The fear of achieving your goals – why people sabotage their own success

Yes, the title of this article is indeed, “The Fear of Achieving Your Goals”!

It is common to deal with fear while failing to achieve our goals.

But can you also be afraid of success?

After all, achieving a set goal is a success.

We may have avoided the five biggest mistakes in defining goals and defined our goals for our private life or goals with our employees, but still we break off the path to the goal at some point. If you take a closer look at this, you often find that it was not due to external reasons.

The root cause lies within that person.

There are three main reasons why people do not achieve their own goals, because they are afraid of their own success.

Let’s look at these goal-destroying facts:

The fear of emptiness

Superstar swimmer Michael Phelps once spoke about his emotional rollercoaster he went through after winning his 18th gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

A goal, which nobody ever believed possible.

Phelps said, he locked himself in for days and fell into a deep depression.

Because after all these victories, he found there was nothing left for him to strive for.

He was empty.

He had no more goals.

Phelps’ fear of success didn’t stop him from working hard for it in 2016.

And to win.


However, he is a once in a century kind of athlete.

For us mere mortals, the fear of being successful, of reaching a goal, makes some of us so fearful, that we are not pursuing the goal at all.

But why are we scared of success?

This usually happens very subconsciously and through small things that keep us off track.

Beliefs that achieving a goal, that success does not make you happy, are also ingrained. Even in our culture.

Sayings like “Money doesn’t make you happy” are very nasty, small but powerful beliefs that torpedo any goal that has anything to do with money.

Other beliefs that are preventing us from achieving our goals:

  • “Cobbler stick to your last” – prevents us from setting goals that are outside of what we have been doing so far. If we still set such goals and suffer setbacks, this saying is a reason to give up the goal
  • “Who do you actually think who you are?” – this saying and its variations always dissuade us from continuing to work on a goal when we do things that “one doesn’t do” or those in our own environment (circle of friends , Family, culture) are viewed as “not normal”
  • “What will others think” – one of the most powerful limiting beliefs that can stop us on the way to our goal. To do this, the goal doesn’t even have to be particularly big or extraordinary. It is enough if we think that others would think badly of us if we achieve this goal to dissuade us through this belief
  • “I don’t deserve it” – we may be well on the way to achieving our goal, but do not see ourselves (for whatever reason) as worthy to receive that goal and everything related to it
  • “What if it goes wrong?” – The fear of failure often prevents us from even tackling a goal. The most effective response to this thought is to answer the question “What’s the worst that can happen?” To completely turn the focus and more realistically assess the risks

I could add to this list of limiting beliefs that keep us from setting and achieving goals.

But you have certainly seen – and you know it from your own life – that these beliefs can have an incredibly strong braking effect.

However, they are beliefs, not physical laws!

If you have a goal that is really important to you, but you do not want to work towards it or give it up on the way because of limiting thoughts and beliefs, then pause and think about whether you are just failing at a real obstacle or whether your fear, which only exists in your head, is making an elephant out of a mosquito.


There are people who constantly doubt themselves and who consider themselves an imposter.

They do their job really well, deliver convincing performances, are popular – and inside they wait every day for someone to come around the corner and say “now I got you – you can’t do that”.

Even in my circle of friends I have people who suffer precisely from this.

Imagine you go to work every morning and are afraid that a colleague or boss will blow you up as an imposter. They believe that you are actually not doing a good job and that fact will come out sooner or later. But you’re actually doing a good job!

That is an incredible psychological pressure that often lasts for decades.

If you suffer from the impostor syndrome then you will never set yourself big goals. Above all, you will not work towards it, because if you achieve an even greater goal now, if you are even more successful, then your fear will be even greater – because then you will fall even deeper if you are exposed one day!

Again for clarification:

These are not actual impostors, but people who consider themselves to be one when they are not.

But it was unbelievable that there is a shockingly high percentage of people with the impostor syndrome, especially among highly gifted people and especially among highly gifted women.

Especially those people who strive for and could achieve extraordinary goals do not believe in themselves and consider themselves mediocre. Some studies say that 40% of all particularly successful people struggle with it!

If you feel this way or if you know someone who suffers from it, then we strongly recommend the support of a professional coach. Because there is a way out of this vicious circle.

Fear of the impact on the environment

A third reason why one can be afraid of reaching one’s goals is the fear of the effects on their own environment.

A common example is smoking. If you have a circle of friends in which 90% smoke, sooner or later you might stop your “no smoking” attempt because you are afraid that you will no longer belong.

Anyone who grows up as a student in a small village where not a single child goes to high school will not hang in to make it to high school – because they are afraid of being expelled afterwards. And even if the child had this goal, the parents might reject such a goal, because “nobody goes to high school here. Do you think you are something better? ”- and already we have anchored a limiting belief in a child, which in the worst case prevents this person from living his real potential for the next 70 years!

Whether we have a large circle of friends or just a very small one – almost everyone of us wants to belong to this circle.

The goals that we set ourselves are usually exactly within the comfort zone that our circle of friends also has.

“You are the average of the five people with whom you have to do most often” is a statement that is very true.

Isn’t it the case that someone …

• … who is very sporty also has sporty friends?

• … who smokes also has more friends who smoke?

• … who is self-employed also has more independent friends?

• … who likes to travel also has friends who like to travel?

If someone is overweight, has an unsportsmanlike circle of friends and now has the fixed goal of doing a lot more sport, then the circle of friends will initially find that very good.

But only until the person actually manages to be much more athletic. Then the person starts to do different things than before, maybe doesn’t go out to eat so late in the evening, etc.

And thus withdraws from this circle of friends.

But the friends don’t think that’s good. You don’t want to lose that person.

So they will first try to dissuade them from their goal. If this does not succeed, the friendship is weaker or actively terminated.

At precisely that moment it can happen that we let go of our goal for fear of losing our friends.

There are also countless such situations in the professional environment. Whether someone starts an evening course on the side in order to advance professionally or is accepted into a “talent program” in the company – the colleagues around you will react. Unfortunately too often negative.

There is a second, even more important reason why our environment often does not want us to achieve our goals:

It would prove that they too could change and achieve something if they only wanted to. Then you can no longer complain or scold others.

Don’t be afraid of success

With this article I want to encourage you.

Encourage you to really define your goals and work on them!

If you are afraid of possible success in between, if you start torpedoing yourself in between, then put in a stop and ask yourself exactly what is on your mind right now.

Write down what is preventing you from taking the next steps and what fear of reaching your goal is blocking you.

If the risks are real, then act and minimize the risk.

But if it’s just beliefs, keep working on your goal and think of Nelson Mandela:

Achieve goals with the right support system / environment

If you really want to achieve your goals, whether professionally or privately, then you can increase your probability of success many times over.

Create or find an environment that supports your goals.

People who have similar goals.

People who have already achieved what you want to achieve.

Positive, optimistic, future-oriented people.

Often a single person who really believes in us is enough to support us at precisely those moments when we want to give up on the way to our goal.

Often a “You can do it” is enough and we can move on.

I run ultra marathon races and no matter how often I’ve heard “it’s going downhill from now on” or “soon you’ll be at the finish” – every time it creates a positive atmosphere for a few seconds. Exactly when it is really difficult and the inner voice tells you “stop the nonsense” that can be enough to get me to concentrate on the goal again and to move on.

Motivational videos or podcasts can also be very helpful.

So at the end of one of my favorite videos, which I use at the end of leadership seminars to encourage participants in my seminars not to choose their goals too small. It’s in English, but even if you don’t speak a word of English, you can understand it. (Das wäre hier überflüssig).

I hope it motivates you as much as it does me – although I’ve seen it over 100 times.

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