Turning Fear into an Asset for Peak Performance

Rich Stowell, Master Flight Instructor

Peak performance is not just for athletes; we are capable of excelling in all aspects of our personal and professional lives. Unfortunately, fear prevents many of us from stretching ourselves beyond our comfort zones. So rather than striving for peak performance, stasis becomes the norm. The underlying causes of fear can usually be categorized as follows:[1]

  1. A lack of confidence in the ability to perform up to one’s own expectations and/or desires;
  2. A lack of confidence in the ability to perform up to the expectations of significant others; or
  3. The possibility (real or imagined) of physical injury and/or death.

Fear triggers a release of adrenaline that affects our physiology. It can also initiate an internal focus on negative thoughts and feelings that degrade performance.[2] Consequently, the feared outcome is often realized and reinforced, diminishing not only the incentive to try again, but also the likelihood of success under similar circumstances in the future. “Choking” and “in a slump” are familiar sports expressions for this type of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yet provided it is manipulated just to the point of maximum effectiveness, fear can become a potent asset for new learning.[3] During Take Flight Workshops, anxiety levels are expertly managed to capitalize on the positive effects adrenaline can have on learning. Successful outcomes at each phase of the workshop experience have been shown to improve confidence and performance. An outside evaluation also confirmed that the methodology used in these workshops enhances the participants’ sense of empowerment.


[1] Nideffer, Robert M., Ph.D. Getting Into The Optimal Performance State. http://www.taisdata.com/articles/optimal.pdf?PHPSESSID=29b712b64f24937a83eab5c3142a960d

[2] Ibid.

[3] Wise, Jeff. Extreme Fear. Palgrave Mcmillan, 2009, 22.