I had an interesting conversation yesterday with an ex Olympic swimmer who competed in Seoul when she was just 14 years old. She didn’t fulfil her potential. When asked why, her response surprised me.
“I wasn’t scared enough”.
Essentially, she attributed her poor performance to a lack of fear. Perhaps because she was so young, she hadn’t appreciated the scale of the event and the enormity of the opportunity. She’d experienced little pressure and therefore failed to rise to the occasion.
The issue of fear came up again on the Today programme a couple of weeks ago. Dr Pippa Grange is a psychologist who worked with the England men’s football team at the 2018 World Cup. She’s got a new book out – Fear Less in which she talks about the importance of acknowledging but controlling fear. She considers that learning to deal with fear – employing coping strategies and techniques – is an essential part of the preparation process. As much as perfecting a free kick or improving fitness.
What’s clear from both these examples, whether we’re an elite sports person or a middle manager preparing for a presentation, is that we shouldn’t be seeking to eliminate fear or beating ourselves up if we experience it. It’s natural; it means we care; it will spur us on to prepare thoroughly. And if we learn to manage the fear (and the physical symptoms of it) through practice/rehearsal/preparation, confidence will soar.
From my own perspective I know that the fear of doing a poor voice over or wasting my client’s time or delivering an ineffective training experience are what propels me towards meticulous preparation and therefore confidence. 25 years in front of a camera, microphone, audience has taught me that fear will always be there but that it’s actually my friend.
Best selling author and ‘success guru’ Jack Canfield put it rather well: