Release The Hand Brake

Many of us probably live life with our hand brake on to a certain extent. We normally hold something back. We keep something in reserve. At times we find ourselves playing our cards close too our chest rather than wearing our hearts on our sleeves. It’s as if we’re scared to show the world all of who we are and what we’ve got. In short, we don’t give fully of ourselves. In the U.K. we would probably see this trait as ‘very British’. Is it culturally ingrained? Does it come from the ‘stiff upper lip’ school of emotional awareness?

I have to admit, I still haven’t got to the bottom of this myself. I find myself living my life with the hand brake on at times. I often ask myself what is it that keeps me from putting the hand brake to the floor and pushing the throttle as far as it will go. Perhaps it is the fear that I will give it everything that I’ve got and not succeed. I met a swimmer once, who told me that she would never give everything she had. She told me that if she kept something in reserve, she could console herself afterwards with the idea that she might have been able to win if she had have given it her all. It was a mental safety net. Her alternative was to know that she’d given it everything she had and it wasn’t good enough. In that situation she would have no hiding place. She’d have no excuse. She would have to admit that her best wasn’t good enough to win.

Perhaps we use our mental hand brake if we have a fear of success? Fear of success can be just as paralyzing as fear of failure. Many people fear success because it tests their limits and makes them vulnerable to new situations. New challenges are presented, which take us into our discomfort zone. Often success will take us into uncharted territory and break our status quo. Imagine the changes that come when you take a business from sole trader status and start employing people. What happens when you go from a handful of employees to 50, or 100, or more? Imagine all of the new demands. The world will start to change very quickly. You’d have admin, finance, HR and management concerns. You’d be taken out of being a practitioner and become a manager. Although you’ve always said that you want to run a big business, when it comes to the crunch, do you truly want the things that would go with it? Success could mean a big change.

Even worse, success can expose weaknesses and force people to deal with their flaws. Success is scary when it involves change. Success can be intimidating and hard to handle. With success come more challenge and more responsibilities, which can be threatening. Sometimes people fear success because they don’t know if they can live up to their achievements. They don’t think they’re good enough or smart enough. They’re afraid they don’t have what it takes to rise to the challenge, and they don’t know if they can sustain their success. I have seen this a lot in athletes. They believe that if they post a spectacular performance, everyone will expect them to repeat it. The problem is, the athlete doesn’t know whether they can. Part of them thinks it is a fluke.

Maybe a part of it stems from fear of rejection. I can remember my hand brake being firmly on when I was at school. I wasn’t enamored with the prospect of approaching girls and asking them out. What if they said ‘no’? My poor little ego couldn’t quite handle the idea. I probably felt that if this girl said ‘no’, all the others would probably say ‘no’ as well. If she doesn’t want to go out with me, why would any of the others? I see the same trait in sales people often, especially when things aren’t going well. Rejections can often carry the same meaning as they did for me at school. If this person won’t buy, why would the next person? When we take on this mindset, we often change our behaviour. We start avoiding situations. We are torn between wanting to do something, but avoiding it because it might lead to rejection. We’ve probably made a link between rejection and failure. If we think that rejection means that we are not good enough, we’re unlikely to put ourselves in a situation where we would experience that…….and on comes our hand brake.

Perhaps though, there is another reason. Maybe we are nervous about pushing ourselves to out limit, because it takes us to the edge. How often have we ever been absolutely at the limits of our capability? For most of us, it’s unknown territory. We simply don’t know what the edge is. We don’t know what it feels like to be there. It would almost be like stepping onto another planet. What if we couldn’t breathe? What if it was too hot? What if our body and mind simply couldn’t cope and we blacked out? What if it was just too scary?

There is a distinct possibility that many of us keep the hand brake on because we’re scared of losing control. When I talk to athletes about releasing the hand brake, we often use the words ‘letting go’. Our hand brakes give us control. It stops us from speeding out of control and allows us to do things at a comfortable pace and on our terms. Letting go means often means that we must relinquish control. In order to relinquish control, we need to trust….

….maybe that is the real issue…

Simon Hartley is the author of Peak Performance Every Time. For more information, visit