As a human being, you're a walking contradiction. Sure, success sounds good. But you're pulled between the opposing forces of security and stimulation. Freedom and commitment.

However, you don't know how to balance them. And your brain fights your attempts to make your life better. So you give up the idea of ever getting what you want. Instead of enjoying fulfilling successes, you clutch security with white-knuckled desperation.

Recent discoveries in how your brain functions can help you turn the situation around. You can make peace with your biology, harnessing its mighty power to build your confidence and finally attain that elusive desire you call success.

Changing anything in your life requires you to move from your current situation to a new one. You'll have to let go of the old way of being and accept a new way of being. But the strong human desire to avoid humiliation—at all cost—holds you back. But the cost is way too high.

Fear is a perverse way to avoid to suffering humiliation. Would you really rather see yourself as a non-tryer to avoid being perceived as a loser? Settling for mediocrity is untenable. I've watched many people settle for less than their heart's desire. None of them have ever found fulfillment in their mediocrity, and many are honest enough to admit they regret not going after their passion.

Being mediocre is an unnatural attempt to deny the very thing you're searching for: the opportunity to be free to be yourself and share your talents in a way that's meaningful to you. Your unique passion drives you to create your life as you want it to be. Then why does your neurobiology seem to be wired to avoid it?

Let's explore the reasons you might fear success, the brain biology that drives your fear and how you can re-program your brain to be your lackey, seeking success with wild abandon.

While there are probably dozens, if not hundreds of variations on the basic themes of why humans fear success, I've tried to boil them down to these:

Reason #1: Success brings heavy responsibility with it. You'd lose your sense of privacy. Every action would be scrutinized; every imperfection, criticized.

And the stakes could go higher than just the guilt and embarrassment you'd suffer if your attempt didn't pay off (which is scary enough). Beyond your personal losses, you could potentially take down an entire group of people with you, impacting their finances and damaging their reputations, too. That level of guilt would feel unbearable. Unsurmountable.

Reason #2: There are hidden, unknowable, uncontrollable aspects of success. You'll hear successful people say that there's more to their success than the outward actions. And part of their inward journey was outside their conscious awareness. They can't tell you exactly how they did it.

They'll also acknowledge there were times when things just seemed to “break their way.” These were parts of the process that they couldn't control. It's tough take a calculated risk, but how can you pin your dreams on the hope that you'll get a break when you need one? It takes titanium cajones to stay the course when you can't nail down every single board in advance.

Reason #3: Success is lonely. You're in the front of the pack. Nobody to follow and nowhere to go. No peers closeby. The co-workers you comfortably commiserate with now would no longer be as good a fit.

Reason #4: Maintaining success is even harder than getting there. The kudos you get for nailing it one time won't last your whole life. People will expect more of you. You'll have to keep the ball rolling, and eventually, produce an even bigger success. And another. And another.

And if you can't, you'll become the stereotypical one hit wonder. Losing the momentum of your success, you'll slide slowly, painfully, into an abyss of obscurity and humiliation. Sheesh! Who wants that?

Reason #5: After succeeding, the drive to succeed will be lost. When striving for your dream makes you feel so alive, when you build your life around this drive for so many years, how can the acquisition of anything match it? Without the drive to achieve, you'll be adrift. Rudderless. No sense of purpose.

Reason #6: You'll be punished if you're successful. If you feel you don't deserve success, you'll have to pay the piper. And the price will be steep. You'll lose the love and respect of friends, family, your beloved, your children—basically, everyone that makes life worth living.

Reason #7: Success will change you in ways you won't like. The siren song of success will lead you to crash on the rocks, losing your precious identity.

Only greedy, dishonest people will do whatever it takes (and they perpetrate all manner of harm as they remorselessly claw their way to the top) to be successful. All they do is work; they give up their personal life in their quest to reach the top faster. Why do you fear morphing into Ebenezer Scrooge when you have more in common with Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey?

