5 Tips for Conquering Fear or Doubt During Exercise

on October 22, 2019 • Grace


Fear stems from worries about failure, pain, disapproval and embarrassment. Similarly, doubt creeps in when you try something new or uncomfortable. In other words, these negative emotions are a completely natural response to exercise and training. 

A lot of pressure comes from working toward a physical goal. Maybe you are worried about being judged during the process, or of letting a trainer or yourself down. But how often does this fear or doubt hold you back from achieving something great?

Conquering these negative emotions will help you turn your worries into successes. Here are 5 ways to do just that:

  1. Surround Yourself With the Right People

During your exercise journey, it’s important to remind yourself that you are not alone in these feelings of fear and doubt. There are tons of other people facing these negative thoughts and emotions every day — and some of them are probably next to you at the gym! 

Surrounding yourself with people who are overcoming similar challenges and worries will help you reframe the expectations you have of yourself. Not only will this help you see that you aren’t alone in your feelings, but it will also show you that these feelings can be overcome. 

Look for people who encourage you day in and day out. Whether this is a coach, a training partner or just a fellow gym-goer, having someone by your side will make it easier for you to show up for your training when fear and doubt starts to creep in. Plus, they probably have just as red of a face as you do when they are going hard on the next elliptical over. 

2. Take Advantage of Visualisation

If you’re experiencing fear or doubt about your training, chances are you’re only thinking about the worst-case scenario. You’re picturing falling on the treadmill, or finishing last, or letting your friends and family down.

This is a form of visualisation, and it actually isn’t all bad. In order to turn these thoughts from something that holds you back from trying into something that will help you succeed is how you play the scene out. 

Think of visualisation as a mental rehearsal. Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold medalist, is a big believer in mentally rehearsing his swimming races. During training, he visualises his routine over and over again until it becomes a reality. He plays through every part of it: walking to the pool, fixing his goggles, standing on the diving block, jumping, making contact with the water. He does this until he knows these movements by heart. 

During this mental preparation, however, he also considers what could go wrong — the situations that may cause fear or doubt. Instead of letting these consume him, though, he works through how he could react to each one and still get to the finish line first. That way, when race day comes, he’s prepared for anything. 

3. Change Your Perspective

When you focus on feelings of fear and doubt, your thoughts distort reality, lead to unhealthy emotions and prevent you from reaching your goals. According to psychologist Dr. Albert Ellis, these are all signs that your perspective is irrational. 

That means that it’s time for a perspective change. As Albert Bandura wrote, “People see the extraordinary feats of others but not the unwavering commitment and countless hours of perseverant effort that produced them.” 

Here are some things to focus on rather than negative self-talk:

  • Nobody is rooting for you to fail. There are probably quite a few people who are rooting for the opposite! 
  • Just because you aren’t starting from a place of prior success, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start at all. After all, how are you going to achieve that success if you only stay the same?
  • There is a strong correlation between self-compassion and reduced anxiety. Allow yourself to be imperfect — just like everyone else. 
  • Instead of comparing yourself to others, start comparing yourself today to yourself yesterday. Have you made progress? Then that’s success! 

4. Lean Into Your Fears and Doubt

While feelings of fear and doubt most often hold you back, the energy behind them can actually work in your favour. The adrenaline caused by these emotions is similar to that of excitement. If you feel your body buzzing, harness that energy into working harder and faster!

According to one study, people who experience some amount of self-doubt perform better than people who are completely confident in their skills and abilities. That may be because doubt and fear can motivate you to put more effort into your training and preparation. 

At the end of the day, avoiding what makes you scared or worried is really just a way of staying in a safe zone. Embrace the discomfort — that’s what will help you push yourself and grow. 

5. Set Goals That Are Right For You

Goals are an important part of exercise and training, especially if you are struggling with emotions that make it hard to show up. While you always want to be working toward something, you want these goals to work for you, not against you. 

If your main goal is so intimidating that it’s only causing more stress and worries, try breaking it down into smaller steps. Focus on one workout at a time. If your main goal is to be able to run a marathon, for example, make your first step running half a mile without stopping. Track your success, then move on to the next step! This will help you feel like you’re achieving something every day, which will keep you motivated to show up again tomorrow. 

You should also create goals and steps that you will enjoy completing. Everyone has their favourite workout — the movements that get their blood pumping most. Instead of looking to see what everyone else is doing, find something that you will look forward to jumping out of bed and getting into your workout clothes for! 

Finally, give yourself time to accomplish your goals. Worrying about fitting every accomplishment into a schedule will only lead to more fears and doubts. Allow your body to adjust to your new routine and remember, a rest day is not a failure. 

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