8 Lessons from the Olympics: How to Overcome Fears
Originally published on hermentorcentor.com
Ever since the first modern Olympic games were held in 1896, athletes have worked hard to ‘go for the gold.’ Baron Pierre de Coubertin brought the ancient Greek Olympiad back to life to recreate the ideals of physical, mental and spiritual excellence demonstrated by the competitors there. This year, the athletes at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver continue this tradition. They’re training long hours, maintaining a positive attitude, and overcoming their fears – all in an attempt to accomplish their personal best.
Although you may not be vying for any medals, you can learn about triumphing over worry from the stories of athletes around the world. Here are 8 obstacles to consider as you map out your own personal strategy for success.
Overcome fear of failure. For some, failure signifies humiliation and the loss of self-esteem. But when the goal is to perform to the best of your ability, you can feel good about yourself even when you don’t come in first place. As Coubertain stated in the Olympic creed, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” Stay focused on your growth and the steps you take, not the outcome. Canadian skier Alexandre Bilodeau personified this ideal. He envisioned his courageous brother as a role model and, in the process, won the gold medal in moguls.
Overcome fear of success. Does thinking about what might happen, after you actually achieve a victory, stop you in your tracks? Or do you worry that you won’t meet others’ high expectations of you once you win? Believing you must perform perfectly sometimes stands in the way of achieving your goal. U. S. figure skater Evan Lysacek had to deal with this stress at the Olympics, admitting, “I did have some extra pressure coming in as the reigning world champion.” He rose to the occasion and skated with passion and skill, winning the gold medal and savoring the experience.
Overcome fear of competition. Performance anxiety is a common and familiar phobia. Speed skater Apolo Ohno is no stranger to competition, having conquered his own fears and come away a champion, on both the short-track and the dance floor. Entering many races, he has already beaten the record for the most U.S. medals in the Winter Games. Ohno doesn’t always win, but he strives to perform to the best of his ability each time he competes. To overcome stage fright, there are many techniques you can employ: put the competition into perspective; do deep breathing and relaxation exercises; concentrate on your own actions, not those around you; practice, practice, practice.
Overcome fear of sacrifice. After 46 years of consistently taking the gold medal in pairs figure skating, Russia/U.S.S.R. was finally was shut out from the podium. How did China’s Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo manage such a feat? They endured considerable sacrifice along the way. The oldest skaters in Vancouver, they have been together for 18 years, married for the past three. After victories despite numerous injuries, they retired in 2007. But two years later, they put their marriage vows and personal life on hold in order to retrain, living in the athletes’ dorms as they worked to fulfill their dreams of Olympic gold. As you set important goals for yourself, recognize that you too may need to give up some pleasures along the way.
Overcome fear of risks. In order to succeed as Olympiads, athletes need to conquer their fear of the unknown and go for the gold anyway. According to Canadian hockey great Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Snowboarder Shaun White understands taking measured risks and won the men’s halfpipe gold medal by hard work and his readiness to take chances. Although he had already won after his first run, he chose to attempt his difficult, signature moves in a second run. Exuberant after accomplishing his ‘Double McTwist 1260,’ he said, “I have fun, I have dreams, I have goals, and I’m just now trying to do them.” After your own preparation, outline the risks you’re comfortable taking and then follow through with gusto.
Overcome fear of change. With poor weather conditions in Vancouver, many events were postponed, throwing off schedules. Athletes had to mentally adjust to these shifts and still be ready to compete. One athlete who initiated her own change was figure skater Yuko Kawaguchi. She gave up her Japanese citizenship and moved to Russia to be trained by legendary coach, Tamara Moskvina. Although not medaling at the Games, she lived her dedication to her sport by her move. When you are forced to modify your own original strategy, don’t hesitate to put your Plan B into action. It just might be a winner.
Overcome fear of pain. Downhill skier Lindsey Vonn severely bruised her shin during training last month and feared it might prevent her from competing in the Olympics. But she tried anyway, saying before the race, “It’s tough…I know what I have to do. I know how to ski. It’s just fighting the pain.” And fight it she did, winning the gold medal in the women’s downhill. After, she commented on her efforts, “Nothing comes for free.” You may have your own pain – physical or emotional – to work through as you pursue your goals. Keep in mind the determination you need to succeed as you struggle to prevail.
Overcome fear of pleasure. Lindsey Jacobellis skid off course in the snowboard cross semi-finals, once more loosing a chance at a medal. After her initial frustration, she shared her thoughts with reporters, “I still can have fun in some way. I just felt like doing a nice, fun truck-driver grab, that’s the spirit that it is.” Other competitive snowboarders agreed with her attitude. Nate Holland commented, “It’s not always about winning. It’s about fun, style, showing your stuff.” And Nick Baumbartner explained, “It’s not about the finish…it’s all about the journey. It’s all about taking the wild ride.” So, even when you’re in the midst of a competition of your own, don’t forget to enjoy the process and have fun.
As you learn from the athletes of the winter Olympics and overcome your own fears, remember that ‘you can’t score if you don’t take a shot.’ Rely on your courage, endurance and sense of fair play as you meet your challenges and achieve success. You may not receive a gold medal but you can be a winner just the same.