With all of that said, there are some steps you can take to combat this fear of failure and allow yourself to discover what fitness has to offer.
1. Find a type of movement you enjoy.
Whether it’s weight lifting, kickboxing, yoga, or dance, finding exercise that we want to do can really influence how we think about it. When we defer to movement we don’t enjoy, our subconscious mind starts resisting before we even know it. But we file away joyful movement as a positive experience, and we want to revisit it time and time again. We no longer see this movement as a chore, and can allow ourselves to develop mastery over it.
2. Do your research.
If you had a poor past fitness experience due to the environment, seeking out a more inclusive space can be helpful (whether we’re talking in-person or virtual). If you’re thinking of working with a trainer or a specific gym, ask questions beforehand to make sure your health vision is on point with the facility and trainer. Some of these may include: How do you modify programs? Have you worked with people with XYZ before? How have you helped people overcome XYZ barrier? Trainers who work primarily with advanced exercisers, like athletes, powerlifters, or physique competitors, can be intimidating for those just getting started. So you may also want to ask about their fitness speciality, or who their ideal kind of client is. There will be trainers who specialize in functional fitness for everyday people who absolutely love getting people into active living.
3. Start slowly, and progress gradually.
If you’re taking a class with difficult progressions of moves, it’s easy to feel down on yourself if you can’t keep up. Embrace exercise modifications—and don’t be afraid to ask the instructor to provide them if they’re not doing so on their own. Master moves and build good form and strength before advancing to build that confidence.
A fear of judgment
The space where you exercise, especially if it’s a public one, can also play a big role in this fear—the environment, training style of the facility, and its overall goal can affect whether you feel judgment or not. This is often tied to fear of failure, so those tips apply too, but here are some other ways you can help combat it.
4. Build confidence at home first.
If you’re new to exercise, working out at home by yourself can help you master the moves and familiarize yourself with the process without feeling like all eyes are on you. For instance, one of my clients built a base with me online, and then felt confident enough to join a gym—and walk right into the weight pit with all the regulars.
5. Exercise in a supportive environment.
This circles back to the importance of finding an inclusive space. Even if you’re not ready for an in-person, indoor gym yet, a welcoming space is still important, whether we’re talking about an outdoor fitness class or a virtual one. Supportive instructors or other class participants can help you feel ownership in that space, which can cut down on the fear of being judged for trying to take part in it.
6. Develop a feel-good motto.
Often, fear of judgment comes from within, because we are already judging ourselves and projecting what others might be thinking. Come up with a positive motto that mentally lifts you up. I like: I belong in this space just like everyone else. I am an athlete.
7. Head out, feel the fear, and do it anyway.
You deserve to be out there. And remember, the more you do it, the easier it will become.
A fear of injury
Many people tend to associate exercise with pain, acute injury, and sometimes even chronic injury. If this is you, no wonder you have resistance to engage in movement! You may have lost body trust and not know how to to exercise safely, especially if you’ve never received the right support to do so.