Most often, being your own worst enemy is a far more subtle thing. You’re in line for a promotion you’ve worked toward for years, and suddenly find you can’t get to work on time. Or you start losing your temper in meetings with higher-ups where cool is the rule. Or you somehow misplace the data for a client presentation that could make or break your team. Or maybe you haven’t made any obvious blunders, but you haven’t been doing your best work for quite a while now, and you don’t know why.

Any of these examples may share a common cause: fear of success. The dread of doing well in life is rooted deep in the unconscious. Nobody deliberately sets out to wreck his or her own career. And people are so adept at rationalizing their own mistakes, or misinterpreting those of others, that fear of success can be hard to distinguish from incompetence, arrogance, inattention, burnout, or any of the 101 other gremlins that can send a career into a tailspin.

If you suffer from a bewildering pattern of self-defeating mistakes, try these five steps first:

Finish the sentence: “I am…” Sit quietly with a pencil and a piece of paper (or a laptop, or whatever makes you the most relaxed) and describe yourself. Take as long as you need but write quickly, without stopping to edit or censor yourself. Say everything that comes to mind. When you finish, look at what you’ve written. Cross out all the statements of fact (“I live in Michigan,” “I have blue eyes”) and think hard about what’s left. If you showed your description to someone who knows and likes you, what would that person say? Is your description accurate? If parts of it aren’t, where did the inaccurate notions come from? Is someone else’s voice–a parent’s, a teacher’s, a bullying teammate’s–coming through? Whose voice is it? Why are you listening to it now?

Recognize that you have a problem–and that you can do a lot to solve it. Most people sweep a lot of pain under the proverbial rug. Just accepting that you have a problem that needs to be dealt with is, if not half the battle, at least a good start. Be on the alert for negative thoughts (“I’m not as good as people think I am,” “I’m not going to get what I want…”). The more you beat yourself up, the worse things are likely to get. All this moral masochism feeds directly into the unconscious, and there is no filter there to stop it. Corny or not, positive thinking does have power. Remember Henry Ford’s dictum: “If you think you can’t, you’re right. If you think you can, you’re right.”

Enlist a buddy- Try to get help from a trusted colleague (even a boss) who will warn you when you seem ripe to repeat a self-destructive pattern at work. Says therapist Lenora Yuen: “Sometimes just interrupting the behavior will stop it. It ceases to be an automatic routine.” Mentoring, in vogue at lots of big companies, serves at least two vital functions for the success-phobic: It provides this kind of benevolent lookout, and it offers people a dose of the encouragement and support they never got as kids. In some careers that can make all the difference. Yours may be one of them.

Think about your family as honestly as you can - We’re talking about your birth family, the one that shaped, for better or worse, how you probably define yourself now. What was your role there? Does it still fit? This can be painful, and you may have to tell certain people–either in your head or in the strident flesh–to back off.

Take a risk - What do you really want in life? Think hard about the answer, and as a certain sneaker company says, just do it.

In conclusion, a phenomenon as complex as fear of success can be overcome by parlaying all the resources discussed. But the psychologists are unanimous on one point. Among business people, who as a group tend to be smart, pragmatic, and determined, the cure rate is quite high for those willing to do some harrowing work on their psychological insides.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Ken Odiwé is the Founder and CEO of Waterstone Management, a boutique consulting firm helping entrepreneurs and companies reach their peak performance. He is also the founder of ‘The Entrepreneur Success Institute’. Dr. Ken is on a mission to share the secrets of The New American Millionaires with as many people as possible, so that they can experience the transformation that comes with increased wealth.