“It’s all about the Journey”
“It’s the process, not the outcome!”
Seriously, I know you would have seen all the quotes and words of wisdom about how it’s all about focusing on the journey and not the destination. About how we need to focus on the process and not the outcome (this is the favoured sport psychology variety)
Even the recent quote I posted on the FlowSport Facebook page speaks of it (yes…guilty… I do love a good quote)
These things attract us because they make such logical sense! We read them and think: “yes! I need to do that!”
But do we ever actually make change? Sad to say, not usually. And If you’re struggling to put these words of wisdom into practice, then read on…
So how do we actually change our mindset from focusing excessively on where we want to be? How do we stop thinking about what we want and start focusing on what we are doing?
The answer is actually as simple as practice. Practice little moments where we can open up to the small journey’s of everyday life.
Unfortunately, this idea won’t sell books (just blog posts). It won’t fit the with quick-fix agenda that most social media self-help charlatans promote. It requires (oh the irony) a focus on the process of getting better at focusing on the process…
So how do we actually practice embracing the journey and stop focusing on the outcome?
Well, a good place to start is to take some small steps that you can implement every day. Because, like anything in life we need to start small and a way of doing this is to start with all the little “journey’s” that we take throughout the day. Those journeys that we do without thinking. Without actually noticing them. Once we have an idea of these, then we can make the deliberate intention to focus on the full experience.
Take for example, the mundane walk to the car in the parking lot, we need to look at it like we're not actually trying to get to the end result as quickly as possible. It’s not a case of distracting ourselves from the tedious situation of actually having to walk, so the goal appears to arrive quicker. We need to embrace that journey. We need to open up to it. We need to actually experience the little journey, love it or hate it, we need to practice actually experiencing that moment for what it is.
When we do it right, it means we are noticing the environment around us, absorb the smells and the sounds and noting the details and the expressions and behaviours of others around.
If you’ve walked this path a thousand times, try and notice something new about it. Treat the journey with curiosity. Look at the journey through the eyes of someone who has never done it before. Don’t avoid it by rushing it, by distraction, or by mind wandering.
By doing this deliberately, you are getting out of your head (where we are prone to "time-travel") and into the world. The desire to be somewhere quickly fades and you are learning to focus on the taking in all that the journey offers you. And guess what, if you practice it. YOU WILL GET BETTER.
So the goal is, if you can learn to do this more in your "mini journey’s", you can then learn to do it in "the big ones" and hopefully in those big competitions that require a relentless focus on the process.
So go ahead. Give it a try.
You might learn something.
You might notice something you’ve never seen before.
You might actually learn that the journey to the carpark is still part of life.
I would recommend taking one daily “mindful mini-journey” and make yourself fully open to experiencing that every day. Notice how the impulse to rush to the destination quickly comes up. Notice how you desperately try to distract your mind from experiencing the tedious nature of actually having to focus on what you are doing in that moment.
Now, I am off for a walk to the fridge. Mindfully and fully open to that journey ;)
Have you ever got frustrated with thoughts that keep popping into your mind? Have you ever said or thought to yourself, frustratingly: “arrghh stop thinking about that!!”
Stopping thinking is difficult. The mind is constantly thinking. The need to try and control it is well intentioned but difficult. And it is often the wrong way to go about things. It is also really, really hard to do!
We can often control our attention and bring our focus onto the things that we want to focus on, but sometimes the thoughts that we have and the fears of certain thoughts or feelings, keep coming back at us, and this can cause us to focus on them even more.
Imagine if you’re about to perform a really important task in a sporting situation. Maybe you’ve got to serve for the match or you’re on the free throw line. And it is a situation that makes you particularly nervous (maybe a “big” game). You don’t want negative thoughts about failure to come up, that’s true in some sense– since they aren’t exactly fun to have, but can we control our brain enough to completely get rid of these thoughts? I would say, not likely (although everyone is different).
