Why Fear Of Failure Causes You To Play Timidly

Fear of failure can quickly lead to you playing timidly. You begin a game tight due to all the fear. Learn how to reduce this fear and play confidently and free

Successful performermances require a certain level of fearlessness. This is because there must be an underlying acceptance and acknowledgment of the possibility of failure.

There is always a chance of you making a mistake, messing up, and opening yourself up to all the embarrassment and shame that accompany it.

Since there is always an ever present possibility of failure, for you to perform your best, you must be fearless.

Peak levels of performance result from a relaxed mindset. One that is calm and trusting in the talents of the performer. Such a state is impossible when fear lingers in your mind.

When you have such fear (known as the fear of failure), your performance level will drop. The reason is due to the very real fact that fear of failure causes you to play timidly.

Fear Of Failure Defined

We all have thoughts of failing. It’s human nature, and the fate of all who work towards a goal or live in a performance environment.

No matter how hard you train, you can’t help but entertain the idea that failure is possible.

There is nothing wrong with understanding the possibility, and often necessity of failing. Simply thinking about failure and knowing it’s there does not directly mean you will play timidly.

If you develop a positive and healthy attitude towards failure, it can actually serve as a tool which propels you towards success. However, if you focus on failure in a more negative way, that’s where trouble lies.

Fear of failure occurs when the idea of failure is fixed in your mind. All of your actions are overshadowed by the inevitable threat of failure.

The skill of seeing success within your mind allows you to perform freely. Thoughts of success lead to confidence and focus. However, no such luxury is experienced by those with fear of failure.

Instead of seeing success, the mind is centered on failure. When you are faced with this fear, it’s not even success that you see as an alternative. It’s not failing. You either fail or you don’t fail. Very little do you even entertain the idea of success.

Fear of failure dominates your mind, leading to tightness, and you playing timidly. On top of that, there are very real symptoms you will experience going into a performance that stem from this overarching fear.

These are going to fall into two different categories: physical symptoms and emotional symptoms.

We all have thoughts of failing. It’s human nature, and the fate of all who work towards a goal or live in a performance environment.

Fear of Failure Symptoms:

Physical Symptoms:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shaking
  • Feeling cold
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Stomach aches
  • Sweating

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Panic or Anxiety
  • Feeling like you need to escape the situation
  • Feeling powerless and controlled by your fear
  • Feeling as if you’ve lost all control of the situation

There is nothing enjoyable about fear of failure. As you can see from the above symptoms, it results in many physical irritants that will hinder your performance, along with emotional disturbances.

But why? Why is it that failure becomes such a center for fear? Especially knowing the inevitability of it within our lives.

What Causes Fear Of Failure

It’s not so much the act of failing that drives this fear, but rather the perceived consequences of such failure.

When too much weight is placed on an outcome, failure can mean many things.

It could be an indication that you aren’t good enough. You are a failure and this is just another opportunity to solidify that thought within your mind.

Failure can also lead to shame and embarrassment. Perhaps you feel your coaches, teammates, or friends will judge you. They will see you differently or even view you as a bad performer. This is very shameful and powerful, especially if you wrap your identity up in your performance.

It’s also very likely you have plans for your future. These plans can seem impossible with even the slightest threat of failure. Therefore, failure becomes a major object of fear.

With all of these examples, do you know what is the main thing they have in common? It’s the overarching theme that truly fuels your fear of failure, no matter what it is you are worried about happening.

Outcome oriented thinking.

The fear of failure thrives off you focusing solely on the outcome. If you were worried about everything you needed to do at the moment, would you be so concerned about failure? No. Because failure, by definition, is an outcome.

Outcome oriented thinking is exactly what’s to blame and is the reason fear of failure causes you to play timidly.

How Fear Of Failure Leads To You Playing Timidly

When you are so concerned with the outcome, to the point it instills this great fear within, how else can you respond other than by timidness?

An analogy I like that really conveys this idea of being timid in the face of fear is walking on a thin layer of ice covering a lake.

