Nephew: I have been offered a skydiving experience, but the idea scares the poo out of me. Any advice?
Uncle: Do it. Do things that scare you.
Uncle: Every time we move through fear we become a little stronger, a little more confident in our ability to handle the world. A little more resilient.
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Nephew: Then who needs skydiving? I could just watch horror films.
Uncle: Watching scary movies doesn’t count. You need to actively move through your
fears, not passively inure yourself to them.
Nephew: How about speeding down a suburban street?
Uncle: Stupidity sours courage. There is a difference between being courageous and being a jerk.
‘Courage is about what you feel a need to do, whereas bravado is about how you want others to think of you . . .’
Christopher Kilmartin in his book, ’When Anger Scares You’
Nephew: I’ll tell that to cousin Jimmy.
Uncle: When you do something scary, you are supposed to minimise the dangers, not create them. Abseilers, speleologists, mountain climbers . . . skydivers, carefully prepare, to minimise the risks as much as possible.
Nephew: So alright, let’s say I attempt something scary. Isn’t there a danger that if something goes wrong my confidence will be shattered?
Uncle: It’s hard to say. I guess it depends on what happens. Can you not remember a time in which you failed in an attempt, but confidence in yourself grew anyway? Simply because you gave it a go?
Nephew: Maybe. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, I am phobic with spiders. Would you recommend I pick up a spider to overcome my fear?
Uncle: Showering yourself with a bucketful of spiders, or just picking one up, would be asking too much. You might traumatise yourself and enhance your phobia. Work up to it. If you felt uncomfortable being in the same room as a photograph of spider, but could handle it, start there. With a phobia, you might want to get professional advice.
Nephew: I don’t have a phobia of spiders.
Uncle: If you did, working through it slowly would benefit you.
Nephew: Yeah, but I don’t have a phobia. It was hypothetical. Besides, skydiving scares me more. Where’s that advice I asked for?
Uncle: For a start, don’t wait for the day when it doesn’t scare you as much.
Nephew: Why not?
Uncle: That day won’t come.
‘. . . the old adage of “Just do it.” Unfortunately, there’s no good way around it. It’s just getting out there, it’s doing things that you’re scared of. It’s approaching those situations, facing your fears over and over and over again.’
Professor Ron Rapee, on the ABCs Insight Program.
Nephew: Would it really matter if I chickened out?
Uncle: On one hand it’s a missed opportunity. If you choose to remain in your comfort zone you will forgo the opportunity to remind yourself that you can handle life.
‘The important thing is: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.’
Nephew: On one hand? What’s the other hand?
Uncle: If you can’t jump out of a plane, it’s no big deal. Don’t criticise yourself. Forget it.
Uncle: There are plenty of other fears to face. Give them a go.
Nephew: How would I actually jump from a plane if I’m afraid to jump? How does an arachnophobe let a spider run up their arm? How do I ‘just do it’?
Uncle: First step? Naturally, you would label your fear: ‘I’m afraid.’
Uncle: And you wouldn’t waste your time criticising yourself for feeling afraid. You would expect to be anxious. And you would remind yourself that it’s normal and understandable.
Nephew: That’s exactly what I’d do.
Uncle: And you wouldn’t wait for the fear to go away. Instead, you would ask yourself: ‘What is it precisely that I am afraid of?’
Nephew: Death, obviously.
‘Menacing shapes half-glimpsed from the corner of our vision are far more disturbing than the things we can see clearly. That’s why, in horror movies, they always film the monster lurking in the darkness; if they brought it out into broad daylight, it wouldn’t be nearly so scary.’
Dr Russ Harris, in his book, ‘The Happiness Trap.’
Uncle: Most of the time, the fear of being unable to handle the situation is the real fear. You don’t fear failing a test; you fear you won’t handle failing the test. You don’t fear an encounter with a spider; you fear you won’t handle the encounter.
Nephew: I don’t fear jumping out of the plane, I fear going SPLAT on the ground.
Uncle: Be more specific. What precisely would you fear?
Nephew: Death, as I said.
Uncle: You would be frightened your parachute wouldn’t open properly.
Nephew: Or at all.
Uncle: You would be frightened that the person looking after you hadn’t prepared properly.
Nephew: That too.
Uncle: You would be frightened that the person looking after you wouldn’t care enough about you to make sure the experience went well.
Uncle: You would be frightened that you might let yourself down in some way, by blacking out, or by stuffing up the rip cord.
Uncle: You’d be frightened that Life itself would seize the opportunity to play a fatal trick on you.
Nephew: We’re really talking about you, aren’t we? You’re scared of skydiving!
Uncle: You’d then ask yourself, ‘Do I need to fear those things?’
Nephew: Well, yes, obviously.
