‘The willingness to say ‘I love you first’. The willingness to invest in a relationship.’
When we create for ourselves a life that is safe – a safe home, a safe job, a safe routine – we need to remember our pygmy twins, who taught us that happiness doesn’t come from making ourselves safe, but from feeling comfortable that we can handle scary situations.
Choosing to remain in our comfort zone means we forgo the opportunity to gain confidence in ourselves, and to discover that we can handle life.
The antidote? Do things that scare you. And don’t wait for the fear to go away before you do 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’.
There you have it. Each 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.”
Q. ‘Are you saying I should do something scary?’
‘Like driving recklessly down a suburban street?’
No! Stupidity sours the process. When you do something scary, you are supposed to minimise the dangers, not create them. Abseilers, speleologists, mountain climbers, skydivers . . . carefully prepare to as much as possible minimise the risk. Doing something unsafe demeans you. There is a difference between being courageous and being a jerk. In his book, When Anger Scares You, Christopher Kilmartin says, ‘Courage is about what you feel a need to do, whereas bravado is about how you want others to think of you . . .’
Q. ‘How about watching scary movies?’
Watching scary movies doesn’t count either. You need to actively move through your fears, not passively inure yourself to them.
Q. ‘I am phobic with spiders. Do you want me to pick up a spider?’
That’s asking too much. You might traumatise yourself and worsen your phobia. Work up to it. If you could handle being in the same room as a photograph of a spider, start there. With a phobia, you might want to get professional advice.
Q. ‘I want to try skydiving, but if I can’t bring myself to jump, does it matter?’
On one hand it’s a missed opportunity, because by moving through fear we gain confidence in ourselves and in the world. We find it easier to trust ourselves, and others, because we are less afraid of the outcome.
On the other hand, if you can’t jump out of that plane it’s no big deal. Forget it. There are plenty of other fears to face. Congratulate yourself for at least having a go.
‘Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.’
Q. ‘Let’s say I attempt something scary. Isn’t there a danger that if something goes wrong my confidence will be shattered?
Can you remember a time in which you failed in an attempt, but your self-confidence grew because you gave it a go?
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.’
How to Move Through Fear.
Step 1. Don’t wait for the day when it won’t scare you as much. 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.
Step 2. Label the fear. Say it to yourself or out loud: ‘I’m afraid.’
Don’t waste your time and energy criticising yourself for feeling afraid. Expect to be anxious. Remind yourself that it’s normal and understandable.
Step 3. Don’t wait for the fear to go away. Instead, examine your fear. Ask yourself: ‘What precisely am I afraid of?’
‘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.’
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.
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.
Step 4. Ask yourself:
(1) ‘Do I need to fear this?’
(2) ‘Assuming the worst happens, will I be able to handle it?’
(3) ‘What would I say to a friend in a similar position?’ (You will respond to your own wisdom.)
Step 5. If you are tempted to change your mind ‘for rational reasons’ ask yourself, ‘Would I change my mind if I were not afraid?’
Step 6. Break the task into little steps, and do one step at a time. With each step, breathe deeply to relax your mind and body.
Step 7. Then, while feeling the fear, do it anyway.
If you can’t do it, don’t beat yourself up. Congratulate yourself on having a go, and continue to stretch your boundaries by attempting other scary tasks.
‘Accept fear as a part of life – specifically the fear of change. Move ahead despite the pounding in your heart that says: turn back.’
– John McGrath.
SCARY QUESTS FOR THE BRAVE-HEARTED
(Print this bit. When you complete each quest, tick it. When you have completed every quest, mail the sheet to someone important.
Quest 1. Sing in a karaoke bar. (If you are legally allowed to be there.)
Quest 2. Go to a park and set up a ladder and sign, and try public speaking.
Quest 3. Go on a scary amusement park ride you would normally avoid.
Quest 4. When you are required to do something necessary but scary (such as catching a spider to take outside), do it. (Don’t squash the spider.)
Quest 5. Take on a daunting project. One you think you might fail in.
Quest 6. Begin conversations with strangers, and with people different to you.
Quest 7. Ring a talk-back ratio station to express an opinion.
Quest 8. In a lecture theatre ask a question in Question Time.
For the remainder, create your own scary quests. But don’t do anything that might be unsafe. Doing something unsafe demeans you.