When we suffer from a fear of success, we often self-sabotage, turning away from the very actions that can propel us forward. By understanding the root of insecurities, redefining our true purpose and shedding the paralyzing negativity, we can triumph over the irrational doubts of failure that stand in our way.

Listening for the Hidden “Why”

Clients often tell us their goals for personal training and fitness, only to quickly follow with excuses/reasons they have not met these goals previously. As much as clients may desire returning to a time in their lives when they were happier/successful/free from encumbrances, we must recognize that they may subconsciously wrestle with amorphous demons: the kind that tell them they cannot possibly achieve that past level of success. Furthermore, some demons chastise individuals for even seeking that which they need to feel happy or fulfilled.

At this pivotal juncture with a client, we might choose to ponder some key questions: as fallible human beings, do we unwittingly deny our souls the very nourishment they crave for self-improvement? Do we fear encountering soul-crushing criticism if we strive toward success? Are we more fearful of the process of change than desirous of the end goal?

Encourage Clients to Delve Deeper

As trainers, the notion of setting SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound — comes naturally in terms of conquering athletic challenges. However, for a client returning after an extend illness or injury rehabilitation, we should remember that they no doubt had family and friends doing everything (or a lot) for them during recuperation. Now, feeling better, do they truly want to resume life as it was previous? Or have they grown somewhat accustomed to others waiting on them…and perhaps, dare I say, like it?? Fear and self-sabotage often figure prominently in such scenarios.

Failure to Plan = Planning to Fail

When challenged with a 1 rep max lift clients may demonstrate a half-hearted attempt, already planning to fall short of the goal, thereby showing that they gave it a try but failed to achieve success. From that point, do we counsel them never to try again or feed into their belief that they lack the necessary level of skill?

Certainly not; we must redirect their philosophy of not deserving success before it creeps into their conscious brain, derailing them further. By challenging such negative thought patterns at their inception, we can begin to help clients dig themselves out of the self-sabotaging rut and help them find a healthier path on which to move forward. We must constantly remind our clients – and ourselves — that we deserve to flourish.

What Causes the Most Fear of Success?

Very often in life, we need to abandon relationships and familiar surroundings when success and upward mobility direct us to new heights. If the friends with whom we regularly keep company only cast shadows of negative energy upon our plans for personal growth, the time may have arrived to seek out a new circle of companions, individuals who might not necessarily share the dream but who honestly wish to support us and see us succeed.

Fear-invoking? Most assuredly.

Failure Moves Us Forward

A “growth mindset” involves the difficult process of shifting perspective: on those around us, our current circumstances, and our vision/definition of self. The term “failing upwards” summarizes this ideology. Failures need not involve self-flagellation, guilt, or shame. Rather, we can view them as catalysts for improvement, perhaps allowing them to spark an idea in a completely new direction, to better foster a positive outcome in the next attempt.

By taking the time to define ourselves, we can then identify and awaken new strengths and passions. This process helps outline the path forward. A very hard part of this redefining self involves relinquishing the need to seek and receive approval from others. Remember, by seeking approval from another individual, we eliminate the chance to do things our way. Success – and its by-product, happiness — come from honoring our authenticity, not the whims of another.

Building a Foundation of Empowerment

Success involves, among other things, the process of deciding upon and pursuing meaningful goals, then navigating the path without losing focus or getting overwhelmed. The legendary coach Vince Lombardi once noted, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.” When we decide to pursue new horizons, to conquer new challenges, our will powers us through any obstacles.

Finding our unique path allows for personal growth; along the way, we encounter an opportunity to manage the discomfort that accompanies pushing ourselves beyond usual boundaries. If we can change bit by bit, cautiously exposing ourselves a little at a time, the transformation eventually gets solidified. Confidence grows at this stage of development, and with confidence on our side, we can face rejection or criticism without falling apart. Empowerment shall drive us ever forward, choosing to pursue the dream rather than run from it.

Attentive personal trainers help clients identify and face the fear of success, respect the power contained therein, and channel that power into creative action. We help/allow them to take ownership of their destiny, diminish the negative/shaming words of others, and rise to untold levels of competency.







Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at trainhard@kronemer.com. She welcomes your feedback and your comments!