Many (including me) would argue that level of thought control is really not possible. This is because, If you have already categorised thoughts as bad and that they are something that will lead to poor performance, then logically the fear that the negative thoughts will come up will be real. And it will then make it quite likely that they will. Your mind will start looking for them!
It’s like that time when you really, really need to get to sleep. You’re sooo tired that you must get to sleep straight away otherwise you’re not going to function the next day. So… you try really hard to quiet your mind. You try to stop thinking, to stop worrying about getting to sleep, but the worry train keeps chugging along and it doesn’t happen, definitely not quickly!
It’s a bit like that when are trying to find our flow-state in sport. Thoughts about how we are feeling and what we are thinking are just going to delay the chances of us dropping into the moment and performing with freedom.
This might be because of what Charles Baudouin in 1921 called “The law of reversed effort” when introducing this ironic process he stated: “The harder we try to think the good idea, the more violent will be the assaults of the bad idea…” Does this sounds like something you might be familiar with?
Have you ever tried to only think positively about situation only to have all the negative thoughts come back? It may seem to you like you lack the mental control and brain power to control your mind, and some people may even tell you this.
Don’t listen to that crap.
Your brain is doing what it is programmed to do. It’s looking for threats, worrying about what might happen, all in an attempt to keep you safe. To keep you alive.
We’re animals and that is what our brains are wired to do.
So, if the thought control battle is actually one we can’t ever win - then we are going to need to look at it from a different approach. Instead of being involved in the battle in our brains, maybe we step back and observe this battle that is going on. We can notice what are we saying to ourselves, almost step back and say aahh that is my mind doing it’s normal thing, its not actually me. It's not actually harmful.
This also means acknowledging and accepting thoughts, being willing to have them.
Then we need to go about performing the task without spending too much mental energy trying to win the battle in our minds. We need to connect to ‘The Now’ and perform in that space. Connecting with The Now is a skill as well, but its not about eliminating The Noise in our minds.
With this approach, over time, you can take away the power of thoughts, acknowledge that they are just thoughts and not let them be the controlling factor for your performance. The quote below talks about fostering understanding, but I think it fits perfectly with performance as well:
“The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. We cannot make ourselves understand; the most we can do is to foster a state of mind, in which understanding may come to us”. – Aldous Huxley
I would say, what we can do is foster a state of mind in which flow will come to us. That comes from a state of mind that doesn’t fear fear. A mind that doesn’t worry about worries and a mind that doesn’t try to control itself.
When working with Athletes and Coaches the common misconception is that Sport psychology, and my role as a mental skills trainer, is all about getting people to start thinking positively. I actually get people say to me: "oh are you going to talk to them about positive thinking and stuff?
There is a belief that if we just think positive all the time, we're gonna always be happy and perform well. One problem! Life’s not always positive. Bad shit happens. What's more, our minds are programmed to constantly scan and look for threats and negativities. It's a reality. So, during those tough times, our brain is not going to believe that things are going so awesome when you say it is.
Actually, you could look at it in a different way and say that if someone isn’t experiencing a few negative emotions and thoughts, then they’re probably not doing something challenging enough! Because there haven’t been many people that have achieved something great without a few self-doubts and a bit of negative thinking along the way.
Further to this, there has been some popular advice out there that suggests you should imagine your goals happening to you. Just belief it will happen and happy day... it will! They say you should visualize yourself as a winner and having achieved everything you want. In actuality, this has been shown to potentially have a negative effect on the chance you’ll succeed at what you want to. It’ll just be a fun dream.
So here’s the tip for young aspiring young athletes. When setting yourself a goal, take a different approach. Set yourself a positive, realistic and challenging goal, but then write down all the things that are going to be extremely difficult about achieving your goal and then imagine yourself experiencing and getting through those moments. Make a plan for how you’re going to deal with all the obstacles and mental blocks along the way.
