Pregame Exercises To Reduce Fear Of Failure
When you go into a game afraid to fail, you’re more likely to play timidly and scared. You tiptoe around your performance, terrified of making even the slightest mistake.
But in order for you to perform your best, there needs to be a level of trust that is only present when you accept the possibility of failure, rather than having it be a point of fear.
Failing is scary, there is not denying that fact. It can mean embarrassment, the loss of a starting role, or you not attaining future goals. However, failure is also a teacher. One that highlights areas of your game that need improvement.
Failure, much like all things in life, can be viewed in multiple ways. Fearing failure is one of the worst ways you adopt, but one that is very real for many athletes.
So, if you struggle with the fear of failure, don’t worry because you’re definitely not alone. And by the end of this article, you will have four powerful pregame exercises you can use to reduce fear of failure heading into competition.
Where Does Fear Of Failure Come From?
What is failure?
Failure is an outcome, right? It's not a single action, but a judgment of the action or game. Therefore, we can say that failure is a result. Seems pretty obvious, but this understanding is needed when realizing where fear of failure comes from.
When we fear something, it is not necessarily an act we are afraid of, but rather the consequences or outcome of a situation or action.
You are not afraid to make an error or miss a shot. What you are afraid of is the consequence of that error or of that missed shot.
This highlights where fear of failure comes from: focusing on the outcome.
When you focus so much on the outcome, on the what ifs and maybes, growing fearful is a natural response.
We are capable of creating many terrifying scenarios in our minds, and so the more you focus on the outcome of what may happen, the easier it is to fear the possibility of failing.
But you may be thinking, not every outcome I focus on is a failure.
That’s right, if you were to only see yourself as a success, fear of failure would not be on your mind. But when you couple outcome oriented thinking with low confidence, it becomes a recipe for disaster.
"You are not afraid to make an error or miss a shot. What you are afraid of is the consequence of that error or of that missed shot."
Seeing Yourself As A Failure
Low confidence leads to a lack of belief in yourself and your skills. As you begin to doubt your abilities, what do you think happens to the outcomes you think about?
The less confident you are, the more likely you are to envision a scenario where you fail. Of course you don’t want that to happen, so you start to become afraid.
You fear the failure occurring, the negative consequences that will result, and the hit that your already low and fragile confidence will take.
Now you have entered a vicious cycle where you fear failure due to outcome oriented thinking fueled by low confidence, leading to you performing poorly, which ultimately lowers your confidence even more and results in further fear of failure.
Fear of failure comes from low confidence in addition to your mind focusing too much on the outcome of your performance. Which is why, in order to reduce fear of failure before a game, you must work to instill the opposite.
Mental Training Tools To Reduce Fear Of Failure
In order to reduce fear of failure before a game, there are three skills or states that need to be cultivated. You need to learn how to focus on the present moment, relax, and be more trusting in yourself and your skills.
By developing the ability to center your attention in the moment, your need to worry about the outcome will be reduced. Secondly, relaxing will help eliminate the stress and anxiety caused by fear.
Lastly, increasing your confidence will build trust. By doing so, you’ll switch the images you see in your mind from ones of failure to ones of success.
Your thoughts have a direct impact on your emotional state. Even if you don’t currently realize it, the way you’re speaking to yourself before a game is furthering the fear you’re experiencing. What you want to do is learn how to use this self-talk to your advantage instead.
Self-talk is a very simple process, but at the same time incredibly powerful. It works to generate an emotional state that you want. But almost more importantly and more helpful to reducing the fear of failure is that it takes control of your thoughts.
This means, instead of having the regular negative self-talk taking place, you’re substituting it with more positive and productive thoughts.
Utilizing self-talk can work to increase confidence, help you focus in the moment, and relax. It all will depend upon the words and phrases you choose to repeat.
But the key word, no matter what state you’re seeking to generate, is repeat. Repetition is key with self-talk. Using it as a pregame exercise works best if you continually cycle through the phrase or phrases you choose.
Here are a few example of positive self-talk phrases (also known as affirmations) you can use for your pregame exercise:
- “I am confident in myself and my abilities.”
- “Focus on the present moment.”
- “I trust in myself.”
- “I am relaxed, confident, and focused.”
Think about what you’re most afraid of when it comes to failing and devise a self-talk routine focused on that. The point I want to make, and one you can tell from the examples listed above, is that self-talk is best when it is simple.
Make the statements simple, concise, but at the same time meaningful. If you do, this pregame exercise will have a tremendous impact on reducing your fear of failure.
"Utilizing self-talk can work to increase confidence, help you focus in the moment, and relax. It all will depend upon the words and phrases you choose to repeat."
Another great exercise for you to use is visualization.
When you visualize, a scene is depicted in your mind. This scene serves multiple purposes. For one, it provides your mind with memory. As you visualize, your mind responds similarly to a real life event. Therefore, you can create memory in your mind through this exercise.
