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Why ‘failure-fear’ shouldn’t hold you back

It’s inevitable that each of us will experience fear at some point in our lives and the fear of failure is the one we’re most likely to resonate with. We aren’t born with fear, however, it is an emotion that becomes familiar to us through the experience of life. As we age, as we progress through the stages of our lives, fear is an impossible emotion to avoid because naturally, at some point – we must fail before we succeed. It is all part of the learning curve we embark on throughout our life journey and yet still, it is not uncommon practice to choose to avoid it. We buy into the misconception that by avoiding our fears, we are protecting ourselves but the reality here is, we’re only limiting ourselves from reaching our highest potential. Avoiding failure hypnotises us into staying where we are, never pushing beyond what we know we’re already good at, but it robs us of the opportunity to explore life beyond an unnecessary safety net.

So how do we stop this self-sabotage and accept that fear of failure doesn’t need to hold us back? We need to step back from the situation and rationalise our fears. What are we reallyafraid of? When we start to build the picture of outcomes and worst-case scenarios, the ‘what ifs’ of failing often seem much less significant than we initially imagined them to be. This is because we’ve sold ourselves a theory that failing is detrimental to our success, when in contrast – success demands failure. To be remarkable and masterful at something, to excel in our sport, our life ambitions, our business goals – we must be willing to accept failure as part of the learning process. More than this, we must not let our fear of failure stand in our way.

Epictetus, an ancient Greek stoic philosopher, developed a theory that can be exceptionally useful in facing our fear of failure. This philosophy, commonly known as the ‘Sphere of Choice’ focuses on dealing with both the internal and external elements within our control that can ultimately transform the approach we take towards fear. Using his theory, if we are holding back because of the fear of external factors, for example: we are afraid of what people might say when we fail or we fear the reactions of those around us – in order to push past them, we must learn to let them go. If our fears are founded on internal factors including our own sense of character, personal values and beliefs and individual behaviour – we need to make the decision to act and lift the limitations we’ve placed upon ourselves. Think about the times you’ve failed so far. Did you fail because you believed you weren’t good enough? Did you fail because you believed you couldn’t do it? Was your fear of public response and outside influence so great that it held you back from succeeding?Asking ourselves the right questions can help us identify how to face our fears of failure, most effectively.

It’s often said the best way to face fear and overcome failure, is to imagine yourself at the end of your life. Eighty years old – how do you feel about the things you didn’t do, the things you didn’t attempt to achieve? If your hypothetical eighty-year-old self regrets the missed opportunities, then you should at least feel empowered to make the decision to change it.

Of course, as elite athletes – failure is an inevitable part of the sporting experience. We may have many times, overcome the fear of failure when competing, performing and playing. Despite the resilience built up through years of dedication, commitment, blood, sweat and tears – at ACT, we occasionally still stumble across the fear of failure amongst some of our highest performing athletes. Often, it is the fear of failing beyond sport and stepping outside of that ‘comfort zone’. This is where our transitional and support programmes provide athletes with the resources and tools needed to prepare them for the changes ahead of retirement and our sports Psychologist, Ben Paszkowec, supports athletes in facing their individual fears throughout the transition.

If you’re reading this today, take just one thing from this post:

Michael Jeffery Jordan, one of the most iconic and successful American Basketball players, was cut from his high school basketball team because his coach believed his skills were not good enough. He later went on to become the principal owner of the Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association, playing 15 seasons in the NBA and winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls.

Michael Jordan was not held back by the fear of failure.


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