Nothing can give you fearlessness

Eibhlin Fletcher

Eibhlin Fletcher

CEO & Founder Get A Grip of the Grind

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.

I launched off this ramp at the top of top of Les Grands Montets on the Aiguille du Midi in the Chamoix Valley, France, crash landing a few hours later. Aug 2001

The fear of not doing something will not be my excuse for having regrets. Period. I am determined fear will not stop me from living a full life. It’s an attitude you get to choose.

Eibhlin Fletcher

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.

With fear, unlike anxiety, there is a clear danger located in space and time that must be dealt with. This danger is tangible, although the element of fear is not, since it merely arises and exists in the mind.

Ranulph Fiennes

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.

Adventure racing (Queensland 2021) teaches you grit and problem solving - and allows me to be me!

Confidence and therefore the ability to deal with ambiguity and fear, and live our own lives is fast disappearing in our population, and we are unconsciously breeding it into our descendants.

Eibhlin Fletcher

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.

Trick 1: Practice

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.

Eibhlin Verdun Gorge - France late 90s

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).

I’d turned into a chicken and lost my confidence and perception of the risk.

Eibhlin Fletcher

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.

There’s, like, this fight between courage and fear. And sometimes we choose fear because we want to protect ourselves. But we don’t realize that by choosing fear, we put ourselves in a situation that has a really bad impact on us.” Our (her father and herself) courage was stronger than our fear. And that what really changed our lives was fear. It wasn’t that we just totally were fine with what was going on in our society. We were afraid. And that was the fear - that to live in that situation - the fear that I would be away from school, that really motivated me to have the courage to speak out.

Malala Yousafzai

Trick 2: Read the signs

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)

the hypothalamus tells your body to increase your breathing and heart rate, dilate your pupils, and make your palms sweaty.” There is very little physiological difference between fear and excitement, except with excitement, you also trigger the reward part of the brain. Studies have shown that if you learn to anticipate fear, you’ll can activate the reward centre of the brain, which you can’t do if the fear is unpredictable. If we know that fear is coming, we can fire up the reward centre of the brain, making us feel alive, in doing so we develop a much better response to the situation/s

Alex Korb, Psychology Today

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?

I took up mountain biking about 6 years ago to reconnect with the vibrancy of life aka rekindling my relationship with adrenaline.

Trick 3: Talk to trick the fear away

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:

at one point I had two students taking a test and they started complaining that the head snaps (on the rifle) were coming up lightly crooked instead of perfectly straight up and down. Really? I thought. What are you going to do on the battlefield (that’s real life for us)? Ask the enemy to stand up straight while you shoot them? They (two soldiers) failed (the task) miserably. It was due to the quality of their own self-coaching. The target wasn’t any harder to hit, just because it wasn’t straight. It was the fact that something went wrong, and they let it get to them. It wasn’t the target. It was what they were telling themselves about the target.

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

  • positive
  • action orientated
  • in the ‘do’ right now
  • make you feel powerfully confident
  • they must be with whole body conviction, and committed feeling

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked — Wild, March 2012

Cheryl Strayed

Fundamentally, as Eizabeth Bilbert Author of Eat Pray Love says

YOUR FEAR IS BORING. … Fear is boring, because fear only ever has one thing to say to us, and that thing is: ‘STOP!’ My fear wants me to live a smaller life. The smallest imaginable life, ideally. My fear would prefer that I never got out of bed. Your fear is the same. Exactly the same as mine. I guarantee it.

I got so much from adventuring its now a passion of mine to introduce others to it. #annualfestival #getagripofthegrind

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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Me on my latest adventure. Click the image to read the blog.

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.

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