Are You Sabotaging Your Success?

This essay expands upon my previous entry on fear of success.

I once had a co-worker who hated her job. Her job stress was so much, that it was hurting her body. She wore those wrist supports to nurse her injury.

Her husband made enough money, so she didn’t need to work. She had dreams of becoming a candle-maker. She told me in great details about how she can make candles that have much stronger and nicer scents than commercially sold ones.

“Why are you still here?” I asked.

“Oh no, I won’t be here for long. I’m going to quit soon.”

She said that for months, and she was still there when I left.

Fear of Success -> Fear of Hope -> Fear of Failure

Have you ever heard someone say “I don’t want to have my hopes up?”

This is a classic statement of fear of success.

When your default state is that of non-success, success becomes foreign and unbelievable to you. You just don’t trust it, because you just don’t see it in your life.

On a conscious level, you think you want it. But deep down, you mistrust such a notion, because your environment doesn’t provide any proofs.

If you’ve been bullied constantly in school, it’s hard to believe that a school without bullying exists. You may understand it in concept, but it’s hard to believe that it’s possible in your life.

You actually want such a life, but you don’t want to believe in it, for fear that you’ll be wrong. How can you justify believing, when you don’t see any evidence to do so? Believing becomes a risk. Hoping becomes a risk. You just don’t want to hope, and risk disappointment.

When you’re in a state where you’re already low in resources, you just can’t take that kind of risk. To hope, and to fail, would be too big of a blow. You’re so taxed, hurt and strained already.

So you’d rather stay put, and tolerate the familiar and mundane stress of non-success. You submit to your fear of failure. Better to deal with the devil you know, right?

Are You Sabotaging Your Success?

Such a thought pattern can last years and decades, taking deep roots inside you. When good things happen to you, you just say stuff like “oh, I was just lucky. It won’t last.” That kind of self-defeating talk feels safer.

When your default state is non-success, a success requires a change. A change is rife with discomfort and risk. I don’t know what held back my co-worker above. Maybe she didn’t want to upset her boss by quitting. Maybe she didn’t want to pursue candle-making seriously because it was her passion and she didn’t want to risk failing with it. Maybe she loathed the prospect of resumes and job applications and interviews — all potentially cumbersome, stressful and failure-rich processes. Whatever her reasons were, she feared it enough to stay put.

Your Resources Are Like a Bank Account

Consider yourself to be a bank account. When your daily, normal life draws money out of your account, you keep going negative. You compensate for it, probably by indulging — over-eating, over-shopping, TVs, caffeine, cigarettes, and so on. These loan you money temporarily so your account is not so depleted, though actually after that temporary replenishment is over, it depletes you more, necessitating you to employ even quicker and more drastic fixes to make up for it.

Now, changing is like an investment. You have to take money out of your account first, and it has potential to pay you back a lot more later. But how can you do that, when your account is already deep in negatives? How can you do that, when your life doesn’t give you any proof that such an investment will pay off? Steps toward your success simply appear to be another element that depletes your account, with the sweet promise of pay off. Except these investments’ pay off comes later and its return uncertain. You’d rather engage in quick life-me-ups, as the effect is instant and investment, none.

Replenish Your Account to Fight Fear of Failure

When you’re stuck in this downward spiral, it’s much to ask to battle fear of success. The first order of business lies in replenishing your account. I’m sure the how of doing so is obvious: reduce stress, engage in healthier activities, sleep, exercise, take a break, and so on. This is how small victories can pave ways for bigger ones. You don’t need to take your eyes off of the big problems, but start first with little ones, the low-hanging fruits. Make it a habit to celebrate one small victory everyday.

This will lead to boosts in your resources, and you’ll become more able to take bigger risks. Your habits of success will overwhelm your fear of failure. You will stop fearing your success, as it becomes a normal, regular part of your life — something very familiar.


Fear of success has its roots in fear of failure. And it is also a sign that your resources are low. When success feels like a dangerous investment, boost your resources so that you can afford that investment. Combine that, with making success a routine, normal part of your life — and you’ll have no need to sabotage your success.

Can you think of a situation in your own life, when you resisted a positive change? How did you overcome such a resistance?


Shout-outs to my fellow bloggers who wrestled with this issue: Lance (read what he has to say on fear) and Scott.


