I had a very interesting experience a couple weeks ago where I came face to face with strong fear. I learned a lot from the experience and I came away a stronger person. The lessons I learned are powerful. I share them with you here in the hope that you find value in them.
My Recent Encounter with Fear
I learned how to windsurf at the end of the summer while my brother was visiting. He bought some used equipment and he, my sister, and I all sort of taught ourselves how to do it. It was a bumpy learning experience for us, but we got the hang of it and my brother became quite proficient rather quickly.
On this day, I decided to go windsurfing with my brother because it was he last day before he was leaving, even though I wasn’t completely keen on it. It was cold and very windy, windier than I’d been in before on the windsurfer.
I got on the board and set a small goal of sailing across the river to the other shore and then returning to where I started. I quickly got to the channel as the wind was so strong but it was hard holding onto the sail. When I got to the middle of the river, I suddenly became very frightened. It was dark from the clouds, cold, and the wind was howling. There was no one else around and I had lost sight of my brother. He was back on the shore, soon to be following in a kayak, but since I couldn’t see him yet, I felt a panic. I decided to turn around and sail back.
Now because the wind was so strong, I couldn’t turn to come about and sail back in the opposite direction. This was also due to my fear and resulting lack of confidence in the moment. So I gave in to fear and gave up. I laid down on the board and tried to paddle back. This was a ridiculous strategy given the strength of the wind and the current in the middle of the river. So then I started calling out my brother name. I wasn’t completely panicked, but my confidence was shot.
My brother came paddling up in the kayak and talked to me supportively, being very positive and calm. I told him that as silly as it may sound, I just became overcome with fear and I gave in to it. He said, “Don’t worry. It’s windy today, but you can do it.” That gave me the confidence boost I needed. At that point I started to listen to reason which told me there was nothing to really worry about.
I stood up on the board and summoned up the strength I needed which which I could now access since my confidence was back. I managed to get the sail onto the side I needed. This was more from mental strength than the physical strength required. And then I sailed back into the home-base shore.
It is completely amazing how much your success at windsurfing is affected by your confidence level. If you don’t trust yourself, believe in yourself, and mentally commit 100% to succeeding, then no matter your strength level, you will fail. It is a magnificent teacher for learning to summon and cultivate your confidence.
And in this short experience I learned just how quickly one can forfeit their confidence to fear. If you want to learn how to build confidence, I highly recommend trying windsurfing. It’s just you and the wind. You either believe in yourself and succeed, or you allow fear to dunk you over and over again.
So the ending to this story is that I made it back without a scratch, but truly as a changed person. This story may seem incredibly overwrought. The incident was not long and drawn out, I was never in any real danger, but the key point is that my fear was as big as if I was hanging from a cliff. I feel quite ridiculous recounting the story, but the lessons are so valuable I wanted to share them with you.
The Lessons That Fear Taught Me
1. Committment. When you endeavor to do something that is difficult and will challenge you, Be Fully Committed or don’t do it at all. When confronted with fear inducing elements, if your commitment is halfhearted, then your resolve will instantly melt and you will fail. Get your game face on and charge ahead!
2. Believe in Yourself. Summon up your confidence. Fake it until it is real if you have to. Keep talking yourself through your challenge and fear won’t be able to sink its teeth into you. Tell yourself you can do it and that you’ll get there! Think “Braveheart!” (Watch this movie for a lesson in bravery and courage.) Think “The Little Engine Who Could.” (Remember this book? Little by little you too can get up an over that mountain!)
3. Analyze. Think out what your worst case scenario is. Often we are afraid of something that is not likely or that is vague. In my case I was afraid of…what?…I’m not sure…dying? If I thought it through at the time, my most likely worst case scenario was that I would float unharmed down the river probably landing on a beach eventually. But it was not even remotely likely that I would perish! Force your analytical mind to dominate over your irrational fearful mind. This will allow you to get back in the game and move forward.
4. Take Action. Stop worrying and take some action to help your situation. Don’t give up. Giving up ensures failure. Effort will get you there eventually. Do what you can to control your outcome, and don’t worry about things over which you have no control.
5. Be Prepared. Know yourself and how you react to things. Prepare for potential fear ahead of time so that fear will not be able to grab a hold of you. Sometimes fear can have such power over us because of the element of surprise. Because you’re not expecting fear to show up, it takes you prisoner in a sneak attack.
This happened to me when I gave birth. I wasn’t one bit afraid during my whole pregnancy. I thought I could handle it. I never considered the possibility of fear. I only imagined pain. Well when the first mammoth contraction hit, my knees actually gave out and I lost my lunch a few moments later. Bam! Fear completely enveloped me for the rest of my labor. That anxiety made my labor more difficult. Had I envisioned a plan for handling fear I might have fared better. I eventually made it through with the massive support of family, nurses, and my outstanding midwife, all of whom were with me in the delivery room. This brings me to my next lesson.
6. Lean on Others! If you can get help ahead of time, do so! If not, ask as soon as you find yourself sinking into fear. Ask supportive people to help you. You know who those supportive people are. Ask them, even if you are not very close. People love to be needed and to help. You have nothing to lose. And tell people exactly what your fears are. Your supporters will then be able to help you come up with solutions. And by stating your fear out loud, you will deflate it’s power.
7. Put Worry on Hold. If fear manifests in the form of chronic worry, take these actions: Write it down. This will stop it from playing over and over again in your mind. Write out your worst case scenarios. Next write out solutions or things you can do. And then get busy working on the things you can control. Postpone the worry indefinitely. Let it go. Turn it over to God, the Universe, or simply to fate. Say a quiet prayer, wish, or intention and then get busy living life.
8. Compassion. Have compassion for yourself. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. Learn from your fear. Grow stronger for having lived through it. Fear is natural and we all have the resources inside of us to work through it. So be kind to yourself.
With others, also be completely compassionate, especially with children or the elderly, but really with anyone who is in fear. Just because you can’t understand or remember what that was like, know that their fear is real. By being compassionate and unconditionally supportive, that caring will transform into a power that helps them navigate the dark tunnels of fear and brings them finally out into the light again. Even if you can’t immediately see evidence of this, know that it is working. Smile. Be unendingly positive and strong. Your support has power beyond your wildest dreams. In my case the support I received during labor is what enabled me to deliver my baby. Without that support, I surely would have failed.
9. Time. Give yourself and others time to work through fear. It doesn’t always happen in an instant. Sometimes it takes some internal processing. Sometimes if danger is involved, there is no time to spare. In those cases you must will yourself to make it through. Afterwards you’ll need some time to process it all. Tell your story and take ownership of your strength in doing so.
10. Keep Your Cool. No matter what the circumstance, but most especially if there is danger, remain calm. It could save your life. Seriously. If danger is involved, there is no room for panic. Be tough on yourself and reign in your emotions. You can break down later after you’ve survived. For now, remember the story of Apollo 13. This is one of the most amazing stories. Watch the movie for a lesson in remaining calm during a crisis. It is the true story of 3 astronauts whose spaceship became partially disabled, and through calm constant work including mathematical calculations, were able to jimmy-rigg a solution that miraculously got them back to earth.
What things are you afraid of that hold you back? How could you face it and overcome it? Do you have a story to tell? All comments big and small are very welcomed!
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