For an example, it could be getting up early for the gym in the middle of winter that might curb your fitness goals or avoiding alcohol when you’re out on the weekend or going through the process of having to learn a new skill and being prepared to fail at it and having to deal with that. Imagine yourself experiencing these difficulties and still moving forward!
Don’t kid yourself that it’s going to be all sunshine and rainbows. Think about the bad times, what it might feel like and how you’re going to get through them. You actually do want to imagine yourself achieving your goals as well, but we don’t want to trick our minds into thinking that it’ll come easy. That is the biggest worry. No great achievements are easy. Remember that and embrace the hard times by imagining yourself pushing through them!
So go ahead and dream big, but if you do, remember to contrast your dreams with some thinking about all the shit that you’ll have to deal with along the way.
The world of popular sport psychology is full of false beliefs. I want to share with you some of the biggest problematic beliefs. Some of these make my work difficult and some of them really do hold people back from getting better!
Myth 1: A couple of tips and techniques will have a significant long term impact on your performance.
Yes, this is a big myth that people cling to. The belief that a cue word, a little bit of visualization, a solid goal or a relaxation technique will have a significant impact on your performance is false. Here's an unfortunate truth: Real change takes time.
The human brain is wired in a certain way and it will ensure that you, more often than not, will respond in the same way you have acted in the past. Unless you consistently make systematic steps toward changing your habits. And you have to keep working on it!
You will need to work hard to change, but that will make it all the more satisfying when you do experience some success. It's true, even on this website you'll see some quick tips and strategies, but even those tips require practice and work to make them effective. Bottom line, if you want to change, you have to put in a bit of work, that's why having someone to work with you along the way is so effective.
Myth 2: Sport psychology is only needed for those who are mentally weak (or have a "problem")
Another myth is that performers should only seek support if it is to help them fix a certain problem or to make them “mentally tough”
It is a true that a lot of sport psychology practice helps people deal with certain issues. But, Sport psychology training and consulting is also about performance enhancement. You can enhance your performance no matter what level you are at right now or how "mentally tough" you already perceive yourself to be. After all, your mind is in control of your body so if you can train that to help you perform at an optimal level more often, then you are setting yourself up for consistent success.
A huge majority of the top athletes in the world get sport psychology support and this has been a huge factor in sporting success. It is NOT about mental weakness, it is about finding and developing existing strengths.
Myth 3: If I feel good, I’ll perform good.
A major problem in sport is the pursuit of consistent positive feelings. That’s right. The belief that we should be FEELING happy and confident all the time leads to significant mental distress in sport.
This is because when we find ourselves in times of stress and struggle, we tell ourselves it shouldn't be like this. We tell ourselves we're not going to play well. We try and fight off the bad feelings.
Then, we end up overthinking and focusing on what's going on inside our head, rather than focusing on our performance and what is important.
We all want to feel great all the time, but emotions arise in different situations for different people and that's how the mind behaves in normal human beings. How we feel is also a result of our own unique genetics, and our lifetime experiences that have shaped and moulded us to become who we are.
The best practice you can try to implement, is to practice focusing on what your are doing, rather than what you are feeling - something which you hear me saying a lot!
If you believe that you need to feel good to perform good, then it's going to be pretty hard not to focus on those feelings. So drop that myth and just be yourself.
Myth 4: Sport is 90% mental
I love this one. You will hear sports commentators, fans and athletes talk about the “top two inches” and that it is “all mental at the top level” or people may talk about how percentages like its 80% mental and 20% physical. All these sorts of numbers are fun, but obviously have no scientific thought behind them, they don’t even make sense if you look at it realistically.
Our brain is in control our entire body! Neural networks fire in a sequence that helps our bodies move in ways that enables us do amazing things in the arena of sport. Whatever we are doing, our brain is in control.
