3 Types of Fear That May Be Keeping You from Getting Fit (and How to Overcome Them)

Transform Fear Into ActionThis is a guest post from Tracy Barksdale co-founder of True Nature Training and presenter at the inaugural PrimalCon Austin.

We face fear daily. Maybe you’re afraid to ask your boss for that pay raise, or maybe you’re making a big life decision. But a not so obvious way fear may be creeping into your life to sabotage your efforts for a healthier lifestyle is in your movement. Whether you’re wanting to begin a new fitness routine or are a seasoned mover, it’s worth your time to evaluate how fear could be preventing you from reaching your full potential. Confronting that fear can help you reach your goals and bring you to the next level of your training. Let’s look at some common fears that could be preventing you from getting and staying active.

Fear of Failure

Remember when you were a kid, and you felt invincible? You would try almost anything, and if you failed, you would bounce back up without blinking twice. Somewhere along the way, most of us lost a great deal of that resilience and have become scared to move!

What if we fail at something we thought we would be able to do? Failure has a bad reputation. Everyone fails, yet we are all afraid of it.

Does this inner dialogue sound familiar to anyone?

“I should really be able to do a push up…I know I used to do lots of push ups, but now I don’t think I can do any. I don’t want to fail, so I don’t want to try. I’d rather do something else.”

This is a thought process called self-handicapping. I have to admit, this one gets me. I practice Parkour and natural movement which both contain some scary skills. When I am placed in a situation where I am surrounded by practitioners who are much more experienced than I am, my first reaction is to go into self-preservation mode, so I can avoid revealing that I may not be able to do something. Since becoming aware of this behavior pattern, I can more easily recognize when I am doing it, confront it, drop the ego, and try! It is amazing how much you can accomplish when you get out of your own way.

Take Action: The key here is letting go of the ego, and developing a playful and positive attitude. Robert Allen reminds us that “There is no failure. Only feedback.” So feedback, then, will always be a part of everyone’s life in some way. You have to choose to accept this feedback as a part of the human condition. You have to start somewhere. Wherever you are, it’s okay. Take charge of your path of improvement. When you do this, you will surprise yourself with how much room for success you create.

Fear of Judgement

Let’s be honest. To some of the general population, some of the primal movements can seem strange and even child-like. (Little do they know, kids have had it right the whole time!) Climbing a tree, or rolling in the grass can be viewed as activities for kids, and adults should act like adults, not kids. I suppose that means contained in their cubicles, and not free in trees. But what is more natural than crawling in some grass, lifting logs and jumping on rocks?

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we all seek acceptance from our communities. It’s common to fear rejection from your peers if you are doing something outside of the box, and outside of the general population’s scope of what working out should look like.

Take Action: A remedy for this fear is working out/playing with a group of people. Starting a MeetUp group is an excellent way to find others interested in joining in on some primal playouts. Schedule group hikes, bring in local primal fitness experts, or get together a game of Ultimate Frisbee with your group. You might draw more attention with a larger group, but now you have the validation of an entire group of people with you. You also develop a stronger community, which in turn helps spread the word of living a Primal lifestyle. People may judge, but in the grand scope of things, you are working towards lifelong health and that trumps any judgment others may have.

Fear of Injury

Sometimes a movement can literally just be scary. The fear of going for that tall box jump, balancing high off the ground, or going for that huge lift can be a scary experience. No one wants injury, and when going into unknown territory, well…the outcome is unknown. To quote Daniel Ilabaca: “If you’re afraid to fall, you fall because you’re afraid.” If you approach a task with fear, you are preparing to fall instead of preparing to succeed. Expectations are extremely powerful. Predicting that you are going to drop the weight makes you much more likely to make that come true.

Avoid creating self-fulfilling prophecies by becoming mindful. Meditate regularly, and when you are preparing to try something new, take some deep breaths, imagine yourself succeeding, and stay focused. This mindfulness can greatly help you avoid injury.

Take Action: Progress skills properly. For example, precision jumps can be scary, yet when progressed correctly, are a great skill to practice. Begin by grabbing a couple of 2x4s and set them parallel to each other with only a foot or two distance. Practice jumping between the two and landing on the balls of your feet and absorbing through your legs to make a quiet landing. As you get comfortable with the distance, you can increase the distance between the 2×4’s. As the distance to your landing increases, the more important it is to have a parabolic jump. This means your jump’s path through the air should be rainbow shaped versus too horizontal. Not having this parabolic motion can cause an unstable landing surface to slip beneath your feet.

