Is Fear Stealing Your Success?

Use fear to propel yourself forward, rather than get into self-sabotage mode.

Written by Sandja Brügmann, CEO Refresh Agency & The Passion Institute

When we think of fear, more often than not, we view it as an emotion we’d rather avoid altogether. It is a feeling that can be so paralyzing and scary that it automatically triggers our instincts to survive – often times entirely subconsciously. Unfortunately, this can surface behaviors that are not in alignment with moving us towards our dreams and business success. As long as we allow our fear triggers to drive us, we are permitting our own automatic, reactive behavior to sabotage our very dreams. So how do we change our perspective on fear and work with it to our advantage instead?

Entrepreneurs and business executives are constantly immersed in situations that can be fear inducing – navigating unpredictable, chaotic situations, taking on large responsibilities and budgets, dealing with investors breathing down their necks, disgruntled employees that may be working hard for little financial gain, and more. Yet, as an entrepreneur or business executive, dealing with these kinds of daily breakdowns and, at times, frightening situations requires a higher level of resourcefulness, foresight, calm and cool.

Fear is a natural human emotion, and we all experience it. What separates the people who successfully get into the driver’s seat of their lives from the ones who do not is inner work, which includes learning how to cope with and take control of certain fears. This requires self-awareness, will power, perseverance, resiliency and a large dose of courage. Entrepreneurial pursuits are not for the faint of heart. This is why I help executives and entrepreneurs as a Business Advisor, and developed the interactive live and virtual Conscious Leadership training program – a 6 week eCourse attracting an international cohort of change-makers and truth-seekers, who want to continue to grow and learn inner and outer authentic leadership skills so they can take the reins of their business lives fueled by passion and purpose, hungry to serve the world with their skills and leaving a positive impact and mark on the world – while making good money.

When talking about taking control of fear, it’s important to understand that the goal is not to get rid of it all together, as that might never happen. Instead, our goal is to see fear differently, and to learn to act from our inner willpower instead of succumbing to fear. In Sir Richard Branson’s words, “Fear is wetting your pants. Courage is operating with wet pants.” Said a bit more eloquently by Nelson Mandela in a favorite quote of mine.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the forward movement despite it.” – Nelson Mandela

Changing Your Perception of Fear

What if I told you that your fear is a gift? Through tension and pain we can create depth. Without it we live a shallow life. Our fear has the ability to show us our growing edge, the place where we begin to become our more authentic selves. When we see fear this way, we can approach it from a place of curiosity, and maybe even gratitude. Pair that with a dose of faith that the universe is ultimately a good place, and while it not be immediately apparent, have faith in the process and the fact that it will all make sense one day.

Reacting to Fear

When faced with fear, most people react to it in three ways: Fight, Flight and Freeze. While these types of reactions are instinctual, they can also lead people to unknowingly living their lives in the shadows of their fears – which can ultimately, start to drive all of their decisions. I don’t want that to be you. The following steps can help you avoid falling into this trap:

  1. Accept Every Situation as if You Had Chosen It

A common situation in entrepreneur and business leader land is that something happens, and it’s either not what you wanted or not what you planned for. The most self-loving way to handle this, for both yourself and your team, is to ‘Accept every situation as if you had chosen it’ – Eckhart Tolle. By being fully in acceptance you by-pass emotional resistance, including fear.

  1. Resourceful Problem Solver

In this context, resourcefulness doesn’t mean the measure of monetary wealth, but rather, how creatively you work with what you have. How do you tap into your network and activate your thinking to creativity solve situations and relationships from a non-conventional standpoint.

It’s not the lack of resources, it’s your lack of resourcefulness that stops you. – Tony Robbins

  1. Resiliency and Seeing the Good in Criticism

Know that if you are really up to something new, the conventional thinkers will try to shoot you down. Why? Because you are challenging the status quo and bringing up their fear – and possibly, their shame. With this framing, you can gauge your success by how much criticism you receive. Steve Demos, a pioneer in the natural products industry in the U.S., founder of White Wave and GoodBelly, and a previous client of mine, and my current business advisor, expresses it this way: “You know an entrepreneur not by his successes, but by the person who has the most arrows in his front from those opposing change.”

  1. Redefining Failure

Everything has to do with how we perceive a situation. Let’s make fear of failure work for us, not against us. Rather than seeing failure as the opposite of success, to me, failure is to stay small and not take the risk to get out of our comfort zone.

outside zone of comfort 

  1. Stay Unattached and Be in Control of Your Thinking

When something “bad” happens, and we attribute a negative meaning to it about ourselves, this is an example of a downward spiral. To avoid this, learn to control your thinking. For example, no one likes to hear a ‘no’ from a potential client or investor; however, if it happens, it doesn’t mean that your project sucks, that your idea isn’t a good one. At the end of the day, it probably has nothing to do with you as a person, so don’t make it about you. Don’t overanalyze it. Stay focused on your long-term goal and stay on your path to make that happen. No one person has the power to be your one piece to success and happily ever after. Instead, think about what your next move will be to achieve your goal.

