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Rob Dawson for MindSport

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Coping with the fear of failure in MMA

Fear of failure is a huge topic in MMA and something that when tackled head-on, it can have a huge impact on performances in training and ultimately in the cage.

fear of failure in mma

Areas worth considering when contemplating failure and ultimately challenging the fears include:

One of the most common variables involved in fear of failure is the fear of shame and embarrassment. Often people will play it safe to avoid being the one who makes a mistake. Changing our relationship with fear of failure away from shame and towards learning and development is key, creating an environment where failure is seen as a positive, in terms of effort to achieve and lessons to be learnt.

Most people have coping mechanisms falling within three categories; Avoidant, emotional and problem-focused.

Avoidant would just avoid the fear, emotional would be able to convince themselves that the fear is not quite a bad as it is and feel better about it.

Problem Focused would target the fear and find a way of removing it.

Avoidant and Emotional tend to be quick fixes whilst Problem Focused is a more long-term solution. It is often useful to find your method and challenge yourself to try adapting it to incorporate a bit of each method to try and tackle the fear.

Taking a task-oriented approach toward failure and fear of failure means to separate the actual task failure from what it represents socially. For example, if you fail an attempt at a goal, rather than seeing the outcome in terms of letting yourself down and others and leaving you open to judgement or degradation, instead you would take the attempt apart, identify the error and rectify it and learn. Taking a task-oriented approach to failure increases task motivation as well as skill confidence.

A problem shared is a problem halved. A team approach is regularly more robust than a solitary individual approach. Therefore, it is important to share fears or apprehensions about failure. Often, we make assumptions around failure, around the expectations of others, predicting that friends, family, coaches etc. will be disappointed if we fail, however the truth is usually vastly different. Build a robust support network and use it to communicate and share fears and gain advice and support.

How rational are your worst fears of failure? Are you fixating on the worst-case scenario? If so, try to just break this down into a few stages.

1 – How many times has this failure happened, try and think about how many times in 100 attempts that this failure happens.
2 – What steps have you put in place to reduce the likelihood of failure?
3 – What is the best-case scenario and how often does this happen in 100 attempts?
4 – Knowing the best- and worst-case outcomes and frequency of both, what is the most likely outcome?
5 – If the worst case happened how would you cope?
6 – What good is worst-case thinking doing and what harm is it doing?

Once you have followed these steps and rationally evaluated the fear you will be in a better-informed position to tackle the problem at hand.

When we focus on variables beyond our control it often enhances worry and apprehension and can lead to negative internal thoughts, challenges become threats and obstacles. By focusing on elements of the tasks at hand which are directly controllable it adds a much more tangible task focussed effort, increasing confidence and helps to see the task as a challenge rather than an obstacle. Likewise seeing tasks in terms of a process towards a performance opposed to fixating on the success of the outcome can also help as you can control your performance better than you can directly control the actual outcome.

Often failure is seen as all or nothing. Failing to win or successfully complete a task is seen as very black and white. It needn’t be as distinct as that. Try to turn the attention away from just the outcome, the number in the win column and start to see what got you to the outcome. The elements of the performance which went well and should be continued as well as the areas which did not go well, analyse them and make improvements. Seeing these grey areas as opposed to simply viewing this all or nothing, black and white, success or fail helps maintain a task focus and decreases negativity around a defeat.

Rather than building a fixation of winning or losing, challenge yourself to separate goals into a performance as well as process-based categories. Try and develop novel goals where there is no current benchmark for success and failure and build these into existing goals.

Visualisation is hugely important. Not just to visualise task success but also to visualise the extent of effort which will be expending in achieving the task. It is vital to try and visualise the task you are attempting in an authentic and honest way, look at the actual difficulty as well as assessing your perception of your current ability. Use these criteria to visualise your performance honestly. The key is to manage our expectations at the same time as aiming for realistic and high level (best possible) performance. Equally important is the emotional factors. Try and visualise how you feel when facing a challenge and the ways in which you overcome fears and struggles to enhance your resilience and flourish.

A simple and effective way to challenge your perception of failure is to ask yourself three short questions:

1) What have I learnt from this challenge?

2) How can I develop having experienced this challenge?

3) What are three benefits I will take from this challenge?

Just feeling fear of failure is enough for some people to prevent them from even attempting a task. Fears be they rational or not, whether they’re based around expectations, physical fears, or anything in between, one way of developing some control is to try and dilute it a little by exposing yourself to the emotions.

We look at desensitizing fears of failure in a couple of stages;

1 – Calm your physiological presence, breathe, stretch and relax whilst thinking about the fear.
2 – Gain perspective, picture the fear, picture who you are with, where you are, what you look like and familiarise yourself with all external variables surrounding the fear.
3 – Rationalise the fear by asking yourself what the physical dangers are, what the emotional dangers are, what the environmental dangers are, and rationally how dangerous the fear around the task actually is.
4 – Finally expose yourself to the reality of the fear, allow yourself to experience the fear and see how you can get through it.

When fears of failure start to feel overwhelming, try to list all the strengths that you have, how you have developed the strengths, how you display these strengths, how you have used them in the past and how you can use them to tackle the fear in future.

mma strenghts

I help MMA athletes achieve their full potential. Feel free to reach out to me on Instagram 👇🏼

Or you can find a whole range of exercises over at MindSport

Top comments (2)

hannahwoking1 profile image

Great insight Rob! 🙏🏼

taliashaw_962 profile image
Talia Shaw

Nice article. Fear sucks but if you can use it as power... boom!

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