“If you feel fear, you will live with regret. You will fail. You will not learn. You have to feel brave and calm. You have to run to the roar.” – Paul Assaiante, Run to the Ro
According to 17-time champion (including a 12-year run of being undefeated in match play) head squash coach at Trinity College (Hartford, CT), Paul Assaiante, in his book, Run to the Roar, wrote: “The antelope should run toward the roar. To survive this kind of attack, they would have to confront the instinct to flee from their worst enemy. They would have to confront their fears head-on.” He insists this running away from the roar, or what fears you, is a normal reaction which results in people running “into the proverbial young lions of mediocrity, under-achievement, and ultimately, failure.” In his first team meeting of the season, which he has done for 26-years and counting, he states: “I don’t care about your goals. I care about you. I want to know what you are afraid of.” Right then and there, the team discusses openly and honestly their responses to this tough question. Showing one’s vulnerability in this way by talking about personal fears is a sign of a trusting and caring team climate.
To improve your awareness of what fears you, reflect and respond to these questions. The first three come from Coach Assaiante, and the rest comes from me and my co-author of a new book project, Donnie Maib from the University of Texas athletic department.
- What is holding you back from excellence, from achieving and fulfilling your potential? (2) What is the worst thing that can happen?
- What do you fear (what are you running away from)?
- How does this fear hold you back?
- What form does this fear take in your life (thoughts, feelings, actions)?
- Who can you share these responses with? A coach, teammate, parent, friend? List all who can assist you.
- Do you journal in some form regularly?
Fear Busting Training
These techniques are specific to busting fear in your game and life.
(1) Fear Hierarchy
Recent research on fear management from Virginia Tech University has revealed that creating a fear hierarchy can be a very useful technique for fear busting. The idea is to list those specific situations that evoke anxiety or fears from little fear of maximal fear. The next step is to verbalize the worst that can happen when facing this fear. Identifying probable and alternative outcomes is valuable in opening up their perceptions of fear. Next comes the challenging task of testing their predictions – does the worst thing occur? This evidence can profoundly help them see and feel for themselves that there was nothing to fear in that particular situation. They are to start from the weakest fear to the most fearful. With each success, confidence and belief grow, enabling one to tackle the strongest fears. Along the way, skills can be learned, such as deep breathing, imagining combating the anxiety, or modeling certain behaviors (like approaching the fear head-on, like petting a dog that was once feared).
(2) Change Your Appraisal
How we view stressful or anxiety-provoking situations is all in our heads. Some of your teammates would not even flinch if they were asked to break down a particular play during a film session in front of everyone, but yet you may break out in a mild panic. This happens because you appraise this situation as a threat as opposed to a challenge. Many of what fears us is due to a negative threat appraisal, like speaking in public or playing in our first varsity match. Fear is learned, so unlearn the threat perception and teach yourself the challenge appraisal.
(3) Visualize Success
It is often said that you cannot accomplish something before first seeing yourself doing it. We will address imagery in great detail later in this book, but in the meantime, daydream about what you want to accomplish – see yourself doing it, and chances are, you will!
(4) Control One’s Reaction Through Centered Breathing
When you are confronting a fear, even if you practice the fear hierarchy mentioned above, stay in control of your breathing. The stress response is marked by the fight or flight response, which amps up the entire system, especially the respiratory system. So focus on deep inhales, hold for a count of 3, then release. Getting control of your breathing can center your focus on the present, on a challenge appraisal, and on what you have control over – your response. Gaining control of your response through deep, relaxing breaths is a game-changer.
(5) Give Yourself Credit For All Successes
Confidence is one of the most important mental skills because it fuels thoughts, emotions, and actions. When we believe that we can accomplish something, we are well on our way to accomplishing it. Reflecting (or journaling) on your prior accomplishments and your present training are two of the strongest sources of confidence that can be mobilized. So pat yourself on the back throughout the day, every day, when little victories are earned. We may get a couple from those around us, but don’t wait for these. Give yourself credit often!
(6) Asking For Professional Help
There is always be an option if managing your fear(s) seems out of reach. A mental health practitioner can be the most valuable resource in difficult times. Asking for help is a courageous act. If you need assistance, please ask for some.
Wins: Action Plan
This chapter section offers action-oriented tips and strategies for you to apply what you have learned into your authentic setting.
- Journal your thoughts consistently. Getting them on paper or your phone can be so valuable in many ways.
- Reflect on your responses to the questions mentioned earlier. What has changed? What’s next?
- Share these reflections and responses with those who trust and care about, and listen to their feedback.
- From a behavior or action standpoint, what can be done to create change in your appraisals or thought processes based on the feedback from others, so you run to the roars in your life?
- Give yourself credit for when you run to the roars and tackle your fears and anxieties by giving yourself rewards, noting it in your phone (notes), or putting stickers on a calendar (on your wall or your phone). Recognizing these little victories will add a lot to your confidence and belief in self
MIke Voight, Ph.D.
Professor at Central Conn. State University; Author, Consultant
Portions of this article are adapted from Dr. V’s book, co-written with Donnie Maib from the University of Texas, Words, Wisdom, & Wins: Spiritual Toughness & Leadership for Performers (in preparation).
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