  1. To me, what you describe is a pretty extreme situation for anyone to be in. Maybe I’m sheltered. However, I’d consider myself someone who is not entirely sure of his potential and maybe a little afraid of success. Just a little. However, I quit my job, which was super hard for me. Your co-worker probably had this issue as a major one. She, however, didn’t have to worry about money, which is a huge bonus. It’s interesting, because when I was contemplating quitting my job, money was one of my very least worries. Happiness, my self-perception, and long-term stability were more of an issue, and in a job that stresses you out and that you hate, those things just don’t happen.

    1. Hi O5,

      Well, it may be extreme, but I’ve known people like that. Someone who complains constantly but when asked why s/he doesn’t change it, there is no good answer. It’s an easy place to get stuck to.

      It’s great that you were able to leave an incompatible job — a “long-term stability” at such a job is really worthless, isn’t it? You’re stressing and hurting your system for the false notion of security. Yuch.


  2. Great post. Sometimes we just need to take an extra step to get things done but somehow the fear of failure is so strong that it grip us so hard to prevent us to act.

    Personal Development Blogger

    1. Hi Vincent,

      Welcome to OBV! Thanks for your comment. Fear of failure does have a strong grip, so one way to deal with it is to loosen it little by little…. though I have forcibly taken a plunge, too. Not sure if I can recommend that to everyone. 😉

      Keep in touch, I look forward to getting to know you.


  3. Hi Ari – I know what you mean. I’ve definitely been there before. I think it’s worse when others can control the outcome somehow. So you avoid doing something, incase the worst happens.

    I still struggle with this problem in some areas of my life. What I try to do, is write down the possible benefits of doing particular things. It helps a little. I guess it also helps to think about the worst thing that can happen because often you are no more worse off than if you didn’t attempt to do a particular thing.

    Cath Lawson´s last blog post..Heroes Of Healing: Napoleon Hill

    1. Hi Cath,

      Thanks for your honest comment. It’s a bit comforting to know that an experienced businesswoman like you struggled with some of the same issues.

      My post was addressing people to whom success really is a foreign concept, but I imagine, don’t you have a track record of successes to draw upon? I do, and that gives me the confidence boost to go and face chance/risk for a greater success. Making success a habit can really add up, in my experience.


  4. I really like the idea of replenishing our accounts by celebrating the small victories! That’s a great way to take baby steps in the direction we desire to go. And, when done in small and manageable steps – we can feel more confident that we will see a victory – and even if it doesn’t turn out as we had planned – we’ve risked less. Life is like an investment, as you’ve said Ari. If we invest in good quality “life funds” – our net worth over time WILL go up (but just like the stock market, there will be some fluctuation). The key point to remember is where we are trying to get to – some days will be one step forward and two back. However, many days will be two steps forward, or more!

    This has been a nice continuation on your first piece, Ari – and really adds to what you talked about in fears to success. And, thanks for linking back to me – I really appreciate it!

    Lance´s last blog post..Fear: Does It Hold You Back?

    1. Lance,

      Wow, you really stretched my analogy. Those are all great observations. 🙂

      It’s really cool to draw parallels in different areas of life. Just as putting away a little every month can create a nice retirement account, succeeding in small ways everyday can really build up your resources, enabling you to face greater challenges and risks — increasing your capacity for greater success.

      You’re welcome about the link — thank you for linking and a Stumble. 🙂


  5. We really are our own enemy sometimes when it comes to self-sabotage aren’t we? Small victories and keeping your sights set high are great starts to get on a path for success. Cheers.

    1. Hi Ross,

      Thanks for your comment! It’s good to see you here.

      Ultimately, I think it boils down to self-esteem — people with low self-esteem can’t believe that they deserve better. As I said to Lance, a little deposit everyday can add up to change that.


  6. Hi Ari,

    Sabotaging myself was a constant struggle for me early in recovery. When I stopped doing heroin, I did not stop being self-destructive–I just did so in different ways than I had when I was addicted.