Precision Jump Technique

Another way to prevent injury is to have an exit strategy. What happens if mid-jump you discover you aren’t going to make it? How are you going to land? How far will you fall? How will you stop your momentum safely? Try your exit strategy before going for the actual skill. Then when you really go for it, you know how to bail out of it if you aren’t quite there yet. Practicing this exit strategy will take away some of that fear of injury.

The Take-Away

The good news is that the more often you face your fears, the better you will become at recognizing when fear is present, and knowing how to breeze past it. Starting is always the hardest part, and seeking help from those in your community is an excellent way to start. If you are looking for a place to start, you can look towards MeetUp groups, or even come join us for PrimalCon Austin this June to meet a group of welcoming and trusting people to kick start your Primal lifestyle efforts again! You will meet so many interesting presenters and attendees you will leave feeling energized and motivated to face your fears and find freedom of movement again. I will be there, and hope to see you there!

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71 thoughts on “3 Types of Fear That May Be Keeping You from Getting Fit (and How to Overcome Them)”

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  1. I have the desire to go rollerblading, I’m afraid of falling,getting hurt.

    1. Oh wow you seriously took me back with that comment! My older sister and I would go rollerblading everyday after school and on weekends we would rollerblade with a friend, we could go for hours seriously!

      Uhhh I seriously want to rollerblade now!

      1. Oooh. I haven’t been rollerblading in ages!
        I should probably wait until I am not 36 weeks pregnant to try skating again for the first time in years. 🙂

    2. Im looking to join the roller derby team. Im 43 and would probably be one of the oldest people out there!

      Go for it! So you fall….. You could fall down a flight of stairs and die…. I doubt you’re no longer going to use stairs over that. Just get the proper protective gear and GO!! 😉

      1. I joined a roller derby team last year and it has honestly been the most amazing thing in my life and one of my proudest moments!!! The best way to fight fear is to face it. Having an alter ego to channel through definitely helps 🙂
        By the way, most of the women I skate with are 40+, so if anything, I am a minority at 24!
        I say DO IT!
        -Cosmic Rae #360 (Niagara Roller Girls, Ontario Canada)

  2. Great post Tracy!! 🙂 As a newbie to primal (day 48 and counting) the below quote really hit home for me….“I should really be able to do a push up…I know I used to do lots of push ups, but now I don’t think I can do any. I don’t want to fail, so I don’t want to try. I’d rather do something else.” I have a fear of failure, which prevents me from really pushing myself. I haven’t tried most of the primal work out suggestions because of this fear. This post has re-motivated me to work on my inner dialogue and turn that negative self talk, into positive self talk. Thanks!! 🙂

    1. Interesting point Rebecca — I think that kind of “I don’t want to fail, so I won’t try” is a really important observation. IMHO that’s why people stay in comfortable but boring lives without trying to break out and do the stuff they’ve always wanted.

      In their head, the fear of failure is greater than the potential for success.

      That inner dialogue is scary sometimes

  3. Injury has never been a concern personally, fear of failure and judgement however or, more precisely, fear of being judged BECAUSE of failure has been a huge block in the past.

    I now find its best to either not fail or if that’s not possible enjoy your failure so immensely that judgement is no concern.

  4. What a great post, Tracy!

    What resonates most with me is the fear of injury. I have a lot of orthopedic issues that make the possibility of injury very real. I’ve taken a lot of time to figure out what the safest forms of movement are – for me. So I move happily and effectively every day, in one way or another (a combination of cycling and strength training).

    Here’s the thing. My uniqueness, I’ve realized, keeps me from wanting to work out in a group. Wherever I am, I have to do things a bit differently, – and I just don’t like being the one who’s scaling. Yes, I know – others might be scaling as well, and one should be O.K. with doing one’s own thing – yet the reality for me is that I just don’t like drawing attention to myself (notifying the instructor, skipping big parts of the activity, doing my modified version of it, etc.). I’m being honest here – I just don’t like it.

