My parents will often remind me what a fearful kid I was; when walking down the stairs in our house, I would cling to the bannister as I gingerly took each step, taking care not to fall. I would cower behind my best friend at school and was always the girl in ballet class, crying in the corner, too shy to dance or take part.
The fact that we all experience fear at some point is not often spoken about. Fear seems to be a universal phenomena for us human beings. In fact, it’s likely that if you’re trying new things, growing and going out of your comfort zone, you’ll experience fear too.
One reason lots of us are more fearful than we should be however, is that many of us (especially women) are warned as children of the many dangers in the world – and that we need to ‘be careful’ all the time.
Add to this the daily news that we watch or listen to; a highlight reel of all the dangers, disasters and suffering that the world has to offer, and you’ve got a cocktail for fear, anxiety and uncertainty.
For many of us, our minds are primed from an early age that ‘the world is a dangerous place’. If we’re overprotected or constantly reminded to be cautious, there’s a belief that we won’t be able to handle this dangerous world.
If you experience fear a lot, you might feel alone in it, but trust me, you’re not alone.
It’s common to look at incredible singers or actors, or confident colleagues and imagine that they never feel any fear. Not so.
Incredible talents such as Adele report terrible stage fright (even to the point of throwing up) and even the most experienced actors such as Emma Thompson still experience fear before each performance.
We’ve all heard the hyped up techniques to ‘CRUSH THE FEAR’ or ‘DECREASE FEAR TO ZERO’ – when in truth, a bit of fear is normal, even healthy, and most of us just have to feel the fear, and do it anyway.
If we let fear run amok it can hold us back from reaching our full potential and living our lives to the full. Nobody wants that.
What happens when we face a fear is typically one of two things:
a) We prove to ourselves that we could handle the situation and it all went fine
b) Something goes wrong (we flunk a presentation, get rejected, make a mistake) and we realise that even if things don’t go to plan, we are still ok.
Either way, facing fear has the effect of reducing the fear. The amygdala, the fear centre of the brain, learns to reduce it’s activity once it learns that there is no real threat, after all.
We learn that we can handle the situation, no matter what happens. Often the worst case scenario isn’t really that bad after all.
At age nine, I went from timid stair clamberer to confident dare-devil in one transformative experience.
At our local theme park there was a ride called ‘The Tower of Terror’; it consisted of a huge tower, perilous drop and a loop the loop inside the tower.
Whether it was the confidence I got from holding my Dad’s hand or the sugar and colouring from the pink cotton candy I’d been eating, I somehow plucked up the courage to go on the ride.
Afterwards I felt exhilarated; I’d ridden the ‘Tower of Terror’, and I’d survived.
It gave me an incredible boost of confidence; ‘What else am I capable of doing?’ I wondered to myself.
Throughout my life I’ve had several other experiences like this; times I was afraid to do something, felt the fear and faced it, then felt less fear the next time.
In 2015 I overcame a fear of snowboarding (fear of injury, the big scary mountain, the treacherous ski lifts!). This was another big step for me in terms of my confidence and self belief.
I loved what a client told me recently; about how he felt he was expanding his ‘circle of possibility’ through facing fears, one step at a time.
He’d suffered with severe anxiety for many years and had felt that his sphere of safety and comfort was confined only to his bed. He found that as he kept pushing himself out of his comfort zone, little by little, he was learning that he could in fact handle lifes little challenges. His circle was expanding.
He’s built it up to the point where now he can travel over 200 miles to visit me for his sessions, where he meets new people, travels alone and stays in a hotel, something that in the past he was never able to do. Who knows what he’ll be capable of next?
I love the phrase:
Can you see each new challenge as an exciting event?
Can you breathe in to it?
Can you accept that the fear may be there, but that you can handle it?
I’d love to hear from you; what has been your ‘Tower of Terror’? Or maybe your Tower of Terror still awaits!
What small step could you take towards it? Let me know in the comments.
Image courtesy of Daniel Rozier.