  1. Stay at the Center of the Storm

At the center of the storm is calm. Find your steady and centered place within yourself, and stay here as much as possible. This is a place of self-confidence, and in it lies a commitment to your longer-term goal versus the short-term ups and downs of business and life. If your well-being, peace and happiness depend on external factors, your level of stress will be too high to successfully stay on the entrepreneurial path for very long. Staying unattached to external events allows you to stay the course feeling calm and de-stressed. You’ll be able to make decisions for a larger good instead of just short-term relief of stress or fear.

  1. Fear of Success

Fear of failure is the easy part. The real big fears show up when it’s time for success. Why? Because achieving success means being able to fully express ourselves and expose the things we desire most – and this brings up a lot of shame and fear for many people. It’s not something to take lightly, however, as it touches on our worth and shows up in our level of comfort when it comes to receiving.

To avoid this type of roadblock, practice the art of receiving. If you are first starting out, this might be a simple as a compliment. Receive it fully. Allow it to reach you. And you build from here.

  1. Surround Yourself With Like-Minded People

Prioritize building a community around you of people who think, behave, and see the world in much the same way you do – and more importantly, who believe in you. Your network = Your net worth.

Of course, there are times when we experience fear, which alerts us to situations for a good and real reason. This is a healthy instinctual response, and it’s important to listen to that type of fear.


Fear as Your Doorway to Success

With courageousness as your main buddy, as well as using the steps and processes outlined below – all of which are inspired by my work from The Fourth Way, Shadow Work and Authentic Leadership Skills – you can begin making fear your biggest ally to success. *This is not in place of professional help.

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

So let’s get started with the Process of Transformation Technique!

Be a Goal Digger

Your goal to take control of your feelings, actions and inner voice has to fire you up so much that you’ll do the work it takes to get there. It is difficult to go through this process alone. Successful leaders are conscious of their goal and long-term vision, and they frequently bring expert advisors in to help them with goal and vision processes. They stay focused on taking action on their goals, because they know that dreams, thoughts, desires, feelings and hopes are not going to create their business success, only taking new action will do that.

Self-Observation: Don’t Judge the Observer

Self-observation is the first step in the process. Observe yourself, like you are an outsider looking in at your self. Observe your behaviors during fear triggers: What do you say? How you react? Do not place any judgments on what you observe. This can be a challenge initially, especially if your inner critical voice rains free. You need to first get to know yourself on a deeper level, before you can create change.

“Self-observation is training in creating an objective perspective. It is not about judging anything. It is about seeing, which eventually leads to understanding, and then to compassion for others as we recognize our condition.” – Maurice Nicoll, The Fourth Way.

Self-Awareness and Shame Triggers

Get to know your ‘automatic’ fear responses and begin to recognize and understand how these responses are not only hurting you, but also how they are effecting others. This is not easy to do. In fact, one of the hardest things to see and admit to ourselves is who we are really being. Similarly, the biggest lie we tell others and ourselves is, ‘This is who I am,’ as if what we are, is a fixed and unchangeable personality. That’s not true. In reality, we are made up of not one, but many sub-personalities (what we in The Fourth Way teachings call ’I’s). Start to become familiar with all of you – the good parts, as well as those that could be improved upon – and remember not to judge any of it. This is your gateway to growth, change and to making a conscious choice to act from a place of power and override your fear defense behavior.

“The biggest obstacle to increasing your self-awareness is the tendency to avoid the discomfort that comes from seeing yourself as you really are.” ― Travis Bradberry, Emotional Intelligence 2.0

Daily Mantra – Words to Live By

A mantra is a sentence of words that you create that fits your process and that drives you towards your desired goal. Repeating your mantra with your inner voice on a daily basis is an awareness-building tool that can help you rise above your usual fear responses. Example of mantras include:

  • Help me to stay centered when I experience fear.
  • Help me to not react from fear, but gain my composure so I can respond proactively.

As you repeat your one sentence mantra to help with your fear reactivity, this becomes top of mind. It’s important to remember that this is not an overnight process, and that you will most likely not catch yourself in your fear responses right away. It does require your commitment, time and dedication, so have patience with yourself.

“With the right methods and efforts, a man can acquire control of
consciousness and can become conscious of himself with all that it implies.
And what this implies, we in our present state, can not even imagine.” — P. D. Ouspensky

New Considered Action

As you observe yourself, and increase your inner emotional intelligence, you’ll start to be able to take charge of your responses and your emotional reactivity will become a thing of the past. You need to take new action in order to make this happen, however.

How would it best serve your goals to behave when you feel fear?

Make a plan of action. Get the help you need. Take new and proactively-considered action. Self-actualization is the highest human purpose of all, according to the classical psychological framework for human motivation, Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs. We cannot begin our work on this level, the thriving level, until our survival needs are met. Fulfilling our personal potential is a lifetime process of growth.


**Inc Magazine published a portion of this article under the title: Want to be more confident? 9 ways to overcome your own fears. You can read it here.



SANDJA BRÜGMANN is a serial entrepreneur, international speaker and sustainable communications & marketing expert with a passion for conscious leadership. Sandja is strategic advisor to visionary business leaders and entrepreneurs around the world helping people manifest a passion-filled and on purpose business that makes a positive difference to people, planet and profits. She has worked with the global business community to create sustainable & social-good change for the past 15 years. She is a certified yoga teacher, former Danish national archery champion and Olympic hopeful, a certified Shadow Facilitator and health food advocate. Founder/CEO of Refresh Agency and The Passion Institute. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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