    Reading your paragraph about jumping, for example, reminded me of something that will never change for me – I can’t jump. If I tried, I’d risk undoing the excellent results of a very difficult surgery. Same with lifting heavy things over my head or hanging from a bar. I’d risk of undoing the excellent results of yet another surgery.

    It comes down to how I feel (too unique for the group) and things instructors say (that I should try anyway) and looks I get from people (yep, it happens) that keep me from doing group workouts. Which is kind of a bummer, because it means I’m missing out on something inherently fun.

    I’m wondering what you think of these things.

    Again, great post, Tracy. Thanks.

    1. Susan –

      I recently tried a Nia class – just to try something different. I love it & one of the things I love about it is that it’s ok not to follow the instructor exactly – they actually give you opportunities to do your own movements. There are women in my class that modify every movement and just make it their own. My friends are so in Zumba and do it just for fun – I tried it once and walked out in less than 20 minutes because I felt so uncoordinated, couldn’t get the moves, felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb (like you, I don’t like to draw attention to myself), etc. With Nia, it’s more about just moving and being comfortable in your own body – yes, I get an aerobic workout, which when I went Primal, I never thought I ‘d go to back an aerobics type class, but for me – this is fun and playful. If you’re interested in finding a group type class, you might want to check this out.

    2. As an old person with a trail of injuries, etc, your post, Susan, hit home with me. I felt exactly as you do when I’ve tried yoga, the only group physical activity I have tried in the recent past.

      Recently I have joined a Tai Chi class. This seems like something most anyone can do. I am really loving it and know it is something that I can do into really old age.

      1. Hey Carol – what’s your experience with tai chi?

        Did it help any problems you’ve had (i’m particularly interested in Arthritic-type stuff).

        Best ,

    3. Susan —

      Your uniqueness, as you put it, would probably be very inspirational to others in the class. Most of us in group workout situations are there because we are not elite athletes nor as physically fit as we were in our younger years. In my experience, the fact that you are willing to work through your limitations is what people will remember and judge rather than the fact that you can’t do what others can. Look for something that can be done at a slow pace and can easily be modified, like yoga, and before the class starts, let the instructor know your limitations. Most are consciencious about offering alternatives throughout the class without drawing attention to the person that needs the modifications.

      1. Thanks so much, Myra. That’s just it – having to go through that individualization of things in a group setting is what troubles me for some reason (talking to the instructor, mapping out alternatives, trying them, etc.). It’s just an icky feeling to me.

        I’m grateful for your good thoughts. The more I think about it, the more I see why I love my early morning solo bike rides. There nothing to explain, negotiate, take note of, or do based on someone’s input – however well intended. I just ride, and it’s beautiful. 🙂

  5. One of the reasons I love doing yoga is because it reminds me of being a kid when it was totally acceptable to just do a handstand or cartwheel for no reason. Since going primal I have been allowing myself to play and absolutely loving it. I drag my friends to the playground once a week for some swinging and pull-ups and have been known to do headstands for no other reason than the pure joy it brings me. When you stop caring what others think it opens your world to so many wonderful things.

  6. Fear of failure: a little bit of self-deprecation can get you through the embarrassment of not being able to do something, but don’t go overboard. Using this strategy reduces my anxiety.

    Fear of judgement: I weigh how much I want something against what it might mean to other people. Screw them, I’m going to run like a maniac down this street because I’m trying to learn technique!

    Fear of injury: Be cautious, but don’t let it stop you from trying.

  7. I’ve gone through some of this just this last month. I stopped riding my bicycle because of a constantly inflamed foot several years ago. After i went primal, my foot pain vanished within two weeks, but i still had the memory of that pain and the fear of injury holding me back. Hopped on my bike two weeks ago, and i’ve been going for regular rides through the park several times a week. Now that the pain is gone, all I get is the old joy of riding returning to me, along with the (good) sore leg muscles.

  8. “Predicting that you are going to drop the weight makes you much more likely to make that come true” — totally happened in my squats yesterday. Did 24 out of 25 — and on the last one I turned to husband and said, “you’re going to have to help me up from this one” and that’s exactly what happened. But I had done 24 up to that point, so I bet I could have done one more…Nice timing on this article, as always.

  9. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and be judged. Once you get past that fear/embarrassment you’ll find you can do lots of things.

