We all experience fear, but what is it? Fear is fantasized outcomes appearing real. In my terms…fear is self created by imagining a negative outcome in the future. Um, so fear isn’t even real? The feelings associated with it certainly are. But the event we are “afraid” of hasn’t actually happened (and may never happen). Yet we give in to fear ALL THE TIME! Does fear ever stop you from achieving or doing something you really want to do? I know for many years I had let fear rule me. As a freshman in high school I went out for the track team. I started hurdling and sprinting and was having fun, but what I really wanted to learn was the high jump. I was decently tall, had ok hops and was somewhat flexible. One of my older friends whom I looked up to a lot was our only girl high jumper. She started to tutor me, and I was showing promise and having a blast learning the new skill. Our first meet was at a small school in the middle of nowhere. As I was warming up for my first two events (hurdles and high jump) I looked over to the high jump pit and noticed there wasn’t really a pit, just a net full of foam wedges laying on the ground. I panicked. A host of imagined outcomes raced through my mind. What if I missed the “pit”? What if I knocked the bar off and landed on it with no padding? What if I did something really stupid and made a fool out of myself? I was already extremely nervous and didn’t know quite how to control my emotions. My hurdles were to be run at the same time as the high jump. Usually in a small dual or tri-team meet they allow you to go back and forth between field events and running events. I knew this, but used the fact that they were at the same time as an excuse to bail on the high jump. The extremely sad thing was, that I never went back to the high jump. Not in 4 years. In fact, the next time I approached a high jump bar was when I was 9 months pregnant and trying to induce labor by helping run a track clinic.
Does fear ever paralyze you in that way? Oh how I wished I knew then what I know now. What I know now is that courage is not the lack of fear (as I had assumed until a few years ago). Courage is being scared to death, and jumping into the “non” pit anyway. Courage is wanting to throw up at just the thought of the 300 hurdles, but getting in the blocks anyway. I lacked courage. I lacked the mental strength to look my fears in the face and say, “To heck with you! I am doing it anyway!” I lacked any strategies to deal with my fear. I have learned a few of them now. I am constantly learning more. But for those of you who are debilitated by your fears, try some of these on for size.
1. Try the Harry Potter method of dealing with the Boggarts. Imagine your fear in the funniest way possible. (Ron imagines a spider’s legs (his deepest fear) in roller skates and it is struggling to stay upright). Use laughter to diminish the situation.
2. Figure out what you are imagining that is bringing up the fear, then imagine the opposite. Your brain is unable to handle both thoughts at the same time. Eg. I was imagining myself missing the pit and making a fool of myself. Instead, imagine making a great jump, hitting the pit just right, and doing well.
3. Take a moment to pay attention to the physical sensation you are feeling with the fear (sweaty palms, butterflies, etc.) Imagine the physical response you would like to have. Really take time to focus on that positive feeling.
4. Eliminate some of the risk. Maybe jumping off the 50 foot cliff is a bit overwhelming. Try a 4 foot cliff first. When that no longer scares you to the point of not jumping, go to a 6 foot cliff. Continue to move forward (even if the process is slow) until you can jump off the 50 foot cliff. Remember that it is common and normal to still feel fear, but having the courage to jump is what we are looking for, not eliminating the fear.
5. If bite size pieces isn’t for you, bite the bullet instead and take the big leap all at once. Often, the stress of thinking about doing something is worse than actually doing it.
I love this quote by Alberto Salazar, winner of three consecutive NYC marathons. “If you want to achieve a high goal, you’re going to have to take some chances.”
There’s still a chance you will miss the “pit” and land on the bar, but you won’t ever have the chance to make it over the bar unless you actually jump.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly” -Robert F. Kennendy
Shelly Coray is an inspiring speaker, trainer, coach, and mom. She has helped hundreds of youth and adults gain greater control over their thoughts and actions and achieve higher levels of success through her workshops, speeches and training programs. Find out more about her HERE.