By Tom Crawshaw
You have probably heard the quote, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” on some blog or video. What most people don’t dive into is why the concept behind the quote is actually pretty useful, if you want to feel like you have what it takes to run through brick walls.
As much as I might cringe while saying this, I can confirm that George Addair’s statement, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is sitting on the other side of fear,” is, indeed, correct, at least in my experience.
To get an idea of how the invisible boogeyman in your mind is controlling your life, it’s worth asking yourself: If I had to do one thing today that terrifies me, what would it be?
The more extreme things in life, like skydiving or bungee jumping, might come to mind. Perhaps quitting your job to go travelling is a scary proposition. Maybe speaking to that beautiful woman you see on the way to work every day would have you quaking in your boots. If you’re considering either of the latter two, you might feel even more afraid than when contemplating things that put you in real, physical, danger. In our minds, on a neurological level, all of these scenarios pose the same threat to life.
Is Our Life Really In Danger?
Although I’m not going to dive too deep into the nature of fear and how it works, you can find out more in the post I wrote titled: How To Conquer Your Fears and Take Back Control Over Your Life.
Irrational fear is what prevents people from chasing their dreams. If you quit your job or go speak to that beautiful woman, your life is not going to end, although it may feel like it at the time. Sure, you will likely endure some temporary mental discomfort. Ultimately, however, your decision to act and take a step toward your dream will leave you feeling empowered, because you were able to overcome the invisible boogeyman in your mind.
Fear is an illusion. It is a self-protection mechanism that arises from your mind’s desire to maintain the status quo and not rock the boat. Your mind doesn’t like unfamiliar situations that force you to try something new. When you are faced with a situation that could threaten your survival, like losing your job and not being able to pay your bills, your mind protects you by generating the emotion of fear and planting seeds of doubt, in an attempt to convince you that the action you’re contemplating is not such a good idea, after all.
When Fear Can Be Useful
There are situations you might face, of course, that do pose a major threat to your life. This is when fear actually can be useful. For example, when I’m about to go paragliding and I’m ready to run off a mountain with only a few sheets of nylon above my head to prevent me from plunging to my death, I naturally feel some fear. This is normal, rational fear. But, when I sit with the feeling for a few moments I can detect if something feels “off” or not, trusting my intuition to give me a level of information that my rational mind cannot. Once I commit to launching, there is no going back. I’m not going to be 100% safe until my feet touch the ground again. So, when I check in with myself and something doesn’t feel quite right, I’m not going to commit to flying, even if other pilots are launching. I believe this is how fear keeps us safe when engaging in dangerous activities.
Of course, you always can avoid participating in such inherently dangerous activities if you don’t feel the urge to give them a try. This will reduce your risk of getting injured or killed, and perhaps you will live a longer life. There is a reason why dangerous, extreme sports attract so many people from around the world. They offer an experience that is simply unavailable within the confines of a hum-drum life. You are forced to learn new skills and develop your intuition in order to stay safe while stretching your experiential horizons.
For example, if you want to fly like a bird, you are going to have to leave the comparative safety of terra firma. There’s no way around it. Once you are airborne you will have to return to earth, eventually. Usually, this happens with no consequence. There are occasions, however, when malfunctions happen, in spite of meticulous planning, and pilots end up hitting the ground faster, and more forcefully, than intended which, as you can imagine, often doesn’t end well.
Risk vs. Reward
In the extreme sports world, athletes are constantly evaluating their risk. They have to consider their experience level, environmental conditions, the people around them, their mental state, and the currency of their skill sets. Sometimes, the risk just isn’t worth the reward, and they decide to call it a day before they begin.
If the risk is acceptable, then they are rewarded with an incredible state of flow. I discuss the flow state, at length, here. Flow is essentially a state of perfect decision-making, where time seems to stand still and you lose all sense of separation between yourself and the world around you; it is as if you are one with everything.
What about those scary things that don’t pose an actual risk to life, say, public speaking? The real risks here are often inconsequential, although they seem debilitating at the time. After all, your mind releases the same stress hormones as if you are about to jump out of a plane!
What’s the worst that could happen? Your voice shakes, maybe you forget some of the things you wanted to say, or you cut the whole thing short and dash off stage? That’s not so bad, right? You may think everyone in the audience is judging you harshly, but in reality, most of them would never even attempt to speak on stage!
So, what about the reward? Again, if you’re prepared and relaxed before setting foot on stage, you may be able to drop into a flow state. If it’s your first time, however, you will probably be happy and relieved once it’s all over. Both the comfort of the flow state and the happy relief are rewards. More importantly, you just conquered one of your fears! This realization, alone, will flood your body with endorphins, making you feel on top of the world. Now you have a reference point that provides you with convincing evidence that you can, indeed, do that scary thing, no matter how loudly the invisible boogeyman in your mind shouts at you to retreat back to your comfort zone.
The Real Benefit Of Doing Something That Scares You
A really cool thing happens when you start doing scary things on a regular basis. You know, intellectually, that your life is not really in danger and that nothing bad is going to happen. Through experience, you learn how to control your mind and relax in scary situations, because you have been there before.
It’s like giving an alcoholic one beer. It’s not even going to touch the sides. My guess is, they’d need three or four just to loosen up. Over time, daily alcohol abuse desensitizes their body’s response to it.
We can do the same with fear. Through repeated exposure to stressful, fear-inducing situations, the dramatic, all-encompassing effects, like a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, tunnel vision, and loss of appetite start to subside. But, it’s not going to happen if you dabble in the scary stuff only every now and then. It must become part of your daily and weekly routine to step outside your comfort zone and get that heart racing. You got this!
About the author:
Tom Crawshaw is the author of the blog Dabs Of Reality. He considers himself to be an adventurer, entrepreneur, philosopher and student of life, blending science and spirituality to help raise the level of consciousness of humanity one person at a time.