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  • Writer's picturePhil Murray

Is There Fear In Fitness?

“Quitters never win and winners never quit,” “no pain no gain,” “never give up”, all of these sayings have been beaten into us. Whether in sports or by our parents, we have all heard them and can feel the pressure of these sentiments in our life.

So, it is innately clear that we SHOULDN’T give up – however, that doesn’t make it easier. When I encounter challenges, I still regularly consider if I should just… give up… throw in the towel… take the easy way out.

In fitness this has been very much the case for me, and I’d imagine I am not alone. Fitness isn’t easy. Fitness is intimidating, it’s hard work, the results come slow, and there are many other roadblocks (or excuses at times) that present themselves.

For a long time I had even sworn off exercise. I wasn’t going to do it. Things eventually changed for me through some learning and a perspective change – but I can relate with you when you ask yourself if you should just give up.

The Fear of Failure

Looking back, the fear of failure may have been a big reason why I felt this way. Fear of failure can manifest in each of us differently depending on the reason or severity we experience it in.

· Procrastination

· Anxiety

· Perfectionism

· Self-sabotage

· Stress response

· Feeling out of control

· Many other emotional and physical symptoms that are different for everyone.

This is a real struggle for a lot of people, and we should extend more grace to ourselves and others who are experiencing it. Sometimes in severe cases this is called atychiphobia which means having an intense fear of failure. Maybe it is from unsupportive parents, a traumatic experience in your youth, or low self-esteem, but whatever the root is for the individual, the fear of failure is present and makes things hard.

Have you ever been so nervous that maybe you weren’t smart enough to pass a test, so you just don’t show up for class? That is kind of what we are talking about here!

Fear Turns Logical Actions Into Emotional Actions

Fear is a powerful thing, fear of failing, fear of change, fear of the unknown, even fear of success, it all impacts us and makes progress hard.

Perfectionism or procrastination are great examples of fear manifesting in us that we can all relate with to some degree.

Both perfectionism and procrastination are ways that we postpone getting something done or putting ourselves out there, and I would posit that if we really think about it, we will find that the reason is due to some sort of fear we have. That may be fear that we are not good enough (perfectionism) or fear of missing out on other things (procrastination), as a couple of examples.

Even when we know the outcome of these actions is usually negative, we still find ourselves struggling with them. That is what fear will do, it will take something that could be a logical struggle and makes it an emotional struggle. Which do you think is harder for us to wrestle with? Certainly the emotional one for me!

Why Should We Overcome This Fear

We have read and heard many stories about someone who encountered failure and learned from their mistakes and tried again (sometimes that cycle is repeated many many times!). Usually this leads to success in some form.

Have you heard the story of Thomas Edison failing 1,000 times before he successfully invented the light bulb? What if he stopped at 999… Or how about the story of Jack Canfield, author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul”? He pitched the book to over 130 different publishers and was dropped by his agent in the process because no one was interested in working on this idea.

But neither Edison nor Canfield gave up. Now we are lighting our buildings with electricity rather than fire and “Chicken Soup for the Soul” has sold over half a billion copies.

What Can We Do About It?

So we get it, we need to work through our fear of failure to enjoy success. History is full of inspiring stories illustrating this to us. How do we do that? Here are a few strategies that you can start to implement right now to ease into a new way of viewing situations and embracing opportunities?

· Positive self-talk.

Doing some work on increasing your positivity will greatly increase your self-esteem and confidence. There are many intelligent articles out there that explain the psychology behind self-talk, but essentially expressing positive thoughts lifts your mood – try a gratitude journal or a self-talk script to start.

· Look at the worst-case scenario.

Often, we fear failure because we fear the unknown. We can minimize that by considering the different outcomes. Thinking about the worst-case scenario specifically can bring some relief when we realize that it’s probably not as bad as we think.

Such as: Worst-case scenario if I fail that test is that I will just have to retake that class. But you will be more equipped to pass it the second time if you still attend the classes the first time around (and there’s a potential outcome that you pass it the first time if you go to the classes!)

· Have a Plan-B.

Think about jumping off a cliff, if there is no back up plan it will be awfully scary to make the leap. But if there is a boat at the bottom and you can just hop in and catch a ride to the other side, it will be a lot easier to give the first option a try and not worry about messing up.

· Set Small Goals.

A common way we express fear is by procrastinating and not being productive to avoid the potential outcome. By setting your goals in very small and attainable ways you will find it much easier to achieve them and recognize your growth in the short-term.

If you are struggling with procrastinating on a larger project, try breaking it down into bite size pieces that are not hard to accomplish. This improves your confidence and takes less time to complete each goal.

Where Does Fitness Fit In?

By recognizing that fear is holding us back in fitness you will be able to make a plan that addresses the struggles you are dealing with more directly instead of the feeling of defeat when you say to yourself that you will start working out every day but always find a reason to skip it.

Being afraid that the results won’t come, that you won’t have time, or that you will miss out on other things are all normal reasons to avoid fitness; but recognizing what is happening and that we all deal with different forms of fear is a big step towards working past it.

Wrap Up Consideration

Fear isn’t the only reason we procrastinate or avoid things, there is laziness, poor time management, bad prioritization, unclear objectives, these are all true too! Sometimes it’s just so easy to justify everything to ourselves and avoid the real reasons that need to be addressed.

Because it’s a little bit scary to admit we need to change our priorities, or that we are trying to do too much… or that we are afraid of failing. A healthy relationship with exercise is going to help in so many ways, it helps you think better, improves your mood, gives you more energy, the catch-22 of it all is that sometimes you need those things to muster the motivation for exercise too.

Let’s start today by identifying the things in your life that you are avoiding and really be honest with yourself about why that is. Create small goals that help address those issues and put ourselves on the path of a healthy lifestyle.

Fitness doesn’t have to be hard, or boring, or uncomfortable. Find ways to make fitness easy, fun, and rewarding and the habits will follow easier than you think!


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