Last week one of my readers responded to my request for topics with the following question, “If you had to face down one of your 3 largest fears tomorrow, what would it be, and what plan of action would you take?”
I spent a good amount of time pondering this question, primarily to identify my 3 largest fears. Largely I came up blank. I am not fearless, but as a general rule I try not to allow fear to hold me back.
I can think of one instance in which fear held me back from completely something I wanted to do. In this particular case, we were at the county fair in San Diego. In the previous years we had noticed the bungee jumping crane and how fun it would be to do it. This was the year we were going to bungee jump. I went first. They attached the foot harness and hoisted the basket up to the nauseating height in which I was to jump from.
Having watched other jumpers, I knew the routine. The crane hoists you to the top. A few words between you and the attendant manning the basket. They open the gate, you lean out over the edge while holding on to the cage behind you, and they count down from 3. On one, most people hesitate for a slight moment and then let go. Simple.
Once the attendant opened the gate, and I was leaning over the side, I couldn’t let go. He counted down a few times. I couldn’t do it. I came back into the basket. The attendant tried to reassure me everything was going to be ok. After some deliberation, he offered that he could count down and then give me a firm push, “helping” me jump. I told him, I would likely throw him out of the basket if he touched me.
I agreed that I would try again. He opened the gate, I leaned forward, and he counted down. When he got to one, crickets. I simply couldn’t do it. Somewhat humiliated, I had the attendant take me down in the basket. 10 minutes later, Brian jumped successfully.
In retrospect, there were two things working against me. I’m not particularly fond of man-made heights. I never have been. Put me on a single track trail on the side of a mountain, I’m fine. Put me in a glass elevator on the outside of a tall building and I have good deal of unwarranted anxiety. The second issue, I started playing the “what if” game with my self. What if something goes wrong? What if I die? We have all played it. It’s generally a no win game.
The mentor who taught me to firewalk, Tolly Burkan, tells a story of him skydiving for the first time. He was mortified of heights, and he decided he would face his fear by skydiving. Once in the air, he started playing the “what if” game. Moments before he jumped, he was shaking in fear, felt nauseous, but proceeded to the door of the airplane. Thoughts raced through his head, “You’re going to die! You’re going to be injured!” At that moment, he screamed out loud, “So WHAT!” and he jumped.
Since that day, he has no longer been afraid of heights. His desire to overcome his fear was stronger than the fear itself.
In many cases, I think this is all that is necessary to overcome your fears. Your yearning to overcome them is stronger than your fear, allowing you to move past the fear to accomplish your goal.
When you really think about it, our fears are unsubstantiated. We build worst case scenarios on risks our mind exaggerates. The scenario we build is often enough to prohibit moving forward.
My experience with both participating and leading firewalks, I have learned a great deal about fear. Firewalks teach you to face your fear (all humans are inherently afraid of fire), embrace it, set it aside, and proceed. Is there potential for being burned? Absolutely, and I have been, once. Out of over 20 walks, I would say those are pretty good odds. Staring down a 12 foot firewalk the mind invents A LOT of what ifs. My favorite, when asking participants their worst fear about walking on fire, “My feet will burst into flame!”
After successfully navigating a firewalk, your own limiting beliefs about fear begin to change. You no longer view fear within the same frame-work. You have just proven a fundamental belief wrong, particularly with such a strongly engrained belief as “fire burns.”
If I had to face down one of my three largest fears tomorrow. First I would assess if this is something I really need to overcome. Is this holding me back from something I truly wish to accomplish. Second, I would assess “why” I am afraid. Is this based on real or imagined fear. Have I had a negative experience with this in the past? If so, how will this time be different? Imagined fear is derived from what-ifs. To overcome what ifs, you must determine if you are accurately representing the risk involved. And finally, set aside those fears and take action.
As humans, we have evolved to fear things. To move beyond our fears, we have another wonderful trait called courage. We can never eliminate all fears, but with courage we can overcome.
If you have a particular issue you are struggling with, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to provide my 2 cents.
As always, your mileage may vary.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences on the topic of our fears holding us back. A thought provoking read which resonated with me greatly.
I’m not sure if you still lead firewalks, but I’d definitely be interested in learning more about participating in one if you are.
The brain is a big, tricky organ. It doesn’t know the difference between real and imaginary. The irrational fearful thoughts, we all have at some point, tricks the brain to think they’re real. Then, the brain sends those stress signals to our body. It’s our job to train the mind to tell the brain not to fear.
I am really enjoying your blog. Keep up the good work!