Uncle: No, really. How likely is it that you would have a slack parachute buddy? How likely would it be that a parachute wouldn’t be packed properly?
Nephew: I don’t know.
Uncle: Well, you’d need to answer those questions. Then you would ask yourself: ‘If the very worst were to happen, could I handle it?’
Nephew: Could I handle someone not packing my parachute properly? Could I handle a slack parachute buddy who didn’t care if I lived or died? Could I handle blacking out and failing to pull the rip cord? Could I handle Life gleefully rubbing its etherial hands together to play a nasty prank on me?
Uncle: Yes, could you handle all that?
Uncle: Give it time. Think it through.
Nephew: Well . . .
Uncle: Next step: you would then ask yourself, ‘What would I say to a friend in a similar position?’
Nephew: If she’s trying to jump from the plane I’d say, ‘I’m glad it’s you jumping out of this plane and not me.’
Uncle: No, really, what would you say?
Nephew: I don’t know. I suppose I’d think of something to say that would give her confidence.
Uncle: Compose those words, because you will respond to your own wisdom better than anyone else’s.
Uncle: You would, of course, be tempted to change your mind about jumping. If you came up with a good reason to not jump, ask yourself, ‘Would I jump if I were not afraid?’ If your answer is ‘yes’ then ditch the reason to not jump.
Nephew: I’m now more scared of skydiving than ever.
Uncle: You could also break the task into little steps and do one step at a time. As you do each step, breathe deeply to relax yourself.
Nephew: What if I come to a step that’s insurmountable?
Uncle: Break that step into even smaller steps.
‘Accept fear as a part of life – specifically the fear of change. Move ahead despite the pounding in your heart that says: turn back.’
Uncle: Then, while feeling the fear, do it anyway. Jump.
Nephew: Do it anyway?
Uncle: That’s the title of Susan Jeffers’ excellent book: ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’. That’s where much of my advice right now is coming from.
Nephew: So that’s why it sounded sensible? What happens if I follow all those steps and still fail to jump?
Uncle: As I said, don’t beat yourself up. Congratulate yourself on having a go, and continue to stretch your boundaries by attempting other scary tasks.
Nephew: Would you jump out of a plane and skydive?
Uncle: No way.
Nephew: I knew it.
‘Each risk you take, each time you move out of what feels comfortable, you become more powerful. As your power builds, so does your confidence, so that stretching your comfort zone becomes easier and easier, despite any fear you may be experiencing.’
Susan Jeffers, from her book, ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’.
The story of the Tibetan mystic, Milarepa: One day his cave was invaded by fearful demons, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get rid of them. Finally he invited them to stay, and at that point they left. Except one, the largest of the demons. Milarepa placed his head in the demon’s mouth, and that demon disappeared too.
I once asked a friend why he went to kickboxing classes. He replied, ‘As a kid I always had trouble standing up for myself. If I were bullied I’d back down, trying to convince myself I was being mature, that I was taking the non-violent path. But I knew the truth: I was afraid, and hated myself for it. As I grew older I hoped confidence would come, but it didn’t. If someone picked a fight with me in a pub, or treated me badly, I’d feel the same fear, the same powerlessness. I’d again back down.’
‘So you took up kickboxing?’ I asked him.
‘If you lived a life of cowardice, so would you.’
‘So what happens now when someone in a pub treats you badly?’
‘So far, I’ve only had to back off.’
‘You back off? So, nothing has changed?’
‘Sure it has. Before, I used to back off out of fear. Now I back off, but not out of fear. There’s a difference. I look at the guy and wonder what he must be feeling to be so aggressive. I have no interest in hurting him, and figure I might as well find somewhere else to enjoy myself. I leave the pub in a good mood.’
In overcoming his fear my friend had become compassionate.
‘The more powerful I become, the gentler I am.’
Print this page, and when you have completed every quest, mail it to someone important.
Children, you will need a parent’s permission to perform these quests.
Note: Even if you attempt a quest and fail, praise yourself for having a go.
SCARY QUESTS For The Fainthearted
Quest 1. Sing in a karaoke bar. (If you are legally allowed to be there.)
Quest 2. Go rock climbing at a rock climbing centre.
Quest 3. Go on a theme park ride you would normally avoid.
Quest 4. Every time you find a spider in your house, catch it in a glass and take it outside. Don’t squash it.
Quest 5. Take on a daunting project that interests you. One you think you might fail in.
Quest 6. Begin a conversation with a stranger at a bus stop.
Quest 7. Ring a talk-back ratio station to express an opinion.
Quest 8. In a lecture theatre ask a question in Question Time.
(Quests 9 to 12 are for you to create. Are there unpleasant tasks you are frightened of doing? Do you have a project you would like to attempt, but it scares you?)
‘Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.’