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I Hate Heights! How We Can Manage Our Fears and Perform at Our Best!

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Mindset Made Simple Tip #116 – Watch or listen HERE.

We are so lucky to live in an amazing neighborhood with the best people! Two of our awesome neighbors are proud Pitt grads and we joined them yesterday for the Pitt/Virginia Tech game at Acrisure Stadium. It was a blast!

We sat at the 50-yard line and watched the Pitt running back break Tony Dorsett’s rushing record. Good stuff!

As we were sitting in our great seats, my son looked up at the other side of the stadium and thought the top row of the stadium would be a nice view. Guess where we went next?

If you have read my tips for a few years, you know I am not good with heights (see Tip #15).

So up we went…up… and up…I tried to stop before we got to the top, but nope! That wasn’t going to cut it!

To the top we went. But that wasn’t good enough either and we had to walk over to another section to be in the sun. Oh boy!

You’re thinking, “so what?”. And you’re exactly right!

What is different about walking up steps in that section than in the 50-yard line seat section? What is different about walking horizontally along the seats in the 500 section or the 100 section?

Truth be told, there is some difference. It is steeper. And it is further from the field. But ultimately…the walking IS THE SAME! To move forward, I must, as defined by Oxford Languages, “move at a regular pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, never having both feet off the ground at once.”

But it didn’t feel the same AT ALL! Suddenly I didn’t trust my ability to walk!

Am I letting my anxiety about what might happen if I misstep affect my physical ability to walk and balance just like our athletes fear a mistake?


Fear, thoughts of the worst-case scenario, and a preconceive notion of not performing well in high places all kept me from performing a simple task I have done pretty well for 50 years. There is no difference in the task of walking whether it be at sea level or 1000 feet off the ground.

But the environment changes and that changes us…mentally and physiologically!

Just like there is no difference in shooting a foul shot in practice or the last seconds of a tight game – they don’t move the basket or make it higher. And there is no difference in throwing a 0-0 pitch or a 3-2 pitch – they don’t move the batter closer. This situation brought to my full attention how our perceptions, the effects of fear and how our brain functions when it comes to doing simple tasks in stressful situations.

What do we do when we feel pressure/fear/stress? We get tight. We start to overthink. We analyze every movement as if we haven’t done it before. We don’t trust our training or talent!

This is a recipe for disaster.

Dr. Sian Leah Beilock, President at Barnard College, cognitive physiologist and author of the book Choke, has studied athletes and their ability to perform when analyzing every step of a skill. She found that elite athletes (college level or those who have a lot of high-level experience) do worse when asked to dribble the ball while thinking about which part of their foot is touching the ball as they work.


Because they are paying attention to something that normally do on autopilot and they are better served not focusing on the details.

Think about that coach…or parent…who stands on the sidelines instructing every single move. “Get your foot down, watch your launch angle, see the ball, keep your hands high, keep your weight back and drive the ball.”


Now the hitter is thinking of every portion of the skill as they are trying to decide to swing in .35 seconds.

This is no different from a forward standing at the line with someone shouting (or the athlete herself thinking), “bend your knees, follow through, keep your wrist….”

You get the picture.

I give the athletes I work with a rule on when they can think or review mechanical technique.

A pitcher cannot think about her mechanics on the rubber. She can in the circle, but when she moves back to the rubber, it is time to go to her preperformance routine…for consistency, comfort and confidence. A tennis player cannot think about her backhand technique at the baseline. If she walks back to the fence between shots or turns her back from the court, she can think about mechanics. Once she returns, it signals her time to focus on the next ball…her routine to get ready to hit it!

All their internal coaching must be done outside of the space where they will perform.


Because we cannot think about what we are doing while we are doing it!

We can all agree with Dr. Beilock that the ability to focus is important. And more importantly, she says, we have to be focused on the right things. When we are in high-stakes settings or want to do well for any reason, we often start to focus on the wrong things. We tend to second-guess ourselves and perform in tight and regimented ways instead of simply executing what we have done so many times before with success. When we play tight, we mess up, and this leads to more anxiousness and more mistakes.

Ask a player to give you details about an ESPN Top 10 play…and they can’t. Because they were in the moment…in flow…not in the mechanical details.

There is a time to think about technique, but that time is not while we are doing it.

If we are thinking about how to do something in the moment, it will slow us down to think about it consciously. It’s time to trust our training!

If we are overthinkers or get in the habit of mechanical thinking…which turns into mechanical playing…we can do a few things to help us act without overanalyzing.

We can give our brains something to do.

We can sing a song. Remember, “I love it when you call me Big Papa.”? If it works in the movies…😊.

We can use our breathing techniques (that must be practiced outside of performance situations and in training).

And we can set rules on what we think about where…at the line our plan is to focus on XYZ. Before we get to the line we can think about ABC.

The bottom line is this. WE MUST HAVE A PLAN.

We will get stressed. We will feel pressure. We will have fear (whether rational or not).

And when we are trying to perform…or allow our child to experience something cool…we need all of the cognitive resources we can get, so having a set plan that we have practiced before we face adversity will help us free up that precious cognitive space to take in the important stuff and keep us focused on the variables that will help us succeed!

So the next time I climb to new heights, I know to trust my 50 years of training…but I also know that starting to use my breath before I reach the top and singing a song or finding a way to keep my mind busy so I don’t overanalyze every footstep will help me walk like a normal human being…not one all tight and bent over using the chairbacks as a handrail! (What a chicken!)

Manage the moments and have a great week!


P.S. Mental training tools make a difference. Contact me at any time to talk about how we can help your athletes through my 5 Minute Mindset™ program and customized team sessions to help them make the most out of the opportunities in front of them! Email me at or call/text 234-206-0946.

Julie Jones

Mental Performance & Mindset Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946

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