    The other day I saw a guy dancing while punching a heavy bag. I’m taking spins, flutter kicks, and other random movements only seen on dance dance revolution. Eveyone stared and watched in awe/disbelief. But This dude was rocking it doing his own thing! People probably think I’m wierd doing handstands at the gym, oh well!

    1. One of the most amazingly random things I’ve seen was a guy doing Dance Dance Revolution on the highest setting — while juggling! The sweat was flying, but he was in his happy place and looking completely relaxed and blissful.

  10. I have a performance fear. I have NEVER shared my music with anyone because I am afraid that I will not meet their expectations. Perhaps they think I’m a lot better than I really am, and they will then know that for sure.

    I have missed and turned down so many opportunities to share music because of this. While not a physical ability, the stunting is rooted in the very same kind of fear.

    Thanks for sharing this article. Perhaps I should just go for it and screw what my family or friends think.

    1. I am an artist. I didn’t say I am a good artist. Some time ago, 40 or so years ago I think, I got over myself and just relaxed and put myself out there. I listen to criticism and accept compliments and sort them out to better myself. I will never be the best artist or famous or make any money at this but find the joy in the creative process and sharing my work with the public.

      So I say, go for it and share your gift. Don’t get too invested in what others think and have fun. You won’t regret it.

    2. Never ever pass up a chance to share your work! The worst that can happen is that someone tells you it’s just not their thing. Or they may have some really helpful constructive criticism and then you’ll improve your craft.

      You’re absolutely right about these fears applying to all aspects of life. As a writer, I’ve been posting chapters online of something I’ve been working on for a really long time. At first, I was terrified, but I’ve gotten both awesome compliments and some really helpful criticisms. Overall, it’s been a very positive experience and I’m so glad I went for it.

      Do it!

    3. Ahh the artist’s predicament!

      I won’t tell you anything you don’t already know…. but you never know until you try.

  11. I definitely used to get funny looks when I started doing PB fitness, especially the handstand push-ups. After a few times through that routine over a few weeks…no more looks.

  12. Nowadays everyone is recording everything. So while it’s nice to participate in activities/events, there’s a good chance your picture or an actual video of yourself doing whatever could make it onto the internet, unbeknownst to you. This has done wonders for Kim K. but certainly it’s not the path I choose for myself. This breeds a whole new fear animal in my opinion.

  13. I’ve been using my fear of injury as an excuse. Just a little over 2 years ago I started running with my dog and found that for the first time I really enjoyed it (I had tried running many times before). But soon, I had pain in my heel. I signed up for my first race and skipped right over the 5k and did the 8k with no problem. My next race, I could barely finish the 5k and had to walk part of it because I was in so much pain. I finally gave in and went for physical therapy and found that it was my achilles tendon – it was really inflamed – I ran too much way too fast. After a few months of therapy and painfully breaking down scar tissue I was released and given the OK to start running. It was at that point my therapist shared with me that had I not come in for therapy when I did, even if I never ran another day, my achilles tendon was so bad it would have ruptured at some point. I’ve tried running a few times – even bought a new pair of barefoot shoes (my therapist was really into barefoot running) – but even though I now know the correct way to build up distance over time, my fear of injury keeps me from doing it. I don’t even want to run long distance – I just so enjoyed running with my dog because it helped us bond & she LOVED it so much – she’s high energy and it helped to rid her of it. We walk together, but it’s not the same.

  14. Of the times that I’ve forced myself to do something I was initially afraid of (e.g. swimming with a masters team, trying a hot yoga class, etc.), I’ve come away from the experience feeling completely exhilirated!

    What’s that quote from Eleanor Roosevelt? “You must do the thing you cannot do.”

  15. Personally, I think the antidote to fear is the ability to laugh at oneself, knowing that if I can laugh at myself, I really don’t care what anyone else thinks about me. Empowering!

  16. Sometimes the higher brain just gets in the way, and the result is “analysis-paralysis”.

    Decide what you want to accomplish and draw up a plan, mental or otherwise. My husband, bless his engineer’s heart, swears by flow charts.

    Take the first step (the hardest), and then the next and then the next. No excuses. You will find that the more steps you take, the easier the steps get.

    Eventually, you will wonder why you ever had doubts and fears about that particular goal.

