Fear is your self-defined limitations, not your actual ones. To change your self-image and thus how you perform, you must acknowledge and face what scares you. 

In a recent post I discussed the concept of fear setting. When it comes to athletic performance fear is often a limitation which prevents breakthrough performances.

We often think the most accomplished athletes are fearless, possessing unlimited courage. Therefore, since you and I are afraid from time to time, we must be lesser beings, destined to never reach our ideal results. This is self-doubt, the best ally to fear.

It's time to flip the script.  Instead of trying to eliminate fear (which can't be done), I will show you how to use it to fuel progress. Specifically, how to use fear setting to provide clarity to the important actions you need to take and help you set a clear path forward to achieve your ideal performance this year. I also include a link to download a free fear setting worksheet below. 

Step#1 - What is your goal event? Identify your actions that will lead to continuous improvement as you prepare for the event? In other words, instead of identifying your goal outcome which is another way of defining your limitation, identify what actions you need to take consistently and frequently, which will create continuous improvement. Why is the focus on continual improvement over identifying a goal important? Let's say you're four-hour marathon runner who commits each week to follow a balanced program of endurance and speed running, strength and mobility training, and running form work. Each week you meet this commitment - a commitment to continuously improve. What happens? Race day you run a 3:50. If you would have set a goal to run 3:58 you sell yourself short and create an unnecessary limitation by setting a goal of 3:58. So, the question becomes what action must you take on a consistent and frequent basis to create continual improvement? 

Example - Complete my first ultra-distance trail race on July 15, 2017. It's something I've never done before so the goal is to finish feeling like I gave my best effort on the day.  In order to do this I must:

Eat and hydrate to support my health and performance. 

Have a positive daily sleep routine.

Have a structured daily schedule that accounts for work, life, and training demands.

Take care of my body with self massage and mobility work daily.

Write down the first "improvement" actions that come to your mind. No hesitation, just write. 

Step #2 - When you think of your actions listed above, what do you think might go wrong in your attempts to take these actions? 

What do you see as possible challenges to you taking these actions consistently and frequently. For example, this could be injury, illness, inability to train consistently due to life demands, letting down family/friends, no experience with the distance/course, etc.

Here are some examples given the goal above:

Time commitment - This will require more time than I am training right now and will especially be the case beginning 12 weeks out to race day.

Will my family support this commitment?

How will I manage this time given my work and family demands? Other life commitments?

I have no experience with this type of race so wondering if I am over my head on this one. 

Write down the first things that come to mind. No hesitation, just write. 

Step #3 - How can I minimize the likelihood of those things from happening? In other words, what steps could you take to minimize the damage? 

It’s very likely that there are somewhat easy or simple ways to minimize the damage. For each thing you listed above, list the minimizing steps you would take. 

Here are some examples of how these challenges could be minimized:  

Time commitment - look at my schedule and calendar (both personal and work) to see what other commitments might interfere with the training hours I feel are required to prepare. Discuss this with my family to make sure I am not overlooking any scheduled events and they support the commitment.

Take care of my body. Continue to incorporate a daily mobility practice and ask for help from massage and physio when required. 

No experience with the distance/course - get in contact with other athletes, race director, who have experience with the event. Ask them questions about preparation, the course, equipment/support required, places to stay, training, typical temperature and course conditions, things they would do differently/same to prepare for the race this year. 

Write down the first steps that come to mind. No hesitation, just write. 

Step #4 - What will it cost me NOT to race?  We rarely consider the financial, physical, and emotional costs of NOT doing things. What are the temporary and permanent benefits you might gain, both internal (like confidence, happiness, and self belief) and external (like money, opportunity, etc.)?

Some examples of the cost of NOT racing:

I will miss an opportunity to learn through a new race experience which always takes me out of my comfort zone. 

I will miss developing the problem solving skills that comes with ultra racing that can always be applied to the rest of my life. 

I will miss the opportunity to feel the sense of accomplishment from completing a truly epic challenge. 

Write down the costs of inaction that come to mind. No hesitation, just write. 


Are you going to lean into your fears or lean out?

Use fear to conquer fear. This is a skill and in order to conquer your fears consistently you must practice doing so regularly. When facing a near-term obstacle that feels scary and overwhelming, Take the big picture approach and think about what you truly afraid of.  Think about the regret youI'll feel by not taking the opportunity to challenge yourself, and risk missing a massive personal growth opportunity.

Use fear as a motivating force. 

Now this approach is not about being fearless. Rather, it about acknowledging your fears, connect with them and use them to perform your best. To drive your desired outcomes and motivation to achieve what you are truly capable of. 

We all have fears. Sometimes it's the fear of failure, other times it is the fear of disappointment, and/or loss. Fear is a natural and common emotion to everyone, and even those who appear to have infinite courage still experience very similar emotions.

As an husband, father, athlete, and coach, I've spent most of my life taking risks to achieve. Sometimes I'll feel the awesomeness of the hug of approval or the satisfaction of a personal best time. However, more rewarding is knowing I took the risk and experienced the learning journey along the way.  

Need some help with your own fear setting? Download a free fear setting worksheet here.

Patrick Ash is head coach and owner of Endurance Journey Coaching. If you want to learn more about how we can help you email patrick@endurancejourney.com or send us note on facebook and let's chat. Our Group Training (still spots available), Nutrition, and Coaching Programs provide the support and guidance you need to help you achieve your ideal health and performance.