I have experienced fear many times as a rock climber, hang glider pilot, diver, in a car crash or two, as a parent, friend, lover as well as professionally – giving some feedback to Senior Executives / CEOs/Chairs, having courageous conversations with some difficult staff, taking risks with projects, rocking the boat. You get the gist.
The perception to many of my friends, colleagues and acquaintances is that I am fearless. This is not true. I simply have a different appetite and motivation for taking risks that has been developed by nurturing a healthy relationship with fear throughout my life. I see dangers but mostly I think the worst that can happen is my ego takes a dent, I break a bone or someone’s belief system is challenged, rarely do I think I will actually die. I also see risk taking as a learning opportunity and it feeds my desire for new experiences.
My fascination with fear and how the body responds to stress and anxiety has evolved more with the arrival of kids, my parenting choices as well as coaching and developing programs to expose people’s fears so they develop better responses personally and professionally.
Let’s separate fear and anxiety.
I see and hear people, women in particular, full or part time professionals with a second job as a parent and a third as a Chauffeur etc. lose confidence in their decision-making and become afraid to be themselves in society. In addition, significant life changes such as the breakup of relationships, loss of loved ones, becoming a mother, or major forced career changes erode a sense of self, and identify and therefore personal confidence.
Fear of loss, fear of what the neighbours/friends might think, fear of sticking out, fear of being left behind or ridiculed, fear of litigation, fear of eating a little bit of fat or sugar, fear of our kids having their turn to explore the world, fear of speaking the truth.
As Thich Nhat Hanh said “Nobody can give you fearlessness”, however, you can very easily and with practice expand (and with lack of practice shrink) your fear window, and embrace a whole other world of experiences that bring joy, excitement and a sense of vitality into your life. Let’s look at some tricks to help us reduce our adverse reaction to taking risks.
In my mid to late 20s my husband and I climbed all over England, Scotland, France, Ireland. I usually followed him up routes taking out protective gear he had set for himself as the lead climber. I have distinct memories of experiencing disco-leg for the first time one thousand metres up the Verdon Gorge in France as we climbed a route called ‘Wide is Love’. It looked very friggin wide from that height. The route was only 40m long, however we had to abseil down to the start as it was located about 650 metres from the base of the gorge.
More recently though, now in my late 40s, we went to Tasmania on a holiday, and tried some ahem…. ‘easy’ routes out on Freycinet Island. Oh my god, my fear window had shrunk, massively shrunk. That was a big shock. What was not sending my heart racing and instilling a fear of a fall, would have been like walking around Albert Park when I climbed regularly. It’s not age, it was practice. I’d lost confidence in my balance, my strength, my technique, my equipment, and the fall was only going to give me a graze or too. Nothing was going to be broken (my No. 2 assessment criteria, No.1 is a death outcome).
A good talking to myself whilst handing in the harness (aka self-coaching) got me off my fear plateau and I finished the climb! Malala Yousafzai sums up the balance of fear and courage nicely.
Fear manifests in the mind and the body. I can sense it coming now. I know the very early signs of it attempting to take over my body and brain. Remember the extreme disco leg above, that was my body overriding my brain about the position I was in. I also get a warm sensation sweeping through my torso; I hear unproductive thoughts in my head, and I get sweaty. In bad situations, I lose sensations from my hips/knees downwards.
I have learned how to deal with these responses, as with all things in the mind, you have a choice. You can let fear overwhelm and paralyse you, or you can take control of it.
Here’s a bit of interesting science around fear. Did you know that when you feel excitement, the hypothalamus triggers the same physiological reaction as when you feel fear? When you are scared (read quote below)
I guess the question to answer now is how do you activate the reward part of the brain when you’re in a state of fear?
In The Killing School, a book on how the Sniper School of the USA Military was overhauled, the biggest single aspect of the course they changed was all to do with Mindset – how you talk to yourself, what you think. This extract elaborates why self-coaching is so critical to success:
What do you tell yourself when things go wrong? Do you blame others, the external environment, or do you self-coach,? Do you trick the fear away? What power thoughts do you have to replace the negative, low self-esteem, incapable, fear thoughts invading your headspace?
To train your brain to sense the opportunity and not the threat use even stronger language that is about how you FEEL (you have to say it like you mean it) when you connect with your thoughts. Yes, you are tricking your mind into what it is seeing and hearing and therefore how you are choosing to respond. Fear is about your window of tolerance and capacity to push past emotional reactions to future fears (mind over matter). Some power thought swops include:
You can make your own power thoughts to use in your particular circumstances. They must meet the following criteria
Fundamentally, as Eizabeth Bilbert Author of Eat Pray Love says
Now you’ve read this, what fear of yours will you vanquish today? What will you do to expand your window of tolerance? Adventure experiences are core to our Get a Grip of the Grind programs. They allow you to get up close and personal with your fears and anxieties, so you recognise them, giving you the choice to commence the journey of taming them leading to excitement and a more fulfilling career with a different and bigger comfort zone!
You can check out our next adventure here or join us for our annual Get a Grip of the Grind festival in February 2022. Early bird tickets are onsale now.
#befearless #daretobebold #liveabiglife #getagripofthegrind #noregrets #impostersyndrome #adventurouslife
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If you like what you’re reading why not join us for our annual Get A Grip of the Grind festival held the last weekend in February in Bright, NE Victoria (25-27 Feb 2022) and get your own epiphanies. Our podcast AIFE tells tales about women who are rocking their world. As we learn to live with Covid our weekend warrior programs have recommenced as part of The AIFE Series. You can join us on one of these weekend adventures which can be found on our website.