This question isn’t meant to be rhetorical. Considering it you might perhaps feel a little uncomfortable, realizing that there is something very real and very intimidating standing between you and feeling like you could fearlessly chase down your swimming goals.
That barrier, that resistance, for most swimmers is the fear of failure. It’s the crippling doubts in our mind that keeps our imagination and our abilities stuck in the mud. It’s the voice that whispers that chasing our goals is risky, that we might not be able to handle coming up short, that all that lies ahead is crushed dreams and humiliation. Yeah, that.
Here are just some of the ways that fear of failure rears its ugly mug:
You’re afraid to choke or not perform best when it counts the most. Worried that your peers, your coach, and your family will disapprove, or think negatively of you. Stress over making a mistake. Unwillingness to take risks to improve. Scared that we will put it all on the line and still not achieve our goals. Hesitancy and procrastination in making a step forward.
Our fears are a typical and completely natural reaction to the unknown. They are like the insurance agents for our physical and mental states. It’s just that they are very often exceptionally risk-averse, often paralyzingly so. In the rush to keep us safe, they also limit us from seeing what we are capable of by infusing us with doubt and procrastination.
Here are a few ways (8 to be a little more numerical) to pull the shirt over the head of this particular fear and punch it in the kisser:
1. Expect to fail on occasion.
Yup, you read that right. No matter how well we plan out our swimming goals there will be times where we come up short. It will be infuriating, yes, but going through life with zero struggle, achieving hilarious levels of success at every turn just isn’t in the cards.
And that is okay.
Every swimmer on top of the podium had moments of serious strife and struggle on their own respective path, so understand that you’re going to get your fair share of it as well.
2. View your swimming as a series of experiments.
Some things will work, some things won’t. With each success you learn and discover the things that work, and when things don’t go the way you want them to you should similarly be able to draw reasons things didn’t go as planned. The combination of positive and negative experiences should provide you a running list of what brings you success, and what does not.
3. The pain of struggle will always be lighter than the sting of regret.
In life we are given the option between two types of discomfort – one of discipline, and the other being regret. The latter will always sting more than the former. No matter how scary the work in front of you is, it’s nothing compared to the dull ache of regret in your belly you will feel years from now from not taking advantage of the opportunity before you.
4. You’re tougher than you give yourself credit for.
If you fully commit to your goals, completely train your posterior off, and then come up short at the big meet, how long would it take for you to get over this disappointment? According to our fear of failure, ìForever and ever and ever.î But that is not what your own personal experience says, is it?
Think back to the last big setback you had with your swimming. That time you completely and utterly destroyed the bed. How long did it take for you to bounce back from that? Probably not that long. Once you realize that failure isn’t a game-ender, isn’t fatal, than your comfort levels with it rises, and with it your capacity to act.
5. Set positive goals.
Setting negative goals – don’t get disqualified, don’t swim slower than my best time – will keep you focused on the wrong aspects of your performance. Instead, strive to focus on what you do want to have happen, the things you want to achieve. Negative goals are difficult to work with (and stinky) because they are emotionally and mentally unattractive, keeping your energy dialed in specifically on poor outcomes.
6. Limit your critics.
We have enough garbage flying our heads – our insecurities, fears, and so on – to have someone chime in with a ìOh, that’ll never workî followed by a ìsee, told ya soî the moment that progress is slightly unhinged. From parents, to teammates, to even coaches, being told that we cannot do something just feeds into that fear of failure.
The last thing we want to do is come up short and prove them right, so why bother doing anything at all, right? Screw that. While you may not be able to rid your life of all of the naysayers, sit down with the ones that aren’t going anywhere and let them know what kind of impact their negativity is having on those around them.
7. That fear will always be with you.
Recognizing your fears are the first step. Not because you want to get rid of them — they aren’t going anywhere — but so that you can parse them when they do make an appearance. And they will continue to do so, consistently and stubbornly. While you may not be able to completely lick them, once you understand how they work, you can successfully manage it and make its voice ever smaller.
8. The ultimate way to throat-slam fear is via action.
Action builds results, and results trump anything your fears can dream up. The action doesn’t have to be ground-breaking, world-spinning magnitude. Something simple, something easy that shows that fear that it quite frankly doesn’t know what it is talking about.
Each time you feel yourself starting to get caught in the quicksand of fear, act. Do something, anything, to unchain yourself and keep you moving forward.