So in effect, it is all "mental"
Take learning a new skill as an example. When you learn a new skill you are rewiring your brain in ways that will enable that skill to be remembered and become automatic (proceduralised) so that in future it can be replicated without conscious thought. A simple example of this is walking. When you were learning to walk, you wont remember, but you no doubt had to consciously think a lot about how you would move your legs and balance yourself. Also, I’d bet you fell over a fair bit! (this wasn’t you "failing" at walking btw - which is how a lot of people see learning these days, it was you learning what didn’t work and improving as a result!)
Now just because the skill becomes automatic, doesn't mean that it's not "mental" any more. When something is in "muscle memory" it doesn't mean the brain is no longer in control. In fact, in pressure situations it is exactly that muscle memory that can be hijacked and cause us to fail at even the most simple skills .
This is another blog all together, but, I am against the current trend of needing to categorise an athletes' life in different areas of focus. Strength and conditioning, nutrition and skill learning.. etc. What might be called the "pillars" or whatever. ALL at stuff has important psychological elements because it is all human behaviour! The best method of development is based around integrating all this into a holistic athlete development programme, where various experts in different fields collaborate and work together.
Those are some of my big myths you'll hear about in sport and performance psychology, but there are plenty more. What I teach, and how I practice, comes from evidence based research (i.e. in danger of sounding like an informercial: it's been shown to work in scientific studies!).
I offer training and support that has been tried and trusted by athletes around the world. Hopefully by packaging it in a way that is easy to understand and not full of too much psychobabble!
How do we be where our feet are? How do we connect with The Now?
Connecting with The Now is the first stage of building a sense of presence and choice over your actions.
Have you ever performed in a couple of different competitions? There is the one in the outside world and then there is the one inside your head. The battle with your own thoughts and feelings. It is amazing how our minds can put as much focus on the competition inside our own head as much as we actually focus on playing it in the outside world. We worry, then worry about worrying. We look toward the future and what we are going to need to do, to get the result we want. We worry about what people think of us and how our image is affected by our behaviours. Or we think about the past, in a game of golf, we might think about that putt we missed or that unfair lie we had or other sorts of "if only" thoughts. We dwell on our mistakes.
Now the first thing to remember is that it's somewhat natural to have these thoughts. It's not your fault!
The truth is that we cannot control the past and we cannot control the future.
I know, I know, you've heard that before... But seriously, what we can do, is focus on the control of what we are doing in this moment. This can be a useful thing to remind yourself in any situation. Really!
The competition in our mind is the one where we have our harshest and most fearsome competitor. The competitor that knows our own weaknesses better than anyone else! So what happens when we get caught up in our mind and our own thinking, is that we naturally try and win. This is where we try and forcibly relax ourselves, we try and fight off our negative feelings and control everything that we are thinking and feeling, because we truly believe that will make us play better.
But there's a problem with that. If we are spending all our emotional and mental energy on trying to win this battle in our mind, then we are not really connected to the present moment. We are not really paying attention to what is happening now.
And what is happening right now is what's important. Surely!
Even if what you are doing is just preparing to perform, maybe warming up or just getting changed. That is a great opportunity to engage with the external environment and embrace the things around you. Get present.
You can do this my actually taking time to notice things outside of your own head. You might do this by taking a moment to notice the weather, the feel of the sun or the wind on your face, the stadium seating, the water...whatever! This moment is a moment in your life, like every other.
Or maybe notice something about the environment you haven't looked at before. Have what has been called: the "beginners mind" Treat your environment like you've never seen it before and be curious about it. This will give you a chance to get out of your head and into the world around you, an ideal scenario, because this is where we perform! This will prime your brain for the best sort of focus: external focus.
Anchor yourself to the present moment.
The act of doing this IS mental training and the more you do it, the better you will get. So go ahead and lift the weights, so to speak, and it'll become a habit.
There is a simple, but very powerful cognitive strategy which involves a word that can really hold us back. The word that primes us for an avoidance, rather than approach mindset:
An avoidance mindset is not going to enable great performance and the word "BUT" promotes exactly that... A 'go and get it' approach mindset however, has been shown to be one of the keys to peak performance in sport.
