I recently watched an interview with Tony Robbins and he was asked how to deal with the fear of failure. He said we all have fears and that everybody – presidents, multi-millionaires, professional athletes – has a place where they get fearful. He went on to say, “Train yourself to say, ‘I can be fearful and I can do it anyway.’” He encouraged listeners to use the energy that comes with fear to overcome the thing they fear.
Tony’s words resonated with me because quite often it’s not fear of failure that controls us, it’s fear of what others think of us that holds us back. Feeling pressured to conform to the expectations of others is called peer pressure when we’re young.
When we get older we like to think we’re above peer pressure but we still care greatly what others think about us. We may not feel the peer pressure that comes with youth (underage drinking, drugs, sex) but we do care what our peers (coworkers, teammates, club members, fans) think of us. In social psychology it’s called consensus or social proof. This principle of influence alerts us to the truth that much of our behavior is dictated by what others are doing or thinking.
Don’t believe me? Let’s consider Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was the greatest player of his era and is considered by many as the greatest basketball player ever. A few his records include:
- Most points in a season: 4,029 (almost a thousand more than Michael Jordan’s best season)
- Highest season average: 50.4 pts./game (Jordan’s best year was 37.1)
- Most points in a game: 100
- Most games scoring 50 or more points: 118
Something Chamberlain was terrible at compared to other NBA players was free throw shooting. His career average was just over 51%. Early in his career he was so bad he switched to the two-handed underhand method when he was at the foul line. When I was a kid we called it the “granny shot.” With the change Wilt’s free throw shooting improved! And then he switched back! Why?
According to best selling Malcolm Gladwell, Wilt switched back because of peer pressure. More specifically, he thought he looked like a sissy shooting underhanded from the free throw line. Imagine that, the greatest player of his time, perhaps all time, made a choice that hurt his game and team because of the fear of how it made him look!
To put this in perspective, Wilt Chamberlain was the LeBron James of his day. He stood 7’1 tall, weighed 275 lbs., and moved like a gazelle. His athletic prowess was decades ahead of his time. He bragged near the end of his life that he’d slept with over 20,000 women. If there was anyone who was supremely self-confident, it was Wilt Chamberlain. And still he caved to what people thought of him in one area of life that mattered a lot.
Perhaps if Wilt had met Tony Robbins he would have converted his fear into resolve which may have extended some of his records, helped his team win more games, and perhaps led to another championship or two.
Do you care what others think about you? Of course you do. Have you learned to stay true to what is right and best for you? If not, take the advice of Tony Robbins and acknowledge your fear then harness the energy that comes with fear and beat it!