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How to Overcome Fear of Failure

Perhaps one of the most destructive of all emotions is fear of failure. This is not your normal everyday fear of being injured; it’s the fear of making a mistake, letting others down, embarrassing yourself, being judged, not riding to your potential, looking worse than others, or proving that all your hard work has been for nothing. It’s been said that up to 80 percent of all riders and athletes experience fear of failure at some point in their careers. What makes it really interesting is that we were born with only two fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. All the others, including the fear of failure, we’ve learned.

Daniel Stewart, one of the world’s leading experts on equestrian sport psychology, confronts this common learned fear in his book, Pressure Proof Your Riding.


How Not to Make a Light Bulb

It’s been said that Thomas Edison attempted to invent the light bulb over 10,000 times and failed on every single attempt except the last one. When asked about it, he said, “I didn’t fail at all; I successfully found thousands of ways how not to make a light bulb,” proving that we don’t need to fear failure, but instead embrace it as a part of learning.

Great athletes prove it every day. Michael Jordan, one of history’s most prolific athletes, has been quoted as saying, “I missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, I lost 300 games, and 26 times I was trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life, but that’s why I succeeded.” U.S. Olympic wrestler Jeff Blatnick once said, “I learned how to win by learning how to lose—that means not being afraid of losing.” There’s really no way around it, we learn through failure. Without it, we can’t become Pressure Proof and we limit how much we learn and how far we can go. Failure either teaches us to swim or causes us to sink.

How to Overcome Fear of Failure

1. Identify your fears. If you never admit to being afraid of something, you’ll never be able to develop the courage to overcome it. Fear always comes before courage.

2. Desensitize yourself to your fears by recreating them. For example, if you fear riding in front of crowds, change your private lessons to small, then medium, and finally large group lessons.

3. Set well-defined and achievable short-term goals that focus on what you want to have happen rather than on what you’re afraid might happen.

4. Always focus on the present. Avoid thinking of past mistakes or possible future ones.

5. Remind yourself that you ride in the pursuit of excellence—not the pursuit of perfection.

Photo by Michael Ruhs

Riding often works in cycles; sometimes you ride well and sometimes you struggle, but you must always remind yourself easy times will follow hard ones. You just need to be patient through the hard times and remain positive as you wait for things to get better. Patience, perseverance, and self-belief are three of the most important attributes when it comes to overcoming fear of failure.

Things will get better; just tell yourself that and never give up. Ships that stop sailing get rusty and planes that stop flying break down—the same happens to us. We don’t get the most out of ships and planes by keeping them tied in the harbor or on the ground; we do so by keeping them moving. To get the most out of yourself, you just need to do the same thing—keep moving and never give up.


This excerpt was reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.

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