  17. The frear of judgment…..that is what has kept me from reaching continung to reach my goal. I started a year ago with my husband on our primal journey and I have been sitting tight afraid to lose the rest of my weight (10-15 pounds) and finish getting into shape. I’m working out again but reall need to overcome my frear of judgement and what others think. Thanks for a great post! Very helpful!

  18. Great article. Growing up I was the class wimp chosen last in PE. God gave this experience to humble me & at the same time make me relentless in athletic pursuits. I have never been the top of the class, unlimber, & gain muscle slowly. That being said, I am now 46 & my lifetime pursuits show. Yes compared to the gifted physical specimens I may lag, but I feel as if I have aged gracefully I’m comfortable doing almost anything. I had to wear a brace due to scoliosis growing up & my lower back is still quite crooked so I too have to be careful about injury & the type of exercises I do to avoid injury.
    Despite my staying active my children have inherited my wimpiness & struggle with being teased & don’t want people to see them do physical things. I expect them to just push thru it like I did, but they just aren’t. We also live in a small town & there’s not a variety of things to do in a group other than school sports. How should I encourage them to conquer their fears?

    1. The martial arts is a great way for kids to get exercise, discipline, drastically improve flexibility, movement and balance AND gain confidence and “toughen up” a little. Do some research and make the school is run by a certified, true practitioner and it is not a “strip mall store front churn out belts for money” operation.

      1. Thanks for your advise George. Our small community had an excellent Tae Kwon Do program & we had all earned our red black belts when our instructor moved. We had been involved for years & had forgone school sports for this great program. My kids were confident in martial arts but especially my boy who is very thin & unskilled with a ball has been teased brutally when trying to enter school sports.

  19. I have no fear of being active, I love walking doing aerobics, playing tennis, spinning and trying new activities within reason.
    But at work i find myself fearful, yes fear of failure but also fear of being embarrassed, you know of for example saying something ‘stupid’ or something during a meeting you know. And this kind of fear really holds me back career wise i think. Any suggestion is welcome…

    1. Gayle (don’t mean to be the spammer here today) years ago my wife, who is now a very successful manager, had the same issues. When she knew she had a meeting she would (over) prepare for it and force herself to make at least one contribution per meeting. As time went by she got more and more confident and became better even at impromptu talks. It’s basically the joke about the overnight success based on 15 years of hard work LOL.

  20. Im my experience (personally & with others), sometimes its less a fear of failure, and more a fear of feeling strong or powerful.

    Oddly enough, for some “strength and power” are loaded terms that have deep roots.

    1. Good point. The fear of success/power/strength is probably why some people repeatedly sabotage themselves, their careers, their relationships, etc.

      This form of fear is probably most visible in the worlds of entertainment and sports.

    2. By about year 3 or 4 in primary school I had already worked out that my place in any sporting endeavour was to be last. I became incredibly skilled at ensuring that was always true. By late primary school I was quite comfortable with volunteering to be soccer goalie, and just sitting down on the ground and watching the ball roll past me. The teachers would take me off the field before the other kids killed me. High school I only did alternative stuff, like interpretive dance.

      So maybe no surprise that when it comes to anything athletic, I just ‘know’ I can’t do it well. Heck, I love my yoga but I can’t do that pushup bit into updog during sun salutations.

      My heart is pounding and I am shaking at the mere contemplation of being good at something physical or having a go at something I ‘can’t do’. That is a very deep seated fear, and I don’t see anything in the articles suggested approaches that would change that.

  21. This is a great post and I love the comments. I feel inspired just hearing everyone’s stories. Also I think sometimes the fear of failure can be a great motivator.

  22. As someone who just turned 60 and has a reasonably high level of fitness, a director where I work kidded me today they were going to make me take a drug test to make sure I wasn’t taking any banned substances, I’ve *pretty much* learned that you need to push yourself and strive to improve BUT also don’t get macho. Don’t worry about what the person next to you is doing or let others convince you to do something (including your trainer if you have one) that you know will likely cause an injury and possibly “keep you out of the game” because you were trying to prove something. I’m much less worried about bulking up and more into balance, flexibility and stretching these days. Yes, I still do pull ups, push ups and leg work, but that is just one small part of the total equation.

