When I played basketball as a kid, I struggled to make free throws in games. I did not have any problems making them in practice, but in a game, the combination of psychological pressure and immense excitement would make my hands shake, and as a result, the shot wouldn’t drop.

It didn’t matter how good I was in practice. The only way to overcome this problem was to play more games.

When you expose yourself enough (both enough times and for a long enough period of time) to a thing that makes you tense, or even fearful, the intensity of your psychophysiological (in this case sympathetic) response decreases. Your body learns that there’s no real threat and that such response is unnecessary. This makes you panic less, and naturally, perform better, which then increases your self-confidence, which improves your performance even further, resulting in an upward spiral.

It was tempting to just spend more time in practice shooting free throws or perhaps try to change my shooting technique. But that wouldn’t address the real issue. The real solution was to face my fears and play through the slump.

This translates to other things as well.

I know people who are learning to code, and are afraid to get involved in an open source project because they don’t think they are good enough. I have also heard great bloggers say how intimidating it was for them to publish blog posts when they were starting out.

If you’re truly not ready, and you need to work on your skills, by all means, focus on that first. But if you feel like you’ve practiced enough, and that it’s time to try to take it to the next level, I hope this post encourages you to take the leap.