As athletes, we have countless opportunities to succeed and fail.
The ability to process, cope, and accept failure is essential. Still, it's especially crucial for athletes, as they are constantly presented with opportunities (from races to workouts). However, many are afraid of failing.
Do you ever fall into patterns of unhelpful attitudes, missed workouts, damaging eating habits, or excuses associated with less-than-ideal performance during training? Could these be the result of a lingering fear of failure?
What is Your Fear of Failure?
First, ask yourself, "what makes me afraid of failure? ". The answer to this question, if you are honest, can reveal both the root cause of your fear and the first step to overcoming it.
A common reason for fear of failure is letting down friends, family, coaches, or anyone with interest in your success. Athletes put in countless hours of training, and the higher their level of commitment, the more support that individual will require from their support network. This, for some, can create a crushing sense of pressure to perform.
Other athletes fear failure because they have unrealistic expectations and seek external validation from social media. Whatever your reason, uncovering the root cause of your attitude towards failure is paramount in achieving your goals.
So now I know the root of it. What should I do about it?
Once you have figured out the cause of your fear of failure, it's now time to address it. Past setbacks are an excellent learning opportunity to propel yourself forward by setting up new systems to overcome moments of adversity. Planning for any situation, and I believe your systems should have several tools to overcome these challenging moments.
We all deal with fear and doubt, but successful athletes have an arsenal of practices to help confront unfavorable circumstances and maintain a positive attitude. As endurance athletes, whether you're tackling a 5km run race or an Ironman, you will face adversity where you don't feel great and begin to fear failing. This is normal, but the very best athletes will expect these and overcome these. Use these simple tools to keep yourself on the right track:
1. BE RELENTLESSLY POSITIVE
Positive self-talk is always a good place to start. This helps solidify positive thinking and, in turn, can lead to positive performance. Be relentlessly positive about your training and racing, whether you're in the middle of a workout, telling a friend about it, or just looking at your Training Peaks calendar. The flip side to this is that even in a training session or race, and it isn't going to plan, think about the positives. Think how lucky you are to get to race in a particular place, or simple things like there's an aid station in 2 km, get to that so that you can get some water or a gel, it's another step closer to being done, and in 5-10mins time you could feel much better suddenly.
2. MAKE REASONABLE GOALS
It's essential to ensure your training approach is appropriate for your ability level, goals, and schedule. Tackling workouts that are too difficult and not giving yourself enough recovery time between sessions or considering pre and post-session fuelling can lead to you digging a deep hole for yourself if you do not factor these in. Failure is a part of every process, but setting yourself up for success also goes a long way.
3. CHOOSE YOUR PACK WISELY
Don't think you're alone in these struggles! You've probably heard of the saying, the power of a pack. But with, with a strong support group of like-minded individuals it's critical to your success and longevity in endurance sports. Positive, resilient friends, training partners, and coaches can be the difference between a healthy and unhealthy athlete. They can also be excellent sources of inspiration. Look to people you admire for examples of handling failure and success. We're fortunate to have plenty of individuals like this at InnerFight, don't be afraid to ask them for advice.
Facing failure is hard. It's a challenge that athletes and non-athletes both struggle with daily. The pressure to perform can be an incredibly motivating tool, but to many misused, it can easily lead to a fear of failure.
Use your own experiences to become mentally stronger and set up systems for success. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who believe in you and your direction. Very few things in life are guaranteed, so accepting the possibility of failure can remove some of the pressure we put on ourselves. Most importantly, give the best you can at that moment in time and allow yourself to focus on the productive routes forward.