Avoiding failure vs approaching achievement

Avoiding failure vs approaching achievement

Preview our second membership, a 12-week interactive membership, which will focus on mental performance. It will provide you with evidence-based education and tools to work towards increasing your self-awareness, achieving your optimal mindset, and enhancing your athletic performance.

Mar 2, 2023 | Arianna Martignetti, Ed.D.

Avoiding failure vs approaching achievement

Would you say that you are passionate about your sport? Sport performance researchers determined that passionate individuals have an activity that they like (or love), invest their time and energy into it, and then that activity becomes a part of who they are (Vallerand et al., 2008). When this occurs, an athlete can experience a harmonious passion or an obsessive passion. For some, their sport or activity can become a main feature of their identity.

Harmonious passion occurs when an athlete interprets their sport or activity as important or valuable, without contingencies, and freely participates in it. For example, a gymnast enjoys engaging in practice and embraces the challenges without feeling like she needs to do it because of her coaches, parents, or teammates. Athletes with harmonious passion also feel like their sport aligns with other important parts of their life, without their sport feeling it is overbearing. Harmonious passion tends to be associated with more positive experiences and well-being, which can also contribute to better focus and flow within their sport.

In contrast, an athlete may experience more of an obsessive passion in which the athlete feels controlled and participates for particular reasons. For example, the gymnast might think that her self-worth is determined by her participation or affects whether she will be socially accepted. When athletes experience more of an obsessive passion, it might be difficult for them to separate from the thoughts they have about their sport, may not enjoy it as much, or their sports conflicts with other areas of their life. This can affect an athlete’s focus and may contribute to more negative experiences within their sport. Athletes with an obsessive passion may also persist more rigidly; for example, an injured athlete may continue to push themselves, and put themselves at further risk of injury, by participating in their sport when they should be recovering.

Avoiding Failure Versus Approaching Achievement

It is important to note that, in general, passion (whether it is harmonious or obsessive) can be a motivating factor for athletes to deliberately participate in practice, which can contribute to optimal or successful performances; however, is the athlete experiencing higher levels of life satisfaction and enjoyment (such as seen in harmonious passion)? Or having more of a negative/not ideal experience because of it (such as in obsessive passion)? Additionally, athletes with more of an obsessive passion may be more inclined to set goals to avoid failure. For example, a soccer player might set a performance-avoidant goal and tell himself “I don’t want to miss this shot.”

Avoidance can be related to an increase in the fear of failing, heighten our anxiety, and lower our motivation. On the other hand, athletes with more of a harmonious passion tend to be related to more secure levels of self-esteem and set goals that reflect striving toward achievement; these can be in the form of mastery goals, which focus on oneself and personal improvement, gaining knowledge, or developing a skill. A mastery goal might sound like “I want to increase my sprint time by five seconds.” When athletes are mastery and approach oriented, they focus on achieving competence or success and feel as if their goals are more within their control. Our effort, persistence, ability to manage obstacles, and whether we experience pride in our accomplishments can be affected by if we are avoidant or approach oriented.

The Mental Performance Membership is a 12-week interactive membership program that will provide you with evidence-based education and tools to work towards: an increase in your self-awareness, a performance mindset that works to your advantage, and an enhancement to your athletic performance. The membership begins with a 60-minute one-on-one evaluation with a mental performance consultant, followed by a weekly education email series as well as monthly 60-minute consultations. Three-month minimum required.