Fear of success can prove more frightening and even more paralysing than fear of failure.
This may feel counter intuitive, but look closely and you’ll see it everywhere – perhaps even within yourself.
The main reason we fear success is that it implies change.
When we and fail, there is often not much to lose. Usually we end up more or less where we started and the status quo recovers.
But when we succeed, things have to change by definition.
If we’re successful in applying for a new job we may beed to change the way we dress and sleep, we’ll need to develop new relationships and solve new problems. These things are exciting for the same reason that they are terrifying; risk.
Risk comes paired with all change and that risk creates fear, the most immobilising emotional force we experience.
Are you content with the way you fit into the world?
If not, try asking yourself: what am I more afraid of, things going wrong or things never changing?
An eternity of things carrying on the way they are sounds like my worst nightmare.
I’d rather take the chance that changing my course could send me backwards before I move forwards.
Seth Godin makes a hugely insightful point in his riff on Theodore Levitt’s famous quarter-inch drill bit quote.
People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want a quarter-inch hole.
Theodore Levitt, Harvard Marketing Professor
Godin argues that it’s not even the hole that people want.
It’s not the shelf they plan on installing on the brackets they’re going to drill into the hole.
What people want are the feelings they’re able to access now that they have the drill bit; the feeling of pride when they install the shelf by themselves, the gratification of pleasing their spouse, or the safety and security they might experience when then can put all their things on the shelf, and keep their space tidy and organised.
This is important for marketers to understand, but equally important for us to understand as consumers.
When we spend (be it our money or our time), what are the feelings we’re trading for?
Are we being capitalised upon?
Are we making decisions which will serve us over time?
That next Big Mac might feel incredible at the time, but it won’t an hour later. And if that feeling you purchased diminished so quickly, what will it’s value be in twenty years when your health catches up with you?
People are plagued by the fact that we always want, but don’t always know what we want.
Learning to want less, and more specifically is the trick.
Nobody wants a quarter-inch drill bit – but we all want to feel safe, healthy, respected and loved.
I’ve been trying to spend less time aimlessly bouncing between social media apps while using my phone.
The problem I’ve had in the past is that every time I’ve tried to detox, I’ve relied on discipline to keep me from sliding back to subconscious scrolling.
There is one trick which I’ve implemented that has had a huge lasting impact;
Delete everything non-essential from your phone’s homepage.
And I mean everything.
Keep your calendar, important emergency contacts, and maps if you use it a lot.
The rest should remain buried beneath the search function of your phone.
By forcing yourself to use the search function on your phone to type in the name of the app you’re trying to open, you’re far more likely to be making conscious decisions about what you’re doing on your phone.
This seems counter intuitive at first. Why would you strip away functionality from your phone’s perfectly good user interface?
Aren’t I wasting time searching every time I need to use an app?
And it’s true. It takes an extra five seconds or so to open Instagram, every single time. But they aren’t wasted.
These five seconds act as a barrier which protects your attention.
Five seconds is enough time to consider what your purpose for opening an app is; is there a specific reason I’m doing this, or am I burning time while avoiding another task?
It’s a buffer, a tool to help you make active choices about how you spend your time.
If this sounds like too much hasstle, try installing a screentime tracker like Flipd.
I was resistant too. But after coming face to face with the time I spent across these apps each day, five seconds stopped sounding so bad.
When we ruminate too intently on the pains our future might hold, we experience a portion of that pain in advance.
People with empathy internalise the pain of others when they witness suffering. It helps us to connect, to understand one another, and to care for eachother.
When making a decision, we usually consider the effect it might have on others. In doing so, we are essentially imagining future versions of the people our decisions may effect, allowing us to empathetically consider the potential outcomes of our actions.
We are so good at this that we usually do it intuitively.
I don’t take an online yodeling class at 1:30am because I can imagine that my neighbours (and their baby) might find it difficult to sleep in the presence of such glorious sound.
Unfortunately, there is a little glitch in this otherwise wonderfully human system; we can’t help but also imagine ourselves as a future person. We possess an inescapable and often rather concerning future self.
Anxiety is the pain we absorb while empathising with our future selves.
Harbouring a bit of this pain is sensible, but too much acts like poison.
We consider people ‘anxious’ when the pain they are experiencing in advance is disproportionate to the actual risks their furute presents.
“There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
Your anxiety is as useful as it is actionable.
If you can’t do anything to address a concern, there is zero gain in accepting preliminary pain on your future self’s behalf.
You’ll have to deal with it when your future self arrives at the worrying destination, so what sense is there in experiencing the pain twice?
Getting stuck empathising with future you is dangerous because this process feeds upons itself.
Once painful worrying becomes a habit, you might find yourself worrying about the worrying.
All of a sudden, your introspective empathy has turned toxic, and you’re so caught up inside yourself that you can barely muster the energy to look out.