Do you fear failure?

I often work with athletes who are held back by fear of failure. Fear and fear of failure can create constant stress or anxiety, which can sabotage your or your team's performance.

The fear an athlete experiences often has to do with their belief's about the importance of an event and their need to perform well. It is often also about what they assume others think about their performance.

Athletes worry about letting down others. They often think a lot about disappointing a parent or not performing up to a coach's expectations. Of course, these things are not directly within their control; therefore, their worry isn't helping their performance and may be hindering it - the very opposite of what they want!

Fear of failure is often rooted in what you assume others think about you, which we call social approval. Fear of failure is linked very closely to perfectionism. Many perfectionists hold high expectations that can set them up for failure. But a vital characteristic of perfectionists is that they focus too much on avoiding mistakes and failure.

When you overthink avoiding mistakes, you focus on what not to do, which can lead totentative or controlled performance; this may help you feel more in control. But over control can have unhelpful effects and create "paralysis by analysis" or similar responses.

It's also important to note that when we try not to feel a particular emotion (fear, nerves, worry, etc.), our feelings tend to get bigger or morph into other unhelpful and draining emotions (frustration, disappointment, or guilt).

So if you are a perfectionist (you like things to be a certain way for them to be "right") or you recognise that feeling of "fear of failure" creeping into important events - Don't worry! You can do a lot to shift your focus to what you actually have control over (what you do, how you behave, how you engage in the moment). If this is you - start by;

  • Thanking your brain for trying to warn you about how you might fail (after all, your brain is just trying to help you to not stuff up) then;

  • Practice bringing your attention to the moment you are in; notice your breath, arms, legs, and what they need to do.

  • Stay focused on one sensory element of the moment (such as the ground beneath your feet or the breath in your lungs) and allow automaticity to take over (your body knows what to do if your brain could stop getting in the way)!

  • Reach out to chat further if you want to explore this some more.