Last week, I challenged you to face your fears. I asked you to consider the possibility that perhaps fear may be holding you back from achieving your goals. Common fears that athletes may face include: fear of failure, and fear of injury or death; however, sometimes, we fear fear itself.
When we become anxious or fearful before an important event, we experience a range of physical and psychological symptoms. We may feel nauseated, our heart rate increases, and our respiration becomes shallow. These sensations can become so intense that they cause significant discomfort. If this experience reoccurs a number of times, we may begin to dread the discomfort, and avoidance behavior may follow.
Without insight and awareness, we may associate the discomfort with the event rather than the symptoms and start to dread the event itself. At this point, we start to make excuses not to perform, or we handicap ourselves to lower expectations. Generally, we experience higher levels of anxiety when expectations are greatest, so by lowering expectations, we hope to reduce the level of stress associated with performing.
Unfortunately, this tactic does not help our quest to achieve peak performance.
This phenomena may be one reason that we get stuck in the preparation stage I described last week because it feels safe. The problem is that this fear can result in a failure to launch. At some stage, you have to move out of the preparation stage and actually perform.
If your fears are a barrier to this transition, then it is time to tackle the fear itself. One way to do that is through acceptance. When we experience the discomfort of anxiety, our instinct is to fight the feeling and “get rid” of the sensations. We try so hard not to think and feel anxious that all we think and feel is anxious! For the next few minutes, try really hard not to think about a red frog. Just by telling yourself not to think about a red frog, you are thinking about the red frog.
Acceptance takes the fight out of your head. Instead of telling yourself not to be anxious before an event, try telling yourself that it’s OK to feel a little anxious, everyone does, and then refocus on preparing to perform. Previously, we were so busy trying not to think about feeling anxious that we forgot to think about performing. By accepting the feelings for what they are (just feelings), you reduce the struggle and draw your attention to where it needs to be to perform.
Pre-performance anxiety is very normal. It does not have to destroy your hopes of a successful performance. How you handle that anxiety will make the difference. There are a number of techniques to help you reduce the amount of anxiety you experienced, but it helps to become comfortable with the probability that you will experience at least some physical and psychological discomfort and be OK with that.