Baseball season is now at an end. I often wonder what it takes to get to the World Series. One characteristic that great ball players share: They aren’t afraid to fail.
Fear of failure is a common issue in sports psychology, but it’s something that non-athletes can relate to. When you’re afraid to fail, you set high expectations for yourself and you have a strong desire to succeed. Those are positive aspects, of course. But fear of failure is accompanied by anxiety or tension, excessive worrying about results or outcomes, and focusing too much on what others think of you. Basically, you become focused on not failing instead of focusing on succeeding. See the difference?
Babe Ruth once said, “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.” But how many times have we avoided opportunities in the fire service (or in life)—such as promotions or changes that could improve our department—due to our fear of failure? It’s easier to say, “I’ll just stay in this position” or “I’m happy where I’m at,” rather than participate in the promotional process or bettering the organization. Often, that’s really a copout due to fear of failure!
The fear of failure leads us right into “self-sabotage.” Subconsciously, we may take steps that diminish our chances of success. The most common form of self-sabotage: procrastination. We put off preparing for a promotional exam or getting the materials ready for our presentation to the city council because later, we can blame our failure on lack of preparation. We manufacture excuses, such as being too busy or having bad luck, because it allows us to avoid confronting the idea that we might not be good enough or smart enough.
So how do you improve your mental game so you are not getting in your own way with fear of failure? First, make a commitment to yourself that you are done with worrying what others think. Next, dig in, take a chance and step up to the plate. Whether or not you get a hit doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you weren’t afraid to step up and try.
Second, learn to set success-oriented goals. Too often our goals involve negatives: “I want to get through this presentation without embarrassing myself” or “I don’t want to be the last one to finish this PT workout.” Learn to focus on the specific, positive thing you want to happen, such as hitting it hard down the third baseline or getting promoted to engineer, captain or battalion chief. Such goals carry a lot of risk, but they are also key to changing the status quo and taking big steps forward.
Once you have your goals defined, envision yourself achieving them. Athletes vividly imagine themselves making great plays. This technique works because to your subconscious mind, there’s not much difference between a vividly imagined thought and a real experience. And don’t just envision the end product—the celebration, the positive feelings. Push yourself to imagine the specific steps, actions and words that lead to success. Practice success—because practice makes perfect!
From Spring Training all the way through to the World Series, major league baseball players must focus on winning the next game. In the fire service, we need to have the same mental discipline, constantly pushing ourselves to achieve—only for us, there’s no off season.
Now go out and PLAY BALL!
SAM DIGIOVANNA is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif. He also is a consultant for Lexipol Fire Services.