  23. Fear of failure is the huge one here. Failure in this context means putting in alot of effort and failing to get the results you set out to achieve from it all. What has to be realise is you don’t fear failure at all. If you feared it, you would do everything in your power to get away from it and succeed. The truth is that you fear your success because of what it might bring you and the new challenges you will face. We’d rather stay comfortable than change. I know it seems strange, but that’s how it works!

  24. “The only failure is the failure to try.” This is the motto I live by and I have it engraved on every Apple device that I own: iPhone, ipad2, ipad mini. I’m happy to say that this motto has allowed me to work through a lot of my fears.

  25. My fear is being judged. Thats why I do not even walk into a gym. I think everyone is staring at me. Weird I know. lol!

  26. It’s funny…I’ve become super interested in strongman lifts and gymnastics recently…I can do the strongman stuff at the gym, but I was looking around to find a place that had adult gymnastics classes.

    The crazy part is I couldn’t find any places around that had ones! I actually, half jokingly, said to a friend, “I guess that most adults realize that failing on their head hurts.”

    When we are kids, we don’t necessarily worry about failing at doing a handstand and how “embarrassing it will be” or how much it will hurt if we do happen to fall on our head.

    We just do it. Now we let fear get in the way of doing a lot of fun and empowering things!!!

  27. I agree with you Mark. I believed even the most powerful person in this world, they experience fear. When we try to doubt,fear comes in. If we put our trust completely to God. fear will vanish away.

  28. I have that experience of fear especially at night when it’s getting dark and late and I walk by myself. What I’m afraid are the bad people around

  29. My teenaged kids have been a great inspiration for me to try out new things in spite of fear. I am always telling them to try new things and not let other people’s opinions influence them. I also want to be a positive example for them, so I will try things when they are around so they can see me operating outside of my comfort zone. I recently went to my first Zumba class with my daughter. I was uncoordinated and out of step but we had a great time and I will do it again. I am now working up the courage to skateboard with my son at the local skate park.

  30. What you see is what you get.So if you put it in your mind that you will fail,and go ahead and plan that exit strategy the post is talking about,that’s exactly what you will get-an INJURY.The best way to do it is fill your mind with positive thoughts.Thoughts that don’t see you failing.Make them pure,and this is where meditation comes in.I once learned a valuable lesson that I’ve never forgotten-if you want to succeed in anything,see yourself accomplish what it is you want to.Think from the end,and retrace your steps backwards to how you will achieve it.That way,it gets easier.
    Believing in God is not going to end your fears.That’s just what it is-a belief.It works with whoever chooses to go down that route,and most of the times it does not.It’s just people finding solace.The remedy for most fears is to face the fear itself head-on!It’s a business you want to start that you’ve been putting off for years?Go ahead,what’s the worst that could happen?Don’t go foolhardy though.Do your homework,things will get easier.

  31. Ooo! Thanks for this Mark! I had a fear of failure and a fear of injury ( I have injured myself badly during sports and other activities in the past) and have had a hard time losing the weight I have always wanted to.. I finally have gotten myself on a better schedule of staying active and fit… but this reminds me to keep myself in check!

  32. If you’re afraid of how others will judge you, just don’t do your unusual thing in front of them. I have my gear set up in a barn, where nobody can question me about why I’m doing pushups on sticks, or freak out when they see me doing FMA moves with a Ka-bar knife, or laugh at me when I unbalance on a snatch and fall on my butt! 🙂

  33. These three are indeed the biggest roadblocks to losing weight. Weight issues are often caused by fear of failure, judgement and injury. But sometimes it can also be because of denial, laziness and not caring what other people think. Many overweight persons nowadays don’t want to accept that they are having weight problems and do not want to make an effort of changing their lifestyle because they believe that it is difficult. Some would even justify their actions and say that “fat is the new thin” and believe that we all look beautiful no matter what size we have. I personally believe that the first step to getting fit is acceptance and the willingness to change. If one does these things, he will surely attain weight loss success.

  34. There seems to be a door between and fear and action. The more you go through that door fear slips away and replaced by confidence. That first time through is the hardest.

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  36. I suffer from obesity and I have found it very hard to overcome it. It’s not that I can’t find the motivation to work. Rather, the problem is nothing seems to work on me