Naturally, what will you be thinking about as you take your first step? “I hope the ice doesn’t break.” You will start to tiptoe across the ice, timidly placing each foot down, hoping your next step isn’t the one that plunges you into the frozen water.

You are not, in contrast, taking full strides, confidently stepping down as you walk across the lake.

This is a perfect analogy for what’s happening as you begin a game. Your performance is the thin layer of ice. You begin the game by taking your first step. Then you gently take another. Now you are in the midst of your performance (the middle of the lake).

Throughout the whole game you must continue to timidly creep, as one mistake will result in a failed performance and icy cold clothes.

The more fear that’s in your mind, the more you’re focused on the outcome, the more timid you will play.

You will start to tiptoe across the ice, timidly placing each foot down, hoping your next step isn’t the one that plunges you into the frozen water.

Here’s How You Can Stop Playing Timidly

While you may make it across the ice, you won’t be winning any races. In the analogy, simply making it across is okay. That’s the goal, survival. But within your sport, is mere survival the objective?

Do you simply want to not fail, or is there success you desire? If you want to do more than just not fail, you need to learn how to perform confidently and freely, rather than scared and timidly.

To do so, work needs to be put forth to overcome your fear of failure. One of my favorite tools to use for this is visualization.

You’re likely already visualizing without knowing it. Going into a game with the fear of failure, failure is on your mind. What I mean by on your mind is, you see failure. You see yourself failing, and you see what may happen if you fail.

All that is you visualizing failure. While you may be thinking about how much you don’t want it to happen, the fact remains the same, you are visualizing yourself failing.

That is going to do little to boost your confidence, calm your nerves, or reduce fear. Instead, you need to work on altering these images. Accomplishing this requires a deliberate visualization practice of another type.

Using Visualization To Overcome Fear Of Failure

You need to begin seeing yourself as a success. The more you do, the greater your confidence will rise. More confidence equals less fear, which leads to far less need for you to play timidly.

How can you do this? Well, I want you to think about how long you’ve dealt with such fear. If it’s been going on for a few years, think of all that time as training your mind to focus on failure.

What you need to do is put forth your own training. Practicing over and over the skill of seeing yourself succeed. Before a game, I’ll admit, this is going to be quite difficult. That’s why you first must practice in a separate environment.

By doing so, your newly formed skills will translate into the game, making it much easier to visualize success rather than failure.

Here’s how to practice visualization for confidence:

  1. First find a location that’s quiet and you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Second, get into a comfortable, relaxed position. You can lay down or sit down, whichever you prefer.
  3. Now close your eyes and begin breathing. Breathe for a minute or so, really calming your mind and allowing your whole body to relax.
  4. Once relaxed, it’s time to visualize. Imagine yourself starting a game. Feel confident as the game begins. See yourself go through the motions of your sport, successfully performing your skills. After each success, really feel the emotions that accompany it. Keep doing this for about five minutes.

Visualizing is as simple as that. What’s important is making the scene as detailed and real in your mind as possible. Also, be sure to force yourself to feel confident and successful while performing.

Training your mind in this way will instill a sense of confidence and reduce the fear you have surrounding failure. Now, you can perform relaxed and confidently, rather than play timidly.

Final Thoughts

Failure is part of life and sports. It’s natural, and if viewed in a positive way, can actually be a way of improving yourself.

However, failure can easily grow to be something we fear.

When fear of failure sets in, it can feel as though you’re tiptoeing around your performance. You begin to play timidly, as you fear making a mistake and facing all the negative consequences that accompany failure.

However, playing timidly is never going to lead to the success you truly want. You must learn how to let go of this fear and turn to confidence. Which is why visualization proves to be so powerful.

Begin visualizing yourself confidently performing successfully, and over time this will work to reduce your fear and the timidness it generates.

I hope you enjoyed the article, and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me. Also, if you are interested in a more personalized approach to overcoming fear of failure, learn how 1-1 mental performance coaching can help.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

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.

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