    One of the things that I did to change my self-beliefs was to write daily affirmations and I did this even when I did not believe the things I wrote. I had felt badly about myself for so long that it was a natural state for me–and I had to actually retrain my thought processes so that I would view myself in terms that are more favorable. I tell this to others who are in early recovery and they always look at me in disbelief–they do not understand how this can work–but it *does* work. You can definitely retrain yourself so you no longer do things to sabotage yourself.

    Another great post, as usual–thank you for sharing this.


    Melinda´s last blog post..Forgiveness and Making Amends

    1. Hi Melinda,

      Thanks for sharing your personal story! It reminded me of my “Affirmation of Existence,” a written statement I viewed often to rebuild my self-esteem. I gotta write about that.

      Again, when you’re so used to being stressed and strung out, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be affirmed. Sometimes you have to force yourself to go through some rituals to build it up — even if it seems hoaky or silly in the beginning.


  7. Ari, I’m with Lance here on the accounts concept and small victories. I LOVE the bank accounts concept. Makes perfect sense. I don’t think I’ve understood the whole fear of success thing until reading and commenting on your last post and then reading this one. We simply fear that life will be so different as we succeed and we won’t like it because it’s not what we’re comfortable with. I really like the idea of depositing into the account little by little so it’s not so scary. With each new thing we change or conquer we become comfortable with that and think, “Well, this isn’t so bad. In fact it’s great. I am doing this. Let’s try something else now.” So little by little we get there. Thanks for helping me to understand the whole fear of success concept.

    1. Jennifer,

      The people I’ve seen aren’t consciously afraid of success — they just fear and suppress their desire for success, as the very existence of hope creates a chance to be disappointed. A defensive thinking in an extreme sense, but it’s borne out of painful past experience and low personal resource (the bank account’s in negative).

      It’s definitely not a happy place to be in, but it takes a good bit of digging to catch yourself doing it. I’m guessing you and I are probably mostly beyond it, but hopefully this post will serve as a trigger for others to do some self-examination.


  8. When starting this new business, I would not allow myself to entertain the thought of failing. I told my business partner that we would come across roadblocks but we couldn’t let them steal our passion for what we wanted. We just needed to got out our tools and knock down the roadblock and keep going or blaze a new trail around it. Since we have started we have hit some difficulties, one especially big one. We didn’t let it stop us. We figured out how to keep going. While we haven’t fully reached a resolution with that problem, we are working it from the side while we continue on and are moving forward with a vengeance!

    1. Laurie,

      That reminds of me of when I was recording my debut album. I was doing my vocals and I was getting seriously discouraged — I just kept telling myself “failure is not an option.” And I got through it, and I’m proud that I did.

      With such a strong commitment to success, I’m sure you’ll break through sooner or later. Go Laurie!


    1. Hi Jannie,

      Glad to hear you’re on the right track. Success won’t come without taking risks, but not taking risks in itself is the biggest risk of all — compared to that, I’m sure you’ll overcome whatever obstacles you may face. Go Jannie!


  9. Hey Ari,

    I am a risk taker in a big way. I always had a dream of owning my own business. I began with a vision, like you, and wrote it down. I was constantly building up my confidence by listening to others that had shared a similar dream. I would store those notes. I kept my eye focused on that dream. I continue to do this today. It is work to not allow self-sabotage into my life. When thrown some pretty hard hits…I learn. I get back up and take off again. Was I always like this, no. I took it step by step and kept on moving at a slow pace.

    Each person is different. Different environments allow different chances. We are not all in a situation to pick up and move to follow a dream. “I don’t want to have my hopes up” is a real emotion. Many things are not obtainable. It is not unrealistic to feel this way. One must choose a “reasonable” path to follow. Fill up the bank account with positives, lessons, and in most cases starter money….and go for it. Not all success does require money….sometimes faith is all that is needed.

    To accept ourselves is to accept that we are never “finished,” but always in process, always on the way, always becoming. It is to accept life itself as a journey and our ourselves as travelers, who, in spite of all our limitations and roadblocks, are each and every one of us on the road to glory.

    1. Hey Tammy,

      Thanks for a heart-felt comment. I do realize that sometimes, we are so “spent” that having hopes up feels like a risk you can’t take — and what you’re describing, like filling the bank account with starter money, is a part of building up your resources so you can afford to hope.

      And no, we’re never finished. I am guessing that when we are is the time for us to leave this life.


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