January 06, 2014
#CrushYourKryptonite: Addressing Fear
This summer I was benighted on the side of a cliff in a lightning storm. I often find myself precariously climbing rock walls facing unexpected falls. I’ve crossed gaping, bottomless crevasses on glaciers and I’ve rappelled into the abyss countless times. People expect me to be brave, after-all I climb mountains for a living. But the truth is I’m scared of many things, I’ve just practiced controlling the fear. The thought of fear conjures up images of traditionally scary things; heights, sharks, burglars, whatever it is that scares you most. These fears are deep rooted and even the mere thought of them can lead to sweaty palms and a quicker heart rate. Our instincts send a message of caution. But there is another category of scary, one I believe we are desensitized to because we don’t recognize it as scary in the traditional sense. I’m talking about the things that scare us on a daily basis; the scary subtleties of life we so adamantly try to avoid. So what scares me most? Modern fears. Social rejection, negative self-talk, deadlines, commitment, vulnerability, heartbreak, loss, social situations, financial issues, low self-confidence, interviews, competition... There's an important difference between these two types of fears. The first is sudden and sometimes unavoidable and represents true danger. For example; When I leave the ground for a hard climb and I have to go quite high before I reach safety my instincts say, “This is scary! If you fall you’ll get hurt.” I then acknowledge the fear and rationally access the situation. I agree that falling from 10 meters would result in injury, or death, and that my fear is warranted. This is legitimate traditional fear; my instincts trying to keep my vessel alive. The other scary things in life are uncomfortable external and/or internal situations that do not threaten our livelihood. For example; teaching a fitness class at a new gym to 20 women. I felt the nerves building days before my class as I prepared. The day finally arrived when I was to teach and minutes before I was to get in front of the class I was sweating more then normal and my heart was pounding loudly. I took some deep breathes and acknowledged it was fear I was feeling. I wondered if my instincts were trying to protect me from something dangerous. If this class goes horrible awry is my life in danger? Of course not. Even in the worst case I will walk out of this class with all my limbs. I realized my fear was irrational and worthless - an outdated instinct. I call this illusory, modern fear; types of situations where you feel fear but you’re safe. Your life isn’t at risk. Because these everyday fears are uncomfortable we prefer to avoid them at all costs, pretend they didn't exist, because they can make us feel inadequate, stupid, unqualified, unfit, whatever. Needless to say they’re feelings we’d rather avoid and we do by avoiding certain situations in which they may arise. Such situations make us confront our weaknesses and underlying fears, and that can be as terrifying and upsetting as being stranded on a mountain. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Think about this for a moment. It's a powerful question that can open your mind to your true potential. The feeling is warm, encouraging and scary all at once. Ah, the power of belief! But humans are innately afraid of the unknown. More often then not we'll avoid trying something all together because we’re afraid of failure or scared of the outcome. We’re afraid of what might happen. Aversion to the failure of not reaching a goal is much stronger than the desire to exceed it. Whether we know it or not, the mere thought of failing holds us back from our full potential. Let’s try to understand why we so easily focus on failure. The brain of humans (and other animals) are designed to give priority to bad news. This response to favor bad news first would improve the animals odds of living long enough to reproduce. But our modern environment is nothing like the one where this neurological function served us best. Most of us are no longer hunting our food or sleeping under the stars, where the fear instinct would of helped us. But unfortunately we’re left with this kluge and still cater to bad and scary things. Unbeknownst to us, scary things control the course of our lives. Climbing mountains has introduced me to the fear within myself and I’m comfortable with it now because I've dealt with it many times in controlled environments. I’m able to quickly acknowledge the emotion as fear and decide whether or not it's warranted by real danger. Is it rational or irrational? More often then not, the fear is irrational because the outcome isn't death, not even a broken bone. I can be just as scared to talk in front of people as I am taking a safe fall while climbing but in both situations the fear being felt is not useful because the risk of real danger isn’t real, and it’s holding me back from realizing my true potential. This illusory modern day fear is outdated and I don't want it to control my life. After rationally deciding whether or not a situation is truly dangerous I think we can further overcome fear by changing our perspective. By changing “scary” to “exciting”, “fear” into “curiosity”. With this understanding I hope to continuously evolve. This year I’ll tackle the things I’ve been avoiding doing because there is no better time then now. I will value myself enough to believe my voice counts to, and I’ll believe I’m capable of achieving the things I dream about. As I move forward with this life of mine I expect there'll be uncomfortable times, but hey, a little discomfort never hurt anyone. This year, follow your intuition and be bold friends. Best wishes.