Another purpose is generating a certain emotional state. Just as with self-talk, you can visualize and get yourself into a more focused, relaxed, or confident state.
There are two main visualization techniques that work wonders against fear of failure. One is visualization for relaxation and the other is visualizing for confidence. Both use a similar set up, so let’s take a look at that first:
- Step 1: Get into a comfortable position.Step 2: Close your eyes.Step 3: Take 10 deep breaths, focusing solely on your breathing.
You’re now ready to begin visualizing.
Visualization For Relaxation
When you’re wanting to visualize for relaxation, the goal is to create a scene that promotes a sense of calm. To do so, ask yourself, “Where do I feel the most relaxed?”
What is the environment in which you feel the most calm and relaxed? Are you watching tv on your couch? Going for a walk in nature? Sitting on the beach?
Once you have that identified, all you have to do is bring that scene into your mind. Picture yourself there. But don’t merely picture it, feel it! Feel as though you are really there. As you do, allow the sense of relaxation to come over you.
Visualization For Confidence
How do you think you become confident?
One of the best ways to generate confidence is seeing yourself succeed. That is the concept we build upon when visualizing. You want to see yourself succeed at the skills you currently lack trust in.
I’m sure there are aspects of your game where you have more fear than others. This will highlight areas of low confidence. What you want to do is identify them, as they will be what you want to visualize.
See yourself perform the skills in great detail. Just as with visualization for relaxation had you feel calm while envisioning the scene, during this exercise feel confident while performing the act.
The more you see yourself succeed, the greater your confidence will climb. Resulting in a reduction in your fear of failure.
Fear of failure feeds off outcome-oriented thinking. Mindfulness is defined by placing your attention in the present moment. So, if you can generate a state of mindfulness before a game, this will be incredibly powerful against your fear.
So how can you go about generating a state of mindfulness before a game? Well, the best place to start is with your breath.
Most mindfulness practices you come across will involve your breath. This isn’t to say you cannot become mindful through other practices, but focusing on your breathing is very effective.
There are a couple different ways you can use mindfulness as a pregame exercise to reduce fear of failure. You can practice mindfulness meditation and you can also perform some simple breathing exercises.
Mindfulness meditation is a more involved practice and would require you to do so prior to getting to the field or court. Maybe you could perform the practice earlier in the day, as the mindful state will then be carried with you as the game approaches.
Here’s how to practice mindfulness meditation:
- Find a comfortable location that’s relatively quiet.
- Get into a relaxed, comfortable position.
- Close your eyes and start to breathe slowly.
- Now bring your attention to your breath.
- As your attention wanders, gently return it to your breathing.
Another way you can train mindfulness will help more in the moment, right before (or even during) the game. The practice is known as count breathing. It will be similar to mindfulness meditation in that you are focusing on your breath.
Except now you are counting which will help to keep your focus on your breathing.
Here are a few different forms of count breathing:
- Breathe in for 5 and out for 10.
- Breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4.
- Breathe in for 4 and out for 8.
It doesn’t matter which form of count breathing you choose. What’s important is that you are bringing your awareness to your breath through the use of counting, which instills a state of mindfulness.
There is a specific form of goal setting you can use as a pregame exercise which will drastically help to reduce fear of failure. It works to give yourself something to focus on rather than the outcome. Which, as you know, only worsens the fear of failure.
You want to begin using process goals. These are goals you set which are first and foremost, completely within your control!
Opposite of an outcome goal, these goals require you to examine the steps you need to take in order to put yourself in the best position to achieve the result you want.
The reason process goals work so well at reducing fear of failure is due to the control they give you over your focus. When you learn how to focus on the process, you are removing your attention from the future. But this is not easy to do simply by telling yourself to focus more on the process.
Which is why setting process goals is so valuable.
As a pregame exercise, think about what is within your control and part of the process that you want to focus on. These can be on the physical and mental side of your game. Set these goals before the game, and as the game starts, keep focusing on them.
Use the process goals as your guidance throughout the game, recentering your attention on them as you feel it begin to drift into the future.
"The reason process goals work so well at reducing fear of failure is due to the control they give you over your focus."
Fear of failure is a very difficult mental game challenge to deal with. Having failure the focal point of your mind leads to playing timidly and afraid.
Instead of tiptoeing through a competition, your aim should be to show up confidently, performing freely and allowing your hard earned talents to shine.
This is only possible once you learn how to reduce the fear of failure. By using the pregame exercises discussed in this article, you can do just that.
If you are looking for a more direct and personalized approach to reducing the fear of failure, mental game coaching would be a great fit. Through this twelve week coaching program you will receive 1-1 support in overcoming fear of failure and mastering the mental game.
If you’re interested in learning more about mental gaming coaching, click here.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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