, less time to do the other things they enjoy and less time for all the other things that take priority in their lives.


Overall, a study on athletes and performing artists who reported feeling a fear of success reported (Brito, 2020):

  1. Guilt over asserting themselves in competition.

  2. Anxiety about surpassing a record established by others.

  3. Pressure over repeatedly having to equal or surpass their own best performance.

Change is hard. With success comes change. This includes changes to your routine, having to train harder to reach new levels of improvement, and dedicating time and energy to acquire new skills.

Overcoming Your Fear Of Success

As you can see, there are many reasons why athletes experience a fear of success. Here are ways athletes can gain perspective, overcome their fears, and go from being good to great.


1. Whose dream you are chasing?

Are you chasing your own dreams and goals? Or are they someone else’s?


If you are trying to fulfill someone else’s dream, you are probably finding it hard to motivate because it lacks personal meaning. Think about something you really wanted for yourself.

How did it make you feel?


How did you go about attaining that thing?


Chances are, you obsessed about it and figured out every way possible to get that thing or to accomplish that goal. If your dream is personal and meaningful, you will be excited to apply your time, energy, and effort to achieve that dream. It’s the difference between procrastinating and thinking you have enough time to do it later (not motivated), and thinking there isn’t enough time in the day to keep working on it (motivated and excited). As the saying goes, "Time flies when you are having fun!"


2. Creating Your Personal And Meaningful “WHY”

Take a moment to visualize the two different roads you can take with your sport. For example, a high school athlete can visualize how he/she will improve by the end of the season, by the end of their high school career, and after four years of competing on college.


i. If things stay the same, what will life look like a year from now, four years from now, and eight years from now?


ii. Next, think about how your life will be different if you take time to work toward accomplishing your dreams / goals. What will life look like a year from now, four years from now, and eight years from now?


iii. Which road is more appealing to you? Why?


iv. Based on your choice, define what success looks like and means to you. This is how you create your personal and meaningful why.


3. Unpack your Truth

Now that you have figured out your “WHY”, it’s time to identify the source of your insecurity and/or fears.


To help you to recognize your insecurity and fears, answer the following questions:

i. Are you concerned that you will have to put in extra work to maintain your current success? What would that look like?


ii. What do you think will happen if you continue to be successful at your sport?


iii. What makes you feel undeserving of the current success you are experiencing?


iv. Do you fear that others will criticize or judge you if you don’t maintain or improve upon your current level of success?

v. Who are you afraid of hurting or intimidating if you continue to achieve success?


vi. In what ways do you self-destruct achievement and success in your sport?


vii. In what ways have you underachieved?


viii. Have you ever felt guilty, confused, or anxious when you have done well?

ix. Have you ever feared losing people’s attention, sympathy, or concern if you continue to do well?


Now that you have taken time to answer these questions, identify the beliefs that lead you to fear success. Next, refute / prove why these statements are false, if they seem irrational. Then, replace those irrational beliefs with rational ones.


*This section is referenced from: https://coping.us/toolsforpersonalgrowth/handlingfearofsuccess.html


4. Haters Gonna Hate

Wise words from Taylor Swift:

But I keep cruising

Can't stop, won't stop grooving

It's like I got this music in my mind

Saying it's gonna be alright


Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play

And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

I shake it off, I shake it off (Whoo-hoo-hoo)


Find a way to shake it off!

a. Remember, when you hear the haters hate, you are actually doing something right. The more success you have, the more the haters and doubter are going to surface.


b. Sometimes it’s hard to ignore the haters, especially if they are teammates or friends who you trust. Start by separating your emotional response from their comments. Then, take a moment to identify the constructive feedback, or determine if there is any actual constructive feedback. If there isn’t, shake it off!


c. Jealousy / envy can turn teammates and friends into your harshest critics and the biggest haters. If a teammate or someone close to you is making harsh or critical comments that don’t seem constructive, take a moment to recognize why they are acting this way. It probably has to do with jealousy. When the haters are trying to get in your head, they likely feel inadequate compared to you, and when they put you down, they think they are building themselves up.


5. Self Talk

i. Pay attention to what you say to yourself. Recognize the things that are true and things that you believe as it relates to your strengths and successes. Also, identify if your negative comments and / or constructive criticism is helpful or hurtful to how you perform, train, and improve.


ii. To strive to be the best version of you, it’s important to identify and own your narrative. Write down the positive and helpful comments that give you the courage to improve, compete, and fuel your confidence.


iii. Self talk focused on the positive and focused on gratitude.

You can create this dialogue with teammates by creating a narrative of goodwill, e.g., "I appreciate you for the handwork you put in." You can also create the same narrative for yourself, e.g., "I am grateful for the opportunity to compete and represent my team and family at each competition."


6. Life Balance

It’s referred to as the mind-body connection. This means that your thoughts, emotions, beliefs, images, and attitude have a positive or negative affect on your body. It also means that your body can impact your mental state as well. What you eat, how often you exercise, the amount of sleep you get daily, and even your body posture can affect your thoughts in a positive or negative manner. To perform at your best each day, it’s important to have a healthy mind and body. (Hart, 2016)


7. Learn to Understand

If you have fears and doubts, take time to educate yourself. The more you learn and the more you are able to experience, the less scary and difficult things will become. It’s like taking a road trip to a new destination. The journey tends to feel long and sometimes tedious the first time. Surprisingly, the return trip seems to go a lot quicker and feels less daunting because it is familiar and you know what to expect.


8. Scrapbook of Success

There will always be times when you need motivation, lack passion, and lose confidence. Your scrapbook of success can be a source of inspiration! Be it a physical or electronic scrapbook, collect quotes, articles, and success stories that inspire you. Also, add pictures and other things that remind you of fun and happy memories so that you can take a time out and go to your happy place. Lastly, create a library of movies and videos you can watch as well. That way, when you lose confidence, lack motivation, or just need a pick me up, you have your scrapbook of success to turn to.


We hope you found helpful tips and advice to better understand what the fear of success is and how to best conquer them. Stay tune for the next blog! And remember, there will be times when you can't do it alone. Let Epic Sport Psychology be part of your team to help you strive to be your best self!


Reference List

How to Keep Envy from Poisoning Your Team's Culture. (2019, September 17). Retrieved April 8, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2019/09/how-to-keep-envy-from-poisoning-your-teams-culture

Messina, J. (n.d.). Handling Fear of Success. Retrieved April 8, 2021, from https://coping.us/toolsforpersonalgrowth/handlingfearofsuccess.html


Overcome the Fear of Success: 6 Ways to Start Thriving. (2013, April 10). Retrieved April 8, 2021, from https://tinybuddha.com/blog/overcome-fear-of-success-6-ways-to-start-thriving/


Psychology for Photographers and other Creative Professionals. (2016, August 29). Retrieved April 6, 2021, from https://psychologyforphotographers.com/fear-of-success-symptoms


Shalise, Johannes, Dani, Caitlin, Jen, Doug, . . . Nelleke. (2019, October 06). What Is Impostor Syndrome and How Do You Deal with It. Retrieved April 8, 2021, from https://trailrunnermag.com/training/what-is-impostor-syndrome-and-how-do-you-deal-with-it.html


What Is the Mind-Body Connection? (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2021, from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/what-is-the-mind-body-connection


Written by Kate McKee, J. 1. (2017, December 12). Are you afraid of success? -. Retrieved April 8, 2021, from https://www.wellbeing.com.au/mind-spirit/mind/are-you-afraid-of-success.html

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