Fear of Failure or is it the Fear of Failing?

Fear of Failure or is it the Fear of Failing?

Fear of Failure or is it the Fear of Failing?

Fear of Failure or is it the Fear of Failing? I was reading someone’s blog. They are a personal trainer, not a sport psychology consultant. I’m not saying that because I’m academically prejudiced about personal trainers. Just about the best friends I have are trainers and coaches and I borrow concepts from them all of the time. I just want to make it clear that their definition is based on their experience. As I guess you could say are all of ours. Fear of Failure or is it the Fear of Failing?

They were talking about FEAR. Primarily Fear of Failure. It was a decent piece as far as it went. The writer unfortunately does not understand the subtle difference between Fear of failure and fear of failing.

They wrote “FEAR can be scary; it can definitely hold athletes back from accomplishing many great things.  But as a trainer my job is to take that Fear and turn it into a positive.  Turn it into something that the athlete can use to strive to become better.  For example, my Fear is failure, I do not want to fail at anything I do, so I push myself to achieve greatness at all things.  I do not always succeed but I learn many great lessons from my failures.  We as athletes, coaches, parents have to turn the Fear of something into a positive, so we can achieve greatness on all levels.  We need to strive to be better today than we were yesterday”. I do wish it was just that easy, but they made some interesting statements. Most of all it got me thinking about the difference between Failure and Failing.

As I read their post I was struck by the semantic difference. Fear of Failure can be debilitating to an athlete or anyone for that matter. Fear of Failing can be used as a force to drive people towards their goals instead of away from them. I work with athletes all of the time that fear failure and it prevents them from trying. This is defining to these athletes. It is often times more difficult than you would imagine changing a person’s concept from Fear of Failure to having positive goals to succeed.Baseball player

People, I suspect that Fear Failing, like many of us, are those that seem to be the most driven. It is for sure a very delicate balance. Our minds understand things at a very subtle level.  I will go back and quote as I often do the Master Sport Psychology Consultant Yoda. Do or do not, there is no try. When we are fearful of failing we are actively engaged in the activity. It is conscious. You may say to yourself, if I don’t practice I may fail, so you practice. Fear of Failure is unconscious. The athlete often stops putting in the appropriate effort in order to protect themselves unconsciously from failure.  Some of those contributing fears are often like these.

  • Fear of losing
  • Fear of criticism and not performing perfectly
  • Fear of being embarrassed
  • Fear of letting people (family, friends, teammates) down
  • Fear of not performing up to their “potential”
  • Fear of being unwanted, losing respect, or not getting support

To Fear Failing perhaps is understanding that failing means not getting what you want from what you are trying to accomplish. Failing means you don’t win. Failing means you don’t get the brass ring. Failing means you don’t play at the next level and that is your WHY. Failing is not being able to be part of a college team. There are all sorts of things that failing can mean to you.  Failing has not happened yet. Failure has. Or perhaps another way to look at it Failing to Fear.

FEAR can stop any person in their tracks, but it does not mean we quit or give up.  We need to pick ourselves up and conquer the FEAR.  FEAR is powerful and needs to be controlled or we will never flourish. To understand Fear, it is important to remember a few things. We are born with only two Fears. “A Fear of falling and a Fear of loud Noise”.  Every other Fear we have is learned.  What we can learn we can unlearn.

The other thing needed in understanding fear is our Fear response. We react two ways initially to Fear. We Fight or we Run (Flight). These are neurologically programmed into us. So when we fear failure we have two initial reactions. 1) to run away  2) to fight  In Fear of Failure the common response is to flight. We can run away by quitting or by no longer trying. But perhaps when we Fear Failing, it is a signal to us to Fight. And in fighting we look for ways to survive and conquer. To win our battle over fear and not just survive. The athletes I’ve worked with who were easier to assist with this issue are usually looking to deal appropriately with the fight response. They want to win. They don’t want to quit. They consciously understand their fear. This is rarely true for someone that fears failure. They do not understand what is holding them back. How it is they are sabotaging their efforts. They lack self awareness (EQ).fear

If you think about your struggles with success and failure. Is your response to run or fight? Are you afraid of failure or of failing?  There is an answer to each issue and it starts with you and it starts with your WHY. Of course I am always here to help at The Mental Game


This is some text prior to the author information. You can change this text from the admin section of WP-Gravatar  Mike Margolies: Sport Psychology Consultants ; TheMental-Game.com Mike Margolies is a Sport Psychology Consultant, Certified Mental Trainer® (CMT), Author, and Professional Speaker. When you want to be the best that you can be and the one thing you might be missing is the right mental game - what can you do? Well, athletes from all over the country have been seeking out Mike Margolies for over three decades to help them reach their potential. His clients include professional, elite, colligate and youth athletes in every sport. They have sought his counsel and unique teaching style to learn about the game within the game, or what mental training can do to help them become the athlete they want to be. He has trained professional and elite athletes and helped guide many to world championships and even the Super Bowl. Mike has trained more than 2000+ athletes. He has taught at four Universities and completed research at the United States Olympic Training Center. His new book is called The Athlete within You- A Mental Approach to Sports and Business. He currently works with individual athletes, teams and businesses around the world, both in person and via SKYPE. Mike is based out of the Pacific Northwest. Let him encourage you to play the game within the game. The Athlete within You is waiting to come out play. Learn the rules to the mental game to help realize your potential. Read more from this author


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