Reason #8: Success will change how others perceive you. This happens when your success is tied to your perception of who you are as a person. Many equate success with perfection or egotism. Thus, if you're not perfect, you'll be exposed as an imposter. And others might think that you think you're perfect, superior to them.

The comment posted last week by Jane is one example of how this plays out: If I'm too perfect; I won't be accepted. I don't want to be perceived as "better than". So when things are really going right in my business, I sabotage myself by eating. That way I can say, "Oh yes, I'm successful, but do you see how overweight I am?" How crazy is that?

Reason #9: Success attracts predators. Opportunists will swoop in, grabbing everything you've worked so hard for, then leave you with nothing. And you'll look stupid because you didn't see it coming. Not having it at all is preferable to having it, then losing it. So why even try?

Your Brain's Secrets Revealed

Specifically, let's apply some recently decoded secrets about brain function to 3 of the fears of success listed in last week's post.

• Fears about the leadership aspect of success. A leader holds tight to their vision of how things could be. A leader trusts their intuition about what they want to create and how they're going to do it. But it's scary to be at the front of the pack, because you're asking others (or at least, yourself) to follow you before there's any physical evidence to justify your path.

BRAIN SECRET: An MRI of your brain would show a specific spot light up when your intuition activates. Those “gut feelings” really are connected directly to your “logical” brain. And your brain jumps all over it. Bonus Biological aspect: Preemptive perception, which means that your brain spots tons of information and makes connections long before you consciously register it (a la Malcolm Gladwell's brilliant book, Blink).

Rather than dismissing your intuition as silly or ungrounded in reality, practice trusting it and finding ways to act on it quickly. Even the tiniest action on a hunch builds your power.

• Fears and anxiety about the hidden, unknowable, uncontrollable aspects of success.

BRAIN SECRET: When you're in a constant state of anticipatory anxiety, your teensy, reptilian-brained amygdala trumps higher brain functions (like planning and acting). In its hyper-anxious state, the amygdala monitors your environment for any evidence of uncertainty. Consequently, activity in the executive and action centers of your brain decreases. Anxiety prevents inspired action, which effectively blocks you from being successful.

To forestall the hyperfunction of the amygdala, don't focus on the uncertain part the future that's beyond your control (like where the economy is going). Instead, limit your long-term planning to things you can control. Then return your attention to the present, taking the best small action you can think of right now.

• Fear of losing the drive to succeed once success is attained. Trust me, and trust yourself: there's never a lack of inspiring ideas. Quite the contrary, actually. The more action you take in pursuit of your desires, the more you'll be inspired.

One of the greatest joys in life is the freedom you feel when you take all the restrictions off your consciousness and swim in the ocean of infinite creative potential. Just keep looking deep inside yourself and warm your hands by the brightly burning fire of your passion.

BRAIN SECRET: Thinking about something you desire locks your mind in a state of intense concentration. This level of concentration focuses your brain activity in the planning and action centers (in the prefrontal cortex). Thus, the amygdala is essentially offline. Silent.

We feel most alive when we're striving for something we really want. Early on in adulthood, we realize that the fleeting happiness we feel when we reach a goal is very different from the bliss of striving. When you stretch yourself and hit the mark, you'll discover that the most fulfilling goal isn't always the one you set for yourself. Sometimes, it's the one that reveals itself in the journey to where your goal takes you.

• Success will change how others perceive you.

BRAIN SECRET: Remember, the primary motivation of the amygdala is to avoid vulnerability, which responds with the Monty Python-esque, “Run away!” Your amygdala kicks into overdrive at the very thought of being judged negatively by family and friends (most of whom are too scared to go after their success, either).

One of the most uncomfortable aspects of self-growth is when you grow faster than your loved ones. The keys are to trust that you know the truth about yourself, and to understand when others are responding from insecurity. Their negative judgment of you reveals their inability to see your growth and their incapacity to embrace their own success. Take comfort in knowing that you're modeling healthy growth. You're showing them what true success looks like.

