Perfectionism & the fear of failure

We all have core beliefs and paradigms around our abilities and self worth. I like to think of these as our brain's programming. Programming that was written in our formative years may no longer serve us. They may restrict what we think is possible. Beliefs around perfectionism and fears may be preventing us from achieving our full potential, or causing anxiety or pain when we try to push beyond our comfort zone.

The good news is this programming can be rewritten. We can create new beliefs that help us achieve our goals, and generally live a happier life. It can take time, but with consistency it can be achieved.

The first step to recognise these beliefs. Become aware of your own thought patterns. Explore them. Question them. When you think about your cycling goals or an event you've entered, notice any thoughts or feelings. When you are doing a tough training session and thoughts about quitting start

to rise, notice the self talk. If there's an event that you would love to do but still haven't entered take a deeper look as to why.

Are you saying I'm not good enough? Is that true? What evidence do have that could disprove that? Do you know someone that has completed that goal or event? What would you need to change in your self and your daily habits in order to feel you could do it too?

Do you have a lot of thoughts and feelings around perfectionism? Wanting to be the best you can is great and can motivate us to achieve audacious accomplishments, but what if it becomes a cause of anxiety or pain. Firstly, know that you are not alone. This affects many of us. When we put too much pressure on ourselves we can put ourselves at risk of overtraining, and the pressure itself can affect our ability to perform in our training or events.

Perhaps, like me you have a fear of failure. This causes me to avoid or procrastinate around certain situations or tasks. There may have been an incident, or situation, in your childhood that caused you to create programming to protect you from experiencing pain or anxiety around failure.

Question and explore these thoughts, there maybe deep issues you could work on resolving.

Tools that could help you create healthier core beliefs and thought processes:


Meditation has lots of benefits. For me the most useful to my training is being able to achieve a calm state of mind, improving my focus and raising my self awareness. Daily practice can help cultivate a peaceful state that you can go to when the negative thoughts start rushing in at you, especially in those moments, perhaps you are in the middle of nowhere on a ride, and something goes wrong with your gadgets or equipment, or the weather suddenly changes. In this space I can think more clearly and work on solutions rather than go into a blind panic or throw a tantrum! Being able to practice a single minded focus during a tough interval session helps on race day, when you you want to set a PB but different parts of your body are screaming at you to stop (obviously, do not ignore potential signs of an injury!), or a running commentary of how you are not good enough, how you might as well just quit, starts rolling through your thoughts. The time taken to become more self aware, and exploring these thoughts, helps to break them down, making it easier to let them go.


This is also helps us to raise our self awareness and work through those beliefs. Setting a time every day, whether it's for five or thirty minutes, is such a useful process. I recommend doing this in the evening to reflect on how your day has gone, but this doesn't work for everyone. Sometimes I find jotting down thoughts through the day, is also useful. Journaling also helps to identify and break old patterns of how I react to things.


This seems to be a buzz work at the moment, but we all have affirmations. Here is the Collins English Dictionary of the word affirmation:

1. the act of affirming or the state of being affirmed

2. a statement of the existence or truth of something; assertion

Anything that is repeated to us, or we repeat to ourselves, as a truth becomes an affirmation that is incorporated into our programming and our definition of the real world. We can all think of examples of things told to us as facts that aren't actually true. Did you believe in Father Christmas as a child? We believed our parents, TV and films, he must be real, right? For generations Europeans were told by their leaders and people in power that Africans were of a lower race. We are told from birth that males are expected to behave in one way, and females in another, and that these differences are our truth. Some extremes there to demonstrate the point, but you see how the brain will accept something as a truth if repeated often enough. The source also affects how easily and deeply we assimilate the information, for example, our leaders, parents, teachers, peers, etc, including ourselves. So, become aware of what beliefs you have and question them.

If you are constantly repeating to yourself 'I'm not worthy of success', 'I'm too old', 'fixing a puncture scares me' or even something you may not first interpret as a negative thought, such as 'I don't race, racing isn't for me' or 'I'm not competitive', 'women don't do dirty work', 'bike mechanics are for males', etc, you have created an affirmation. Again, ask yourself, what's the root of these thoughts. is it true, what evidence do you have that could disprove it, is there already somebody out there, just like you, who is doing it, could you replace it with something more positive?

Once you have identified your most limiting beliefs the next step is explore how you could replace them with healthier, more positive paradigms. This is something I have been working on for the last few years, in my cycling, and business and personal life. It's an ongoing process that requires consistency and patience. The process is completely individual, and we all have our own pace of progression, much like how our bodies differ in response to training stimulus. It's important we are kind to ourselves through might might be difficult changes.

Finding role models can help immensely. If, like I used to, you say to yourself 'I'm not good enough', 'this isn't for me' or 'I could never do that', find someone who has done it. Research how they did it. What are they doing that you're not? Did they embark on a path of progression to get to where they are now? How much time and hard work is behind their success? This leads on to my next tip.....

Expand your comfort zone!

If you are sitting on the sofa all day then it would seem impossible for you to run a marathon, or ride 100 miles, so what do you do? You set smaller mile stones that gently push your comfort zone, that challenge you but are realistic to you. Eventually you achieve what you thought was impossible, you do become a marathon runner or century rider. You can apply this to any target or goal. Staying on the sofa thinking it's not possible, or, (my favourite trick fuelled by my fear of failure) procrastinating, won't get you any closer to your goal. Taking that first step needs to celebrated, no matter how small, and each step following. Recognising and appreciating every move forward is so important as it grows our self worth, which then expands what we think we can achieve. Learning new skills and doing new things has the same benefits. Read, travel, explore, experience.

Never stop learning!

Coach Alison

If you would to have a chat about achieving your cycling goals, exploring your limiting beliefs, setting out a strategy of miles stones for your training, check out the Level Up service

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