Going towards competition, going towards pressure, going towards the challenge, both physically and mentally, is the key to building resilience and the ultimate performance mindset.
Now, there may be times when you've heard your mind use this word and it has then subsequently held you back from performing as you want to, or performing at all. Let's look at an example, take the comment:
I want to play well today, BUT I am feeling nervous.
Take a minute to think how the word "BUT" is influencing someones mindset here...
What is it saying about the effect of these nerves on your performance?
If we say we would like to do something BUT we are feeling something else, then what we are saying is that because of the feelings of discomfort, we are now UNABLE to go forward and participate (or perform well) in whatever the action is.
We are saying, these feelings of discomfort are going to dictate my decision in this instance. We are letting the avoidance of difficult feelings take priority, rather than the action or performance level that we want to achieve. We are not using an approach mindset.
With this example of nerves if we say we want to do something but we are too nervous, we are surrendering to the nerves and letting them control the direction we want to go. If you really pay attention to your thoughts, you may notice that you give in to the "buts" many times in a day. I know that I myself notice this all the time. In fact, I even had the thought just now "I need to do some work on my blog but I am so tired!"
So what happens when we hear the "BUT" in the future
A lot of it is about learning the skills of understanding your mind and what it is saying to you. You need to get better at recognising these thought patterns. This is the first step. Make sure you continue to practice these skills.
The next step is to replace the but and re-think that sentence. What do we replace it with?
In doing this we say what we are going to do and what we are going to feel, but we never imply that we are not going to do something because of a feeling. Take our first example: I want to play well today AND I am feeling nervous.
This is a brilliant statement! I would be immensely pleased if someone I worked was able to say this. This is briliant because it implies that, yes, those uncomfortable feelings are there and it also implies that they are going to come along for the ride with us.
So for me: I should be writing my blog and I am feeling tired! becomes the replacement thought.
Look below at all the examples I have had of clients coming up with opportunities to replace the "BUT"
I want to speak to my coach AND I am scared of him
I would say something important AND I don't feel like saying it.
I am able to win today AND I get so nervous
I am meant to speak to a big audience tomorrow AND I am sh**ting myself!
Removing the but and replacing it with an "and" helps create courage, it stops that mindset that you might have that continually looks for many reasons to avoid something. That 'feel good always' mindset that is conditioned by society. Embracing the feelings that come with doing important things is so important and getting off the "but" is a great step along the way.
Acceptance: The active and aware embrace of private events that are occasioned by our history, without unnecessary attempts to change their frequency or form, especially when doing so causes psychological harm"
One of the most powerful tendencies of human behaviour is the want to avoid and get away from unwanted and unwelcome thoughts and feelings. This takes up so much of our mental energy. The act of trying to avoid being uncomfortable.
Now being uncomfortable physically is generally accepted as a means to grow, adapt and get stronger. People who want to get fit know that it's going to require a bit of a pain or discomfort. But that's not so accepted in the mental space. There is a belief that we should be thinking and feeling pretty good, ALL of the time, so we can perform well in sport. Now don't get me wrong, mood disorders exist and are a real problem and having a low mood for extended periods of the time can signal that it's time to get some help. But, in elite sport, feeling a bit stressed, anxious, pressured and uncomfortable is reasonably normal. These situations will still often make us want to AVOID this current state of mind. We may try and find ways to make ourselves feel better, in the moment. That's when it can become a bit of a problem.
We all do it from time to time, we analyse why "this" is happening to us, we complain about how it feels, we blame others for "making" us feel a certain way. We are focused on trying to "fix" our inner state of mind. And this problem solving nature of the brain is perfectly normal, it works for us in the outside world right? When there's a problem we need to solve, we work hard at coming up with solutions and try and solve it.
