This is a well-known phrase, and one that many of us exhort ourselves to do, to encourage ourselves to stretch our comfort zones and progress in life. ‘No pain, no gain’ is another.
However, how about when the fear is well founded, or overwhelming…?
I am sure you will have heard about Simone Biles, the amazing American gymnast, who has pulled out of competition in the Olympics, citing that she needed to look after her mental health. She made a mistake on the vault and experienced a lack of confidence so strong that she felt she had to withdraw for the sake of her team and herself.
Often, we look to elite athletes for inspiration, in terms of how to get mentally strong – it is known that talent and hard work is not enough to be a winner, you have to have huge self-belief and a supportive mind set. Many talk about having, “alter egos”, different versions of themselves that they take out when on the court, in the field or on the track.
Sports psychologists are now the norm, helping individuals to change self-destructive narratives to positive affirmational ones.
Dr Pippa Grange, a top Psychologist who has worked with numerous top sports people, including the England football team, supports her clients to live with less fear, showing how to replace stress with courage. She is someone who has translated her work with sporting superstars to create a template that we can all use in our lives, to turn fear into something that is more helpful for our success, in her book, “Fear less – How to win at life without losing yourself.”
I have found her findings extremely useful and inspirational when I am working with clients to help them to find their own supportive, positive, inner voice. But here’s the thing, it is very much about allowing yourself to feel self-belief not about forcing yourself, when, as a result of too much external and or internal stress, you falter. Just because we know how to turn destructive and unwarranted fear, based on a lack of confidence, into an energy that will propel us to do our best, doesn’t mean that we should be blind to the time when there is real danger.
For me, seeing these extremely talented individuals like Simone Biles say that they need to value their mental health and admit to a real sense that they need to take a break, is also the action of a winner. This is someone who understands that the path to success is often paved with “failures” and times when your strength falters. For me, failure is NOT a bad word, it is a descriptive one, we only get better through acknowledging and learning from failures. Failing is an essential part of success.
In order to win, you need to have a healthy mental state, and so pushing on for a win when your mental health is fragile and your focus has been disrupted is pointless, because you won’t win, and it could equally be extremely dangerous. Particularly in the case of gymnastics. It is such an exacting discipline; one slip could mean a colossal injury.
Another example of a talented sports person who pulled out of a tournament because of how she was feeling mentally was Emma Raducanu, the young British tennis player. Emma, unlike Biles, has yet to prove herself as a seasoned champion, but she impressed and thrilled us all recently at the Wimbledon tennis championships, reaching the fourth round after qualifying as a “wild card” entry, two weeks after completing her A levels. She had to withdraw from her match because she was having breathing difficulties. In her words, “The experience of competing in the championships in the last 16 caught up with me”. Importantly, she said this calmly, even with a smile, and continued to say that it had been a great experience and she would learn from it. I was so impressed with this – a brilliant attitude.
So now we can look to great athletes for an example of how not only to win, win, win with your mind but how to accept defeat, understand when your mind is calling out for a break, and use this as information to move forwards, re-group, and not as a stick to beat yourself up with. That is such a huge sign of strength and self-knowledge.
In order to, “feel the fear and do it anyway”, you need to be fully in control of your mind and be able to make a decision to channel it into ‘go-getting’ energy. If you are not able to do that – or need to push and strain to get yourself going, then – feel the fear and take notice of it. The way to relieve the fear then is to withdraw and to re-group, re-energise, and breathe!
Knowing when to do that is the real stuff of winners.
If you would be interested in taking part in Fiona’s workshop, “Breath of Life, Joyful Voice”, in September, do contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for details. This is a workshop to show you how to “find” your own strong individual voice, improve your voice health, and vitally learn how to control anxiety through full breathing