Is your fear of what might go wrong preventing you from enjoying your life or achieving your goals? Have you ever said or thought this?
As human beings most of us have a survival instinct that prevents us from doing things that would harm us. We have innate systems that are designed to keep us alive. One of these is the critical factor, based on my understanding, that sets into our brain at around the age of 9-11 years, from this point on we assess things differently. We realise that there are risks and we set out to prevent those risks hurting us. If you ever tried to jump off playground equipment, or your shed roof when you were younger, testing to see if you could fly, you would know what I mean. Before the critical factor of our brain kicks in, for many of us we pretty much think anything and everything is possible. Which is likely to be one of the reasons why we learn so much better as kids.
My example is skiing. I have quite a fear of heights. Anyone else with the same fear will relate to this, it is not a rational fear, you can’t explain to me how safe something is to make it go away, the fear will still set in, I start to shake and get a little dizzy. I have tried not to let this fear take over my life and I still do a lot of activity that requires me to be at heights. In my experience, you can become more accustomed to being at height, but the fear never quite goes away. I have even jumped out of a plane at around 12,000 ft (luckily I did have a man strapped to my back who was wearing a parachute) after that people asked me if that cured my fear of heights. No is the answer, I still feel it.
As I get older and explore what this fear could mean, I do think it has more to do with trust than a fear of heights. Trusting that things will be okay, trust that I will be okay to look after myself, trust that I won’t jump without a net. Anyhoo, that’s a whole other therapy session, but it does relate to my point here. Are we so worried about things that may not even happen that we are forgetting to enjoy the here and now?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a risk assessment strategy and for mitigating risks, I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone should jump out of a plane without a parachute (or a crazy skydive instructor wearing one). Is it just me? Or are many of us so worried about what might happen that we forget to enjoy the right now?
My example is skiing Le Vallee Blanche in France many years ago. I am a very capable skier but I do like to be in control (yes perhaps another therapy session for that too) I did work for a couple of winter seasons in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland. There are some very steep slopes there and I skied most of them. Admittedly, when I get very scared, my reaction is to do the opposite of just skiing the hill in the manner that I know I am capable of. I did become the queen of the point turn followed by a side slide to get me out of many tricky situations. One of my Swiss ski instructor’s had told me that with these two skills you can get out of anything and he was right. I tell people now, a snow plough to point turn, and a side slide are still the best skills to get you out of anything. But for me perhaps I rely on it too much, trying to be too safe, when it would be more enjoyable to just ski the hill like I know I can.
Anyway I digress, so back to Chamonix I was there on honeymoon and we enquired about skiing Le Vallee Blanche a large glacier below Mont Blanc, to get there you take the highest single span cable car up to the Aiguille de Midi and then roped to your glacier guide you walk out on the ridge with a sheer drop either side down to the glacier. The perfect day trip for those with a fear of heights!
The requirement was an intermediate level of ability, must be able to turn on demand and side slide. Seriously, as I explained before I have very good side slide skills, if there was an Olympic event in side sliding I reckon I would be a chance of a medal! I thought yes okay let’s do it. The trip up the cable car was an amazing view, but how I managed to be okay was to hold the pole in the middle of the cable car and look at the floor, my husband was pointing out the beautiful scenery, I would look up very quickly and then point my gaze back to the floor.
We got out of the cable car and then proceeded to make our way down and across the top of the ridge down to the glacier.
This in itself was extremely scary, there was a sheer drop either side, I managed to get through by looking down at where to put my feet, one foot in front of the other, just looking at my next step, then the next step and not looking up until we were at the start of the glacier. Before we commenced to ski, our guide Claude pointed out how important it was that we remain in single file behind him, no overtaking group members, we must follow his tracks, there are crevices everywhere and if you were to drop down one it is possible that you would not be found. I still remember his voice saying crevasse (crevice) many times in his lovely French accent.
The Vallee Blanche has some of the most amazing scenery, I skied just fine and enjoyed it to a point. But my fear of what was yet to come prevented me from really relaxing and enjoying this trip. I still had a knot in my stomach, worried about what was around the next corner, and all of those deep crevices! So much so, that when Claude announced that was it, we had completed skiing the glacier, I said what?! My reaction was ‘oh no, I forgot to enjoy it’. It was easier than I anticipated, there were not a lot of very steep slopes to scare the life out of me, it was more like ski touring rather than steep descents. If only I wasn’t so worried about what might still be yet to come, I may have enjoyed it more.
I am not beating myself up about it, there are still some good lessons here. I did well, I faced my fear and found coping strategies to get myself out and through the other side. That’s all good. I just wish I remembered to have fun whilst I was doing it.
What about you? Do you have example of when you have let fear become a barrier preventing you from living your best life, experiencing joy or achieving your goals?
Natalie Pickett is an serial Entrepreneur from Melbourne, Australia. She is a sought after speaker and mentor who helps people to grow their business and achieve their own best level of success.