Among all of the topics ever covered by books or seminars on how to fix your life, erasing the fear of failure is at the top. What occurs in most people as they set their sites to the next big task is that they start to anticipate what could go wrong. This can be a poison to growth and development in and out of the gym. As a person thinks about potential pitfalls, obstacles, disasters, and embarrassment, the air is slowly let out of the sails until there is nothing left to push the boat.
As an introspective person myself, I am painfully aware of the unproductive changes in mood, behavior, and motivation that affect me when taking on a seemingly overwhelming task. I make the mountain out of the mole-hill, staring in awe at my own impotence in the face of such a large ordeal, until every part of my body is saying 'don't bother'. I am what you would call an 'overthinker'. So, naturally I dwell on possible disasters that probably shouldn't be dwelt on, most often as I avoid taking any kind of action to accomplish anything because, as we all know, if something isn't going to be done perfect, it shouldn't be done at all....
This poisonous thought can lead to a host of performance related maladies, from stage fright, E.D., anxiety, depression, and a general lack of motivation.
As you engage in the loop of negative thinking, you are reinforcing associations that connect pain and shame with carrying out a task that should cause excitement and ambition. The mind repeats the chant of 'this is undoable' or 'this isn't even worth trying' and, sure as shit, the chemistry of the brain changes as your body works to conserve energy by not doing something pointless, dangerous, or, worst of all, embarrassing. When this shift changes, you are no longer engaged as you are when you truly care about the outcome. You will do your best when you give a shit, and you won't give a shit if you think it can't be done.
This all ties into the kind of sharp mentality that is required for success, and how sharpening the edge of that blade will be the most important thing you can do for long term winning. If the only time you feel happy or proud is when you actually win, then you will spend most of your time unhappy, irritable, or disappointed.
There is research into what is called 'the happiness advantage', which basically says that when people flip the causal link between happiness and performance(starting a task happy and grateful instead of waiting for success to cause these emotions), they do better by a substantial margin. Start your day excited to train, and you will train hard, improving your chances of winning your next meet. Start your day pissed off because you didn't place in your last meet, your training will suffer and you will continue to lose. When positive thought patterns are expressed via gratitude, excitement, and happiness, cognitive functions pertaining to peak performance are improved, greatly improving the chances of success.
This is not a one-off trick. If you can improve real everyday outcomes by employing a technique to make yourself razor sharp, then it must be exercised every single day. This means waking up every morning, reminding yourself what you are thankful for, how happy you are to be alive, and how excited you are to go kick some ass. When you do this, every day is a win because you are expressing passion that few people know.
But, what about failure? How does one stay happy and motivated while staying down to earth long enough to properly analyze and prepare? The key to this balance is to not balance at all.
Failures will happen.
Frequently at first.
On a grand scale.
In front of everyone.
Accepting this as an immutible fact of the universe is the first step to freeing yourself from anxiety paralysis.
In "The 4-Hour Workweek", author Tim Ferris includes an article titled 'Fail Better', in which he issued a challenge to college students for round trip tickets to anywhere in the world. The task was as follows: get in touch with a high profile celebrity or CEO and get an answer to a question you have always wanted to ask. The results were astounding. Icons like George Bush Sr., Bill Gates, and Michael Eisner were actually accessible to complete strangers, simply because they had the audacity to ask in the first place. Students who would have doubted their ability to even approach these figureheads on a chance encounter were actually establishing conversations and relationships through sheer persistence. By convincing these students that out of every failure is a lesson and to not be afraid of the lesson, Tim motivated them to reach farther beyond what would have otherwise been possible.
The point in all of this has been to not throttle your progress by trying to keep your goals reasonable. The trademark of all great men was an unreasonable desire to advance that led to new standards of excellence, and these desires were carried out with great passion to fulfillment, regardless of what anyone else thought at the time. By failing repeatedly, and on a grand scale, your craft is honed and you become immune to the cuts and the scrapes. Before long, you are happy to take your lumps, and those lessons accrue into small gains, and eventually sweeping victories.