If we seek to understand MORE, we can learn to fear fear itself LESS. In the absence of specificity and understanding, fear THRIVES!
Centuries of cultural, religious and social conditioning have corrupted our perceptions of fear. Fear is not something that can be “crushed”, “conquered”, “defeated” or “overcome”. Likewise, it cannot be ignored or “willed” away. These “motivational tactics” and catch phrases have clouded our judgment and kept us from properly preparing for the moment when we hit a wall in our development, and are held back from embracing our greatness by crippling immobility and indecisiveness.
Before you can ever begin to perform with confidence, you must first learn to understand your fear, as fully and completely as possible. Then, and only then, will you be able to outperform your fears.
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States
Do I Have A Mental Block? Does My Athlete Have A Mental Block?
In a word, NO. At least not in the way you’re using the term. But unfortunately, cheerleading and other performance-based sports have adopted the term to describe when an athlete is paralyzed by fear and is unable to perform their skill. “Mental Block” is a term used to describe one’s inability to recall some mental action, process, or recall a memory or some specific information. Human beings experience mental blocks more commonly than we realize – writer’s or creative blocks are the most common forms of mental blocks. However, lethologica (also known as “Tip of the Tongue Syndrome”) and threshold syndrome (also known as the “Doorway Effect”) are more common forms of mental blocks that we all experience.
A mental block cannot directly effect your ability to perform physical activities. Why? Because a mental block is just that…MENTAL. It might cause you mental distress, sure. But when you think about what you or your athlete are going through in those moments when she is stricken with paralysis, standing there trying to perform her skill, you probably don’t realize that she hasn’t forgotten how to perform her skill. The process is still very much intact mentally. Instead, she is experiencing psychological fear that is confusing her by manifesting itself physically. Let me explain.
There are two main types of fear – biological and psychological. Fear is also the only biochemical response that can disguise itself as an emotional response. This can make understanding your fear VERY confusing. Psychological fear is your brain’s response to discomfort, plain and simple. The human brain CRAVES comfort, complacency and sameness. This is because the familiar is safe, and therefore “new” is the enemy to the brain. But humans love to explore, we love to seek out “new”, our nature is in discovery. In an effort to combat this, the brain will falsify evidence and tell you lies to discourage you from taking your intended course of action. But what happens when we choose to take action in spite of these lies? What does the brain do then?
What is Performance Anxiety?
Enter the term “performance anxiety”. What you or your athlete is experiencing is called a “performance anxiety”, which is an incredibly important term to begin using to describe your reluctance to execute a certain skill. The medical definition of anxiety describes it as, “a state consisting of psychological and physical symptoms brought about by a sense of apprehension of a perceived threat”. It also goes on to state that anxiety can differ according to the situation and the individual.
Fear is the link between these psychological and physical symptoms. Psychological fear has the unique ability among all of the body’s biochemical responses to manifest itself in physical form. Have you ever gone to perform your skill and began sweating, shaking, or tearing up? What about fighting the urge to cry, out of frustration and confusion? What about your heart, has it ever started beating hard? How about your breathing? Has it ever suddenly gotten harder to breathe while standing there, trying to perform your skill? If you’ve ever experienced any of these symptoms, you now know why they happen! Your brain is trying to confuse your rational, logical mind by causing physical reactions to your illogical, irrational fear.
So What Do I Do? How Do I Outperform My Fear?
First of all, great job! You are now starting to understand how to get to a point where your focus should no longer be to “overcome”, “conquer” or get rid of your fear. Why? Because that’s impossible! Fear is intrinsically woven into our DNA as human beings. Biologically speaking, fear is there to warn us of “clear and present” dangers, things we should avoid as they will most likely end with us getting injured or killed if we don’t change our intended course of action. The most important takeaway here is that biological fear is a result of a clear and present danger. Psychologically speaking, fear is an irrational response to discomfort, things the brain thinks will cause us discomfort, distress or require us to be uncomfortable. This is usually a response to us trying something new, different or unfamiliar. The important takeaway here is that psychological fear is irrational, and is the brain’s natural response to anything outside of it’s zone of comfort, scope of understanding, and feeling of complacent safety. This means two things – first, that any reaction of fear that you have, rational or irrational, is completely natural; and second, it’s a great indicator of when you’re about to do something amazing!
So, if fear is not something you can get rid of, your focus instead should be UNDERSTANDING your fear! I’ve developed several tools you can utilize to help you better understand your fears and get to a place where you can perform IN SPITE OF your fears.
Outperforming Fear is an exploration of what it means to understand your fear in an effort to successfully outperform it. Fear is like a wild beast. The more you fight to tame the beast, the harder it fights back against you for its freedom. But when we seek to understand the beast, the more we understand how to approach it, and the less it fights back against us.
THE FEAR LESS UNIVERSITY PODCAST
Fear Less U is a podcast where we discuss, dissect and examine some of life’s greatest fears and talk about ways in which you can outperform your greatest fears! Whether you’re an athlete, coach, parent, or just a fear psychology enthusiast such as myself, this podcast provides you with a different perspective on some of life’s greatest fears.
What we do is not an exact science, but in all things we seek understanding. Because if we can seek to understand more, we can learn to fear (fear itself) less!
OUTPERFORMING FEAR ONLINE COURSE
“Outperforming Fear” is the online companion course to my book of the same name. This course will walk you step by step through my methodology of working around mental barriers and performance anxieties!
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