I was recently approached by an equestrian event rider because her performances had begun to nosedive due to what she described as a “paralysing fear”. Now many people would probably be paralysed with fear just by the thought of getting on a large, powerful horse, riding at high-speed across undulating ground and jumping fixed obstacles that are often larger than an average sized family car. But it wasn’t the fear of injury or any aspect of actually ‘doing’ her sport that was causing her fear. It was the fear of ‘failing’ that was causing her problems. The fear of not doing well, of putting in a bad performance, the fear that she just wasn’t good enough.
Fear is one of the most powerful of human emotions, regardless of what causes it. Fear has a very strong effect on your mind and your body, and it’s generally not a good thing. So how can we conquer fear and stop it from holding us back?
- Set appropriate expectations levels
Your first step towards conquering the fear of failure is to mentally prepare knowing that you’ll make mistakes. Once you’ve accepted this fact you will stay in control when those mistakes happen. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect performance’ so if you expect a zero-mistake performance, you actually set yourself up for failure. Why? Because the moment you make a mistake, you think you’re under-performing or ‘failing’ and your confidence can be shattered.
- Focus on your strengths
Forget the philosophy that says you have to identify your weaknesses to improve your performance. By doing that you are mentally reinforcing the things that cause you to lose confidence. Start focusing on what you do well and build your confidence instead because rock solid confidence kills the fear of failure.
- Put your performance into perspective
Ask yourself three questions: What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen during your next performance? What’s the absolute best thing that could happen? What’s the most likely thing to happen? By exploring your performance from these perspectives, things don’t seem to be as bad as you first imagined they might be. That feeling frees you to perform in a more relaxed and positive mindset.
Enjoy the game!