How to overcome FEAR
This one is from the archives. Going back, I first journaled about ‘fear’ leading into the 2012 Olympics, and it has been something I have worked really hard on throughout my career. I wrote this piece in February 2014:
“One of my biggest fears is not being good enough. I strive to be the best in everything I do. But in aiming for perfection, one thing stands in the way – fear. Fear that I’m not going to be as good as I want to be, fear of not knowing what my limitations are, and fear of uncertainty (will I make this team? Am I making the right decisions for my training? …etc.). I don’t like to exaggerate the term ‘failure’, because I think as long as I am trying my hardest, any short fall is disappointing but not devastating. I can’t ‘fail’ if I’ve had a go, right? Unfortunately at this level in sport, wrong.
I fear a lot of things as an athlete. I am scared of injury, I am scared of letting my coach down and I am scared of other people’s judgment. It’s ironic that I compete in a sport that is based on a panel of judges scoring your execution… but I get great amounts of anxiety about what other people think of me. I guess I am self-conscious, but by training every day to try and be the best, searching for approval has proven to be a damaging by-product. Fulfilling other people’s expectations is something I’m working on, and I’m getting better at reducing the energy I put into that. Ultimately, this fear doesn’t benefit my performance in any way. It can be one of the most detrimental aspects of my sport – focusing on any distracting thought, when I have a couple of seconds to execute perfectly.
I react to fear in two ways. If my coach asks me to try something new in the pool, my initial reaction is fear, but then I get a hit of adrenaline. My fear turns into nervous energy and I feel invigorated by the challenge.
On the other hand, I have experienced fear taking over my entire mentality. I can recall competitions where I have been so scared of disappointing my coach and support team that I let the fear paralyse my performance. My mind was not focused on my technique and I lost all confidence in my ability, as I was too worried about making a mistake. It’s experiences like these that have made me realise that the only person I have to compete with is myself. Worrying about external factors, and the judgment of others, hinders my focus on the job I have worked so hard for. So, every competition I continue to focus on myself and try to let go of that fear of not reaching my potential. Instead, I create a mindset where I feel confident in my preparation, trust my ability and focus on the process.”
Reading this journal entry made me smile. It is so interesting to see where my mind was 6 years ago, and how far I have come. I had some wisdom back then, but I definitely needed to practice it! Fear will always exist in life, and especially in something that you dedicate yourself and your passion to. But learning to manage and overcome fear, can truly be what set’s you apart from the rest.
3 ways to overcome fear:
Define your personal values:
Once you are comfortable with what is important to you and the values you represent, it eliminates the fear of letting other people down. It switches your focus externally to internally. Being confident and comfortable in yourself, reduces the pressure to live up to outer expectations.
Controllables vs. Uncontrollables:
Write them down. I find this technique so useful whenever I fall back into fear. Whether it’s feeling scared or nervous for a public speaking presentation, or worrying about qualifying a spot at the Olympic Games, I try to calm my thoughts by writing a list of things I can control. I can control how much sleep I get the night before, how well I have prepared and my mindset on the day, but I cannot control how my competitors will perform, how my coach will react to my performance or what Joe Blow at the back of the room will think of my speech.
Deep breaths in through the nose, out through the mouth. Our bodies read fear as a wild animal chasing us down, so naturally, our heart rate accelerates and the blood runs to our extremities enabling us to run! To counteract these responses in a situation where I feel scared, I bring my attention back to my breath. Here lies the power of meditation and why I have grown to love yoga. Nothing else is important in that moment except the focus on my breath. It makes me feel calm, gives me clarity, and realigns my focus on what I am about to execute.
"I learnt that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.' – Nelson Mandela