People fear making mistakes. We fear being judged by others. The thing is, we can’t be wrong. We can’t be judged by others. And if we make a mistake, we can always do over.
A basketball player who has never scored tries to score 50 points in a game. She’s got nothing to lose, so she tries it. When she misses, she tries again. A few times she misses and thinks, I was scared; I shouldn’t have tried it. But the next time she goes up for the shot, she knows that perfectly well even though no one else does. If she misses again, then maybe her teammates will think that about her too; but that’s just because they’re not as good as her and will make mistakes too.
So if you’re a beginner, and you’re afraid to shoot because of all the misses and screw-ups that can happen when you do, don’t worry. The reason you miss and screw up is because you are trying to do too much. Shoot just like a basketball player on television does: “Shoot, shoot, shoot!”
But before you even think about shooting, make sure the ball is in your hands by yourself. Now put your hands up over your head and start jacking the ball around. The goal is to get the ball to touch your hands 10 times in a row without it touching the floor. If this doesn’t feel easy, remember that the best players can do it with their eyes closed.
The first step is to understand your fear. If you are afraid of failure, of making a fool of yourself in public, of getting cut from the team or dropped from the course, then you need to know that it’s perfectly rational for you to be afraid. If you aren’t afraid before trying something, why should you be afraid after you do it?
The second step is to tell yourself a story about what might happen if you fail. Some people are better at this than others. You will almost certainly think of something worse than what actually happened. It’s okay; we all do that. But as long as you remember that it’s an estimate not a prediction, and that there is only one thing that matters, then this shouldn’t matter much.
For example, if you’re afraid that your last three attempts at free throws have all gone awry, maybe the best thing to say to yourself is: “Well, I’ve hit them four times now.”
If you think that other people are going to laugh at you when they see where you’re sitting on the bus or in the cafe or in class, remind yourself that no one else can see your mistake but you.
If your goal is to make a run at becoming a good basketball player,
Everyone has fears. Some of these fears are specific to a particular person or situation, like the fear of being intimate with someone who is extremely attractive to you or the fear of speaking in public. But some of our fears are more general and universal, like the fear of failure or the fear of being unable to control our emotions.
Sometimes we can overcome our fears by learning how to use them. For example, if you’re afraid of failing at something, encourage yourself to make an effort even if you fail. If you’re afraid of being unable to control your emotions, tell yourself that it’s okay not to act on your feelings and that it’s part of growing up. If you’re afraid of getting hurt, tell yourself that there’s nothing wrong with having a crush on someone who doesn’t feel the same way about you.
But other times we can overcome our fears only when we learn how to let go of them entirely. One way is just accepting that there are things about which we will never know for sure whether they will work out or not and that we should do what feels right regardless of what happens; another is realizing that we shouldn’t worry so much about what others think and letting ourselves be free to express ourselves without caring too much about whether they approve;
The first is the fear of failure. Everyone has had it: my first try at playing basketball, or my first time making a speech, or my first time running a marathon. I’ve always felt better after I’ve made a mistake.
But I also have this vague feeling that if I make a mistake while trying something new, I’ll never be able to get over it. If it happens again and again, it will ruin me.
The truth is that if you are not the kind of person who gets crushed by a single defeat, you will almost never get crushed by multiple defeats. If you make mistakes and learn from them, they won’t hurt as much as you think they will.
Fear of failure and fear of success are at the root of so many mental blocks that it’s almost a shame to even consider them. We’ve all heard the story about the guy who gets up on stage to deliver a speech and starts sweating. The audience sees this and thinks he’s nervous, which causes him to get more nervous. The audience starts looking for other signs of discomfort because this is the kind of nervousness they’re familiar with, so he starts fidgeting and stuttering, which in turn makes him more uncomfortable. In short, his fear of failure is causing him to avoid doing what he has to do in order to succeed.
If you want to be an artist, this is a big problem. If you want to be an artist that actually sells or creates things people love, it’s not like you can just figure out how to do it after a while.
It almost doesn’t matter what kind of art you want to make. If you’re not willing to take risks — if you’re too afraid of not knowing whether your idea will work or being exposed as an amateur — then you’ll never become a thing people pay money for.
Basketball is a game of mistakes. The best players don’t just make great shots, they make mistakes that get them open. The best players are obsessed with getting open. They spend most of their waking hours trying to figure out how to get open, and then they spend more time trying to practice those moves that got them open.
The best players have seen enough basketball to know what great shots look like: the game is filled with examples of good shots. So the interesting thing about good shots is not so much the moments when they happen but the moments before: how you create them, how you plan for them, how you make yourself into a better player, how you learn from your mistakes and repeat your successes.
For all its flaws, basketball is a game of learning. It is a game of mistakes, but it’s still a game, where one mistake can be corrected by another mistake. It’s not a perfect game—no game is—but it’s much closer to perfect than we usually realize.