But...you will never be able to rid yourself completely of uncomfortable feelings in sport. Inner peace and tranquility doesn't really exist, not in that sense. Our brain reacts in a certain way due to a genetic influence and a lifetime of conditioning. That is a reality. It's not your fault.
The good news is that acceptance doesn't mean we are giving up. The key is that we can just be a little bit more compassionate toward ourselves and how we feel in this moment. It's OK. We can go toward these natural feelings. How we look at our situation and how much room we give these unwelcome feelings the chance to sit with us... can change our whole perspective.
Let's take a look at some of the classic culprits, say: embarrassment. fear, and self doubts. Those things can make us uncomfortable, but with each one of them, it is actually possible to feel them and yet STILL go out and perform your best (or just DO those things your don't really want to do, like speak in public, take a test, play a solo, or compete in sports).
If you are willing to accept and make room for the thoughts and emotions that don't feel good, you not only take away some of their power, but you become more powerful. By facing them and feeling them, you can become more resilient, more focused on what you want to achieve, and more conscious of what you can / can't control (and more compassionate toward yourself!!).
Not only that, but being uncomfortable can be a trigger for you to realise that your body is ready to perform. Even professionals get nervous. The difference is instead of saying, "oh, no", they say "let's go". The energy and adrenaline that can come from being uncomfortable can actually be a sign that you are "ready to go"!
Sounds easy right? Well in some respects it can be effective quite quickly! A study that involved just informing people about a willingness approach to dealing with cravings (people who had addictions to food or cigarettes) found that willingness increased their ability to go forward in what they were doing without feeling like they needed to satisfy the urge as often, they just sat with it and carried on and actually did better!
In other respects, it is very hard. It is often hard to accept that we have to "accept" certain emotions. So we are likely to engage in avoidance behaviours very often (yes that's ALL of us). Throughout the day you will chose actions that help you avoid discomfort, that's natural. When problems occur, however, it is when this avoidance gets in the way of us achieving what we want to achieve - When the tendency to want to control your internal state gets in the way of you actually performing well!
Just think, if you're spending all your energy trying to make yourself "feel good" you're actually putting all this mental energy into something that:
A: You can't fully control anyway
B: Is not what you should be focusing on! You're focused on yourself and not on the task! You're meant to be performing!
Quick Tip: if you find yourself focusing too much on "How you are feeling" then notice and accept the thoughts and feelings that exist, right now, and switch your focus to "what you are doing" bringing those gremlins along with you for the ride.
What's important to you? Have you ever stopped to think about that? I am going to talk here about how values can and should be an anchor with which you can guide your behaviour and achieve your own version of success in every moment. I'll start this off with a bit about nerves, because I love how Dr Steven Hayes introduces values in this quote:
"Life is a choice. Anxiety is not a choice. Either way you go, you will have problems and pain. So your choice here is not about whether or not to have anxiety. Your choice is whether or not to live a meaningful life." - Steven C. Hayes (2005)
The above quote really helps summarise the intentions of value based work. We don't choose the way our mind operates, how it responds to pressure and what can trigger certain uncomfortable reactions. It is important to recognise this. The way our brain reacts to certain situations is a culmination of the experiences we have had, and our genetics. It is not our fault.
When working with clients, I want them to understand themselves and understand their triggers so they can develop the ability to be able to choose the RIGHT action, and to do so decisively.
The right actions are chosen by examining what you value. Values are a way of putting into words all the things that we live for, what gives our lives meaning. I once asked an audience in a workshop I was doing what they thought values were, and someone said: "Values are what we stand for..." That's a great, simple definition of values! It's the things that we really hold as important, not the goals or the dreams we have, but the ideals and the core beliefs about what we hold to be important in this world.
"When living by our values becomes the definition of success, it means we can be successful right now." - Russ Harris (2011)
How great is that! Hopefully that's a new way of looking at success that isn't based on goals. You can be the best you in any moment!
