Ripping the Shirt Off of Fear
It’s July 10, 1999 and in Pasadena, California Team USA and China are battling for the Women’s World Cup Soccer Championship in the Rose Bowl. This is the largest attended women’s sports event in history. At the end of regulation play, the score is tied and it goes to overtime. In overtime, Brandi Chastain intently lines up for a penalty kick. She sets herself, runs up to the ball, and launches it into the upper right corner of the goal to score and in her now famous celebration pulls her shirt off in mid-field. A win and championship for Team USA!
Tell me, what do you think was going through her mind? Was Brandi thinking about how she was going to blow it?
Pointing to Success
Going back further, in one of the greatest sports moments of all time, George Herman “Babe” Ruth of the New York Yankees steps up to home plate in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. The score is tied 5-5 and the Chicago Cubs players on the bench have been riding the Babe mercilessly. As Ruth steps to the plate, he makes a gesture that many believe has him pointing to the center field wall after taking strike one from the pitcher, seemingly declaring his intention. He did it again after strike two. On the next pitch, the Babe mightily smacked the ball deep into center field and over the fence for a home run! It is estimated the ball traveled 490 feet! The Yankees went on to win the World Series in a four-game sweep.
Whether you believe the intent of the gesture or not, do you believe for one minute that Babe Ruth, who not only held the record for homeruns but also for strikeouts, focused on what would happen if he didn’t deliver?
The difference in success and failure is often a matter of how we handle our fears. Dr. Heidi Halvorson, co-author of the book Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing The World For Success and Influence, says that handling that fear effectively is often a matter of mindset. It’s all about where we focus our attention. According to Dr. Halvorson, we have a choice of one of two mindsets when faced with accomplishing a goal or meeting a deadline or performing during a critical moment. We can have a what she calls a Prevention Focus; where we concentrate on the negative aspects of the situation. The concentration is on NOT messing up. We do this in our daily lives and with others. When a parent tells a child who wants to help set the table,
“Okay, but this is our best dinnerware, don’t drop it!”
With instructions like that, you might as well trip the kid yourself. Or a manager tells an employee,
“it is very important that you don’t blow this account.“
Best example I can think of is the story Zig Ziglar tells of the 1982 football playoffs between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. With Dallas ahead and less than a minute left on the clock, Dallas implemented the Prevent Defense. Joe Montana dropped back and threw a pass deep into the end zone that appeared to be sailing for out of bounds when Dwight Clark jumped up and made a fingertip catch for San Francisco to win the game. Later, someone asked Cowboys owner Tex Schramm about what made the difference and he said,
“The Dallas Cowboys were determined NOT TO LOSE the game. The 49ers were determined to WIN the game and that made the difference!”
So prevention focus centers on trying not to lose the game.
The opposite then is Promotion Focus. In this mindset, you are focused on what you have to gain when you are successful. “If I complete this project on time, our company will collect a big bonus from our customer.” Promotion Focus centers on the win, always opting for growth, willing to take the risk to see the reward, and quick to take action.
Promotion Focus people tend to have better and more consistent results than Prevention Focus people. You have a tendency toward one or the other but the good news is that it’s not born in you. It is something that has been learned, placed into your brain by the attitudes of people to whom you bonded, other people influential in your life, and combined with past experiences. So, if your tendency is towards the cautious, risk avoiding, and tentative nature of Prevention Focus, the good news is you can change. It is a matter of changing your mindset.
Start by imagining a change you wish to make or project you wish to start. List all the possible positive outcomes from successfully making that change or completing the project. Don’t downplay it, but also don’t go overboard. In most cases, you aren’t going to be a guest on The Ellen Degeneres Show because you completed a proposal package ahead of schedule for a client. But you will likely make a favorable impression on the client, which can lead to award of the project and potential future projects.
- You may get referrals to other clients and generate a significant increase in business income and grow your business.
- You may be able to hire staff and afford to take vacations.
- You can build your reputation within the industry.
- Your self-esteem goes up.
Imagine every possible positive outcome of making the change and WRITE IT DOWN! Then, every time you start feeling fearful, bring out the list and read it to yourself over and over again until you feel more in control.
Determine for yourself to Play to Win instead of Playing Not to Lose.
- Take Dr. Halvorson’s FOCUS Diagnostic assessment to see whether you have a Prevention Focus or a Promotion Focus. Warning: be prepared to list about 12 attributes you would like to possess.
- Think about one big thing you want to accomplish; it can be a current project or a dream, particularly if you have been feeling a lot of fear over it. Write down all the possible positive outcomes of accomplishing it and post it prominently. Set a start date.