I’ve never thought of myself as courageous. In fact, I’ve often thought of myself as having a more timid personality.
Roller-coasters and scary movies have always scared the shit out of me.
Certain types of confrontations, driving, heck many a thing has scared me. Frequently.
And to the point where, at times, the fear of whatever that thing is in that moment – often something out of my control – has been crippling.
I remember being at a theme park with my dad as a teen. I generally disliked theme parks because of my aforementioned fear of roller-coasters.
Being at theme park was always stressful. I was too afraid to ride the rides and felt so insecure for being too afraid to ride the damn rides. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was so scared of something they all found so exciting.
Trips to the theme park meant I would be presented with stressful situations – either making up excuses about why I didn’t want to get on a ride or being scared on a ride. Before we even left home, my mind would start thinking about all the possible bad scenarios.
On this particular trip to Great America with my dad he basically forced me to get on a ride that I was scared of. As the ride pulled off, he told me calmly, “It’s all in your mind.”
He gently and tenderly explained that I hadn’t even given myself the opportunity to have a good time. I had worked up in my mind that I was going to be scared and it was going to be terrible.
I had scared myself without even knowing whether I truly had any need to be scared.
My dad continued to tell me that even if I was scared shitless it was only for a few seconds and that I would survive, so what was the point of getting all worked up about it anyway?
I tried to calm my heartbeat and as we got to the peak I reassured myself that I would live while willing myself not to cry.
(Crying on a ride when you’re a teenager is not cute.)
I felt the cart tipping at the top ready to shoot downward fast. I closed my eyes, gripped my hands tightly around the safety bar and took a deep breath and we moved downward at full speed.
And then it was over.
Just like that.
We were at the bottom and it actually wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was kind of, just an eensy teensy bit fun. Not something I would rush to do again, but something that wasn’t as bad as I had worked up in my mind. All that stress and emotional upheaval was for naught.
“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real. But fear is a choice.” – Will Smith, After Earth
There are situations in life that are scary or uncomfortable. This is a part of the human experience.
There are situations that are scary because we perceive them to be scary. We tell ourselves this is going to be scary. We imagine all the bad things that could happen and we feel scared or afraid.
The reality is that fear is not real.
Fear is something that we create with our minds. Fear is a fantasy without the warm and fuzzies.
It’s not uncommon to be scared of things that are new to us, new experiences, things that take us out of our comfort zone, or things that we associate with bad things that have happened in the past.
Feeling afraid is our body’s natural alarm system. It’s designed to help us know when we are in danger. It’s a signal from our intuition that something is not right and that we should take steps to make sure that we are safe.
Unfortunately, for many of us that signal is broken and rather than alerting us to actual danger, it goes off at the slightest sign of discomfort. Fear screams so loudly that we can’t hear our intuition which can tell us whether or not we’re actually in real danger.
For some of us, being scared or fearful prevents us from enjoying life to the fullest. We get so wrapped up in being scared and the fear of what may happen that we don’t do things that might bring us great pleasure or be greatly rewarding.
When faced with feelings of fear, rather than trying to ignore them, sometimes it’s best to stop and check-in with yourself by asking yourself a few simple questions.
*** What exactly are you afraid of? Quickly list off what you’re actually scared of. If it’s roller-coasters, like it was for me, then why? Are you scared of the feeling of going fast? Of being out of control? Are you worried you might actually die? Sometimes just in doing that you realize that nothing bad is going to happen and that alone can help you feel better.
*** Does this experience remind you of something bad that happened in the past? If it does, think of why you were afraid then and how you felt after the situation was over. Remind yourself that this situation is new and different and that the outcome will also be different.
*** Are you in real physical or emotional danger? If you are in actual danger, make sure that you’re safe. If the answer is no, continue to dig for the root of the fear.
*** Are you moving out of your comfort zone? Why does that make you uncomfortable? Are you worried that you are going to fail?
Maybe you’re afraid to have a talk with your boss about a raise because you’re afraid that she’ll say no and it’ll make you feel like you’re not good enough. Maybe you’re fearful about speaking in front of your class because you’re worried that no one will listen to you or that you’ll make a mistake.
When you acknowledge and think about why you feel afraid you’re able to detach from it. You turn the scared alarm on silent so you can step back and really listen to your inner voice and let it guide you.
You take your power put it back in your hands because you are present in that moment and not caught up in the fear of what may never come to be. You control your thoughts, not the other way around.
Sometimes it’s easier said than done and you will feel scared or afraid. That’s when having courage comes in. Sometimes no matter how scared you are, you just have to saddle up and ride anyway.
You have to sit in the seat of a roller-coaster, grip the handle bars and close your eyes tightly and just go.
And when it’s all said and done you realize that there was nothing to be afraid of.
The most important thing — fear or not — is to keep going.