In this blog, I am deliberately talking a lot about values in terms of your whole life. Because, ultimately, although I am geared towards helping people perform better, the values you hold for yourself and your life outside of your sport will likely transfer. So unless you transform into a completely different person when you perform, its probably beneficial to begin thinking about values in terms of your life as a whole.
KEY POINT: Values are actually about DOING not about feeling.
It is really important to look at your values in terms of actions, not feelings or specific states of mind. When you uncover your values during this week, you will think and feel certain ways but it is the actions that those values make you think of, that are important.
For example: Suppose you have already recognised that you really do value being a hard worker. That's great! But this shouldn't be something that makes you feel good or bad about yourself, the point of identifying this is to help you then go and find opportunities to work hard. So when you've come up with some good values, always ask yourself: what actions will bring this value to life, what things could I go out and do right now that would be valued actions. If you can't think of any actions that a value might require, then it may not be a good one!
Feeling a certain way is not a value.
Another thing to be aware of is that thinking or feeling a certain way is not a value. For example, if you had the value of: "I want to be more confident" or "I want to feel calm" or "I want to feel relaxed"....then you have got it wrong.
These feelings are great but they're not something we can realistically get in touch with, they're not a direction or a way to live your life. They are not something we stand for. You can't go out and do something NOW to live those values, although you can go and do something that is intended on trying to create those things. That's different, and if we do that, we are going to live our life chasing certain feelings, which is a difficult roller coaster to ride!
The pattern of avoidance behaviours can then come into play, people will chase good feelings but in doing so not actually achieve their goals. Think about it, if you wanted to run a marathon and your ultimate "value" and goal was to feel good whilst running, then as soon as the going gets tough and the fatigue sets in, you'd stop! Of course you would, because your goal was to feel good and as soon as discomfort arrives, we are naturally going to look for the easiest ways to get rid of it...we avoid the situations that bring on the discomfort!
Having a values based approach might be different. You might value "persistence" and during those times of stress and discomfort, you can definitely get in touch with that and carry on!
Get in touch if you want to talk more about how a values based approach could help you!
So what about those people who are somehow able to perform spectacular feats of athleticism in high risk environments? How can people seem to manage their fears to be able surf 50ft waves, hang precariously off cliff faces and fly down spectacular gorges. For most of us, the fear that we might experience in these situations is difficult to even imagine. In extreme sports, the most common emotion that these athletes have to deal with is fear. That hugely unpleasant emotion that paralyses so many. The emotion that President Roosevelt famously addressed with: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself…” Fear can be crippling and devastating when it comes to high performance in extreme sport, so how can these people still perform when death is a realistic consequence of poor performance?
Well researchers have examined these types of athletes and found some interesting findings. Firstly, fear is often spoken about as a healthy and productive experience. If these people are feeling fear, then in many ways, they know they are doing something worthwhile (in their eyes). Not only that, they felt like fear, in many ways, kept them alive! Feeling fear is a natural human experience, and for many extreme sports people, they welcome, and often accept that if they are NOT feeling it, then something is wrong. Either they are doing something not worthwhile or challenging enough or they have lost touch with the reality of what they are doing, a dangerous place to be.
What’s important is that slogans such as “no fear” and adjectives such as “fearless” may convey the wrong message. Everyone experiences fear (yes it is true, some people more strong than others) so pushing the message that if you want to be good at something risky, you have to be able to “get rid of” the fear would cause many people to hold back and avoid anything that has risk. Believing that fear should be gone before you accomplish something primes you for an avoidance mindset, because avoiding the activity obviously gets rid of the fear that you are supposedly not meant to be feeling. So we get stuck, we live safe lives where we don’t do things that are important to us because we think that fear is a bad bad thing.
We can learn a lot from extreme sports people, even if we don’t want to go free climb a mountain face.. We can learn that if you can develop a mindset that embraces fear, create some space to be able to have it, and still do what you need to do, then you can truly develop the courage to go out and do amazing things.