James Stewart

Fear, use it


It’s better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit

Andy Stewart

Right, so Andy isn’t exactly Socrates or Plato. But he had a point here. When I was younger we used to sit on a Friday night imagining the weekend of football ahead and no one had more belief in me than him. He would always encourage me to believe, but to take risks too.

I didn’t realise it at the time, and I am pretty sure he had no idea either, but what I was getting injected into my brain with these chats was a sense of assurance that no matter what kind of pickle I would get into I would have the smarts to face forward rather than back.

What I didn’t know was how far forward would be!

In the throes of coaching runners and professionals I often come across people who think that they have hit a plateau for a whole host of reasons. One of the biggest reasons I find is a four letter word beginning with F. Yep, fear. What, you thought it was *that* word? FFS!

Fear doesn’t always manifest as an inability to perform. It can sometimes come from a place of comfort. Like not taking the new job as you are content with where you are. Even though the new opportunity could multiple that contentment x10, the risk it reduces by x2 can be an enough to stop you taking that step.

Mike Tyson, as an amateur, was tearing up the fight scene. Then one day he just sat in the dressing room crying. Scared he would lose. And that as a result people would call him a fraud. This was a guy who people literally quaked in their boots when they saw him. He wasn’t scared of getting hurt. He was scared of what people would say. His coach had a quiet word in his ear and he went out battered some poor soul. As usual.

Fear is a dramatic word but in reality we all carry a bit of it. We can be scared of what others might think, what the boss might say or what might go wrong. The emphasis on the word might in each of those scenarios.

In 2016 when I took the lead at 60 miles at Bridge of Orchy during the West Highland Way race I spent the next 20 miles looking back and fearing being overtook. That caused me to underperform during this stage of the race. It took a good slug of self talk at the top of the climb out of Kinlochleven to get that shite out of my head, I was getting in my own way.

Yet, fear can be a force for positive performance when used right. It can either be the thing that causes you to drown (metaphorically) when you hit the water, or the very same thing that sparks you into action at the first sign of trouble. When the adrenaline that comes with fear is channeled to the good it can make all the difference.

The right balance of fear and belief can be potent. Fear allows us see risks and threats, then belief helps us see it through. And resilience helps us bounce back.

Don’t avoid fear or being in an uncomfortable position, but instead embrace it, overcome it and use it to raise your performance even more.

I hope that you find this useful. I’d love to hear from you with any feedback or if you just want to drop me a wee message. I can be reached at jamesstewart13@aol.com or via social on Twitter @james_stewart13 or on Insta @jamesstewar13

4 replies to “Fear, use it

  1. Thanks James for addressing the issue of Fear and how it can affect us I know as a younger man Fear did play a big part of my life Fear of failing in my work life ,failing my family. Eventually I found away of turning that to my advantage my rock was Linda my wife who always believed in me . She helped me encourage me to take up the sports I had always wanted to try .I never go into something half hearted. So fear can enhance you ability to succeed. Thank you again.

  2. I had the fear until the age of 40. Finally I realised that if I didn’t embrace difficulties I’d die full of regrets. The realisation that most of us fail to grasp is that life is over too soon, and that putting stuff of for fear of failure is not difficult. Relax, have another biscuit and don’t bother. The brain tried to trick us all the time to take that easy path. It wants you to be afraid and to not risk anything.

    Anyway, I’m 50 in October and embrace the fear and difficult stuff. I’m not scared to fail because for me failure is not trying.

    Thanks for the words JS. Let’s keep working to stop fear in its tracks and achieve great things whilst embracing our mortality.

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