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Don’t Let Success Anxiety Become a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

As professionals, we don’t often talk about fear of failure. Many people fear they will experience or cause something that will ruin their chances of success.  Professionals specifically in the behavioral health field may struggle with this since their work outcomes fluctuate, and traditional milestones of success are difficult to measure. Some may have a phobia of success, termed achievemephobia. This fear of success is rooted in fear of failure. A source of anxiety may also be from fear that one’s ultimate rise in their career isn’t deserved, doesn’t match their ultimate goals, or will result in conflict among others who wish to sabotage them.  Avoidant behavior resulting from success anxiety comes from a lack of self-confidence and self-efficacy. The result may be self-sabotaging behavior, including low work productivity and low-reaching goals. After all, one who underperforms won’t have to face the stress of recognition or a promotion.

What Does Success Anxiety Look Like?

Anxiety often results in avoidant behaviors. To prevent anxious feelings, the stimulus is avoided altogether.  A professional with success anxiety may avoid success by making themselves an unlikely recipient. Someone Who Has Success Anxiety May:
  • Give up on challenging tasks easily, as found in Fred Lunenberg’s 2011 article, “Self Efficacy in the Workplace: Implications for Motivation and Performance.”
  • Choose low-effort tasks.
  • Avoid learning new skills.
  • Use past failures as an excuse not to try.
  • Experience bodily symptoms of anxiety when presented with a challenging task.
  • Avoid challenging tasks or leave them incomplete.
  • Feel nervous about anticipated anxiety.
  • Become discouraged and perform increasingly poorly when a setback is encountered.
People with success anxiety don’t lack the skills to succeed; they simply fear that they do.  As a result, true skills may be masked under anxiety, causing the worker to seem insignificant. 

How Do I Know if I Have Success Anxiety?

Perhaps you’re generally anxious at work, or you feel anxious thinking about undertaking a task you’re not sure you can succeed in.  Does experiencing these feelings indicate that you have success anxiety? Read the following questions, and see what red flags pop up as your answer.
  • Do you speak of yourself poorly?
You tell yourself you’ll never get that promotion, or that you’re not good enough to handle that client, or you will never have the skills to reach that level. 
  • Do you struggle to be patient with yourself or get frustrated easily?
Are setbacks particularly challenging?  You don’t push through difficulties; you settle for what you have managed to achieve.  You don’t push further, or you stop altogether.  Do you tell yourself that you can’t fail if you don’t try?
  • Do you turn down professional advancement or training opportunities?
What if you can’t perform the new skill? What if you can perform the new skill and your boss suddenly expects a lot more of you? 
  • Do you find it harder to come back from failures? Do you sometimes struggle after receiving criticism, no matter how hard you try to correct it?
You avoid that disappointing sidebar or comment from a colleague or superior, or it may just become impossible to get back on track. 
  • Do you call into work more frequently than you’d like because of anxiety about specific tasks or fear of failure?
This level of anxiety is crippling and can easily lead to depression. If you find yourself taking mental health days at an alarming rate to avoid work tasks, you may have success anxiety If you said yes to any of these, you might be suffering from success anxiety. If fear of success is rooted in low self-efficacy, the best way to help yourself may be to increase confidence.

5 Ways to Improve Self-Efficacy and Reduce Success Anxiety

If you frequently find yourself getting in your own way, coping mechanisms may help you feel better about yourself, your odds of success and reduce anxiety about the future. As with any anxiety, breathing techniques and meditation can improve your thoughts around success. In addition, try the following techniques.
  • Look for reasons you CAN do something instead of reasons you can’t.
Find examples of someone like you succeeding at your goals. Look for inspiration that will help you believe that what you want to achieve is possible.
  • Set increasingly challenging goals after each new success.
Teaching yourself that you can achieve happens through small victories. As your confidence improves, so will your abilities and your upward trajectory.
  • Look for positive encouragement from peers and supervisors.
Allow yourself to believe that they are sincere in their encouragement; this may help you to accept that you do have the skills you need.
  • Take challenging tasks as a compliment.
Remember, you are likely assigned a task because you are capable of it.  Procrastinating and purposefully failing at tasks often make you feel worse about yourself. Don’t bite off more than you can chew; take on reasonable tasks, building up to something that’s truly an achievement. Then, be proud of yourself. That’s a good feeling you don’t have to avoid.

Success anxiety results from a fear of the consequences of success or a feeling that you don’t deserve or can’t achieve success. Low self-efficacy is a good indicator that success anxiety may manifest. The result may be self-destructive behaviors, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy of lack of achievement. People with success anxiety tend to avoid learning, pushing through setbacks, or setting high goals. Coping with success anxiety can include gradually increasing your confidence in small and simple tasks as you progress to more challenging ones. Building confidence, looking for positive reinforcement, and finding inspiration can also help you conquer your fear. Success anxiety can be debilitating and cause difficulty in all aspects of your life. If you would like to learn life skills and help conquer your anxiety, call Casa Recovery at (888) 928-2272. Here at Casa Recovery, we help clients through therapy and holistic methods to achieve in all aspects of their lives.

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