Why We Get Triggered by Both Success and Failure

Katherine Ann Byam
Harnessing the Courage to lead
4 min readAug 14, 2020


… And what to do about it.

Fear by any other name is still just fear.

We’ve managed to incubate new labels for fear, self-diagnosing ourselves with a mental disease, then disabling ourselves with it: also known as the imposter syndrome.

Success triggers fear and causes us to do strange things because we fear failing later on. It’s as if its not acceptable for us to enjoy the present moment, we constantly scan the future for signs of peril.

Fear of failure triggers defensive behaviours because we’ve forgotten how to be curious, experimental, and exploratory with ourselves and our own learning journeys.

We constantly compare ourselves to others, make our own judgements of whether or not we are good enough, and then we look for clues in every thing and every one around us to prove that we are right. If we did this with positive self images, it has way less damage than when we do it negatively. When we find the proof we are looking for, the statement becomes truth and a self fulfilling prophecy.

I’m not being blasé about mental illness. I can identify many moments where I’ve felt like an imposter. I can even pinpoint the moments when it’s at its worst; the first 5 minutes of any public speech or talk.

The point is not to disavow the existence of the feeling that inhibits us, the idea is to rebrand it, so we can use it as a tool to empower us instead.

The key to managing fear is to channel it. The fear response is a basic survival instinct for our species, so we are going to continue to feel it all our lives. If we learn to channel that fear differently; however, we may find that there are other use cases that we haven’t yet explored.

The Fear word fairies.

Words matter, as well as the tone in which they are spoken. If you can re-associate the words you use for fear from terms that limit you, to words that empower you, you may begin to feel differently about it.
The word fear usually hangs out with the words doubt, failure, frustration. How about if we associated the word with excitement, energy, and growth? How differently can we regard it then?

Fear is triggered.

We have over time accumulated trigger stimuli and responses that invoke fear when experienced. Some of these are useful. When you hear a car horn, it’s probably worthwhile to get back on the pavement, or when you hear a dog growling behind you, it’s likely useful to get ready to kick and or run. But there are other triggers where a fear response isn’t helpful.

For example, for an introvert, being introduced to a group of people. It definitely triggers fear, but I’d argue that none of those new people will either bite or kill you, so in this situation, the response may be less useful. I’m an ambivert myself, so I have had occasions when this type of introduction gets under my skin too.

The action here is to recognise the trigger and train yourself to have a different response. Example, if your fear is meeting new people in groups, then maybe be proactive and introduce yourself to people one to one before the mob comes. Or, if you have to meet a group, pick one person to make eye contact with, and direct your first question at them.

If your trigger is speaking in public, then make speaking in public a subject to study. Treat it like a science; something methodical you can learn. Use your fear to drive acknowledgement, recognition, and action.

Fear means growth.

If you are not feeling fear, you’ve been in one place for too long. This applies to every aspect of your life. Fear suggests you are moving beyond your comfort zone. As you move beyond the edges of that zone, repeated action has the impact of expanding your comfort zone. Treat fear as a signal that you are about to become an even greater person.

The human brain allows us to circumvent some natural laws if we train it to. Newton’s third law; Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction, doesn’t have to apply to our thoughts, although our survival brain has become used to responding in the same way given certain stimuli.

Train your mind to react in more uplifting ways for you, based on the familiar fear stimuli you face every day. Then you may find that your growth is unlimited.

If you are looking at stepping into your courage, come join me in my masterclass here.



Katherine Ann Byam
Harnessing the Courage to lead

Author, activist, coach and consultant for innovation and sustainable change. She’s the founder of Dieple Consulting & Where Ideas Launch.