• You'll be punished if you're successful. In this case, success is equated with taking more than your fair share.

BRAIN SECRET: From an evolutionary standpoint, each member of a human clan (and later, village) knew that their survival was linked to the survival of the clan. So food was shared for the sake of survival (and also affection). Accordingly, anyone eating more than their share threatened the survival of the group. After thousands of generations, the thought “share and share alike” became programmed into our DNA.

The practice of overconsumption was discouraged for practical reasons. Those reasons no longer exist, but the programming persists. And like other echoes of primitive behavior, we have the option to choose new thoughts that match our modern lifestyle.

Today, there's plenty to go around. And depriving yourself of success doesn't leave more success for someone else. The opposite is true. When you're successful, you can give a “hand up” to others.

• Maintaining success is even harder than getting there. Not long after you buy the cool car or new house, you'll begin to feel restless. If, in the heat of the moment of success, you spend too much too fast, you'll find yourself struggling again. Why does the high you feel when you attain success fade so quickly?

BRAIN SECRET: When you feel successful, the reward centers in your brain will flood your body with endorphins, a natural form of heroin. And like a drug addict, over time, you'll need a bigger stimulus to get the same effect. Humans adapt quickly to all kinds of changes in our environment. Thus, your improved financial state becomes the new normal state.

When impulsive spending kicks in, you've stopped thinking; you're just chasing the high. The key to controlling the urge for instant gratification is to see your current achievements in a broader context. Take as much time as you need, as often as you need it, to create a clear picture of what you're doing and where you're ultimately going with all of this.

• Success attracts ne'er-do-wells that will try to take everything away from you. You'll become a target.

BRAIN SECRET: This fear triggers your amygdala, but for a different reason than the previous fears. You see, the amygdala is the home of the fight/flight response. Throughout the evolution of our species, we'd attract unwanted attention from predators if we killed a large animal. Your brain is wired to avoid unnecessary fights, so it makes sense to avoid those wolves in sheep's clothing that smell your success.

This fear reveals your Achille's heel: you don't trust yourself. Do you trust your ability to choose friends of strong character, with good intentions? Take the bull's eye off your back and drop the paranoia. Allow new friends to earn your trust incrementally. Eyes wide open. Trust your ability spot behavioral indicators of either trustworthiness or dishonesty.

• Success will change you in ways you won't like.

BRAIN SECRET: For the past 2.5 million years, we've noticed that gaining power (possessions or position) sometimes led to mistreatment of others.

This fear also stems from weak self-trust. Do you trust your ability to hold true to your values? When the stakes are high, are you strong enough to make the tough choice and stick with it? Again, as you adapt to each success, consciously integrate your values into your lifestyle. Think Bill Gates, not Bernie Madoff.

• Success is lonely.

BRAIN SECRET: Evolutionarily, solitary humans were the least likely to thrive. Thus, your brain is hardwired to feel more comfortable in community with others. Accordingly, your amygdala sends stress signals when you contemplate feeling alone or lonely.

Again, being alone no longer hastens your death. So instead of focusing on loneliness, think about the stimulating people you'll meet and the new experiences that will accompany your success.

Understanding the biological basis of your fears helps you shift your focus from avoiding the unwanted to going after what you want. You effectively take the amygdala offline, instead activating the higher brain functions of planning and executing the activities that will lead to your success.

Today's Coaching Question: After reading this series of posts, what's been your biggest shift in thinking about success?

Author's Bio: 

Judy Widener is a Certified Life Coach and author of Power For A Lifetime: Tools You Customize to Build Your Personal Power Every Day Of Your Life. You can download two chapters of her book at no cost at Her passion is assisting her clients to discover what is most important to them, then to create more balance and satisfaction in their lives. She has developed a comprehensive program of simple techniques to build your personal power and overcome obstacles to achieving your dreams. Judy has coached more than 600 people over the past 13 years. Her website is