What scares people?
The fear of failure is high on the list. It’s such a common fear that it has more than one term to describe it. Atychiphobia and Kakorraphiophobia are two of the names to choose from.
What about speaking in front of crowds?
Twenty-five percent of people claim to be afraid of public speaking.¹
Apparently, getting over this fear isn’t as simple as just picturing the audience in their bloomers.
Maybe the fear is of something more tangible, like heights. Acrophobia, as its called, is commonly listed among the top three phobias affecting people as well.
Whatever it is that we are afraid of, there are far worse things that are worthy of our fear.
When the elderly are interviewed about their life’s greatest regrets, they commonly sight worrying too much and the things they didn’t do as some of the most common answers.²
Failure, loss, and pain; none of these compare to the fear that they’ve missed out on truly important experiences and relationships.
There is a simple remedy for being scared. It’s facing the fear.
Confronting the circumstances that trigger our fears allows peoples’ bodies and minds to adapt. A bit of mindful breathing and situational acceptances slows the heart rate. Only then can we react to the moment instead of becoming lost in the many thoughts and assumptions that paralyze our physical being.
In addition to preventing this emotional coma, confronting that which scares us allows us to experience sensations and moments that we would otherwise miss.
For the past year I’ve tried to remain cognizant of those inevitable instances when fear takes over my mind and body. In lieu of allowing the fear to control me, I have begun to see those moments as opportunities. I see being scared as an invitation to do something I had been unwilling to try in the past.
This past spring I stood at the edge of the Animas River with the opportunity to take a dip. I knew the water would be frigid, but I was also keenly aware I would have only one chance. I hesitated, knowing that I would experience some discomfort. I was about to turn away from the river, when I began to consider where this resistance was coming from.
I wouldn’t die. I was already in my bathing suit and had a towel nearby, so why not? Nothing significant was causing my hesitation. It was just an uncontrolled, unconscious reaction. The worst case scenario would be that I would be cold for a few minutes. At best I would have a great story to tell about my experience. I might even enjoy it.
As I turns out, my fears and hesitation were unwarranted. I entered the water for a mere few seconds and it was quite invigorating and refreshing. I enjoyed the experience so much that I reentered the river once more before I left.
A few weeks after my experience at the Animas I was atop the continental divide at one of Colorado’s ski resorts. A friend and I dismounted the lift at its zenith. We proceeded to climb further, up to the peak. We headed above where the rest of the snow sport enthusiasts were comfortably dropping into the groomed runs.
We ascended the crest and reached our intended point of descent. That familiar rush of fear took over again as I looked down the mountain. It did not appear to slope. It just dropped off. I could not see anything below the first ridge a few yards away. I was literally staring off into the abyss. I felt the same internally.
On my best days, I consider myself an intermediate level snowboarder. I felt way “over my skis” in the moment. My instincts were telling me to quit. I’m not good enough for this. I should just turn around and hike back down, I thought to myself.
And I almost did. My fear was trying to control my actions and my life. But, I had been programming myself to recognize these moments. I wasn’t going to let it. It was time to face my fear again.
Looking around, I realized several other skiers had climbed the ridge as well. I knew I was pretty fit. I had a sufficient life insurance policy if the worst happened, so my family would be taken care of. I told myself I wouldn’t turn back now. I was going to go for it.
Peering down the mountain again I forced the fear from my mind. I was able to spot a low point on ridge far below to the left. That would be my target. I would just drop in and figure out the rest as I rode.
My turns were wide and powerful. The run was well above what I thought possible for myself, but I did it. I made it to the bottom without a stumble or hesitation. Not only was there little to be worried about, but it was the most amazing experience I had ever had on a single snowboard run.
I had my new adventure, and at the same time challenged my own self-imposed limitations.
Sometimes the fear is of something small, like imagining the pool water is going to be cold before you jump in. Sometimes it is a fear of something more significant, like asking for a raise at work, or getting on an airplane when you have a debilitating fear. It’s absurd how our preconceptions, assumptions, rules, and misconceptions prevent us from doing the things we truly want to do.
It’s all due to fear. And fear isn’t real.
Sure, long ago we evolved a survival mechanism that helped our neanderthal ancestors not get eaten by saber-toothed tigers, but there aren’t too many of those around anymore.
Fears hold us back unnecessarily. They prevent us from being the person we want to be, and leading the life we want to lead. Fear keeps us working dead-end jobs, and in unfulfilling relationships. Being scared stops us from travelling to new and exciting settings. It’s the main reason we do not try new things.
Allowing our fears to prevent us the experiences that may greatly alter our lives for the best is ludicrous.
I challenge everyone to face the fear.
From now on, when you catch yourself saying No to something, follow up by asking yourself Why not? I believe we’ll all be surprised by the lack of any legitimate reason to face that fear.
Most likely, the only thing preventing us from doing what we want to in the face of the fear is some set of arbitrary rules we set for ourselves long ago. Once we reflect, and decide if there is a real reason to be afraid or if we’re just responding to some social stigma or taboo, we’ll remove the roadblocks we place in our path to true happiness.
Go out there. Face a fear today.
You may uncover a great person, with a supreme power, that is hiding just beyond that fear.