Updated: Oct 10, 2019
“The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear, projects it onto his opponent, while the coward runs. It's the same thing, fear, but it's what you do with it that matters." - Cus D'Amato – Legendary trainer to Mike Tyson
The route to breaking through fear and anxiety is counter intuitive. Leaning into fear goes against all our instincts but it ultimately is the path towards freedom…
Fear is the primordial emotion for humans and it has significant effect for many of us in our internal and external experience of life. It pervades (mostly subconsciously) all our thoughts, words and actions, our performance and wellbeing and our connection to other people. In short - fear & fatigue are the killers of our growth and high performance.
I did say for many of us, but what I would really like to say is all of us. Evolution has dictated that for our survival fear must be the primary emotion. Many people, even reading this, will be in denial. They may in fact whole heartedly believe they are not ‘fearful’ and this very well may be the case but there are hidden dangers in denial…
So often we mask over fear and run away from it by seeking instant gratification (alcohol, drugs, sex, food, betting, exercise etc.) or by ‘playing it safe’. This self protection mechanism is in many cases well developed and tested and can run very nicely all by itself in the world of the subconscious.
And while things may run relatively smoothly in the short term there are often long term ramifications. These ramifications can appear in many guises - low performance, lack of fulfilment, lack of productivity, lack of promotion etc.
These largely negative consequences are very often underpinned by an associated acute lowering of self confidence and self worth. This in turn can then become a vicious cycle of self recrimination and further avoidance.
IMMUNITY TO CHANGE
In short we don’t want to feel pain (physical or emotional) but we do want to feel pleasure. We are evolutionarily primed for it, but sometimes evolution works against us. Take the case of our own immune system, there to protect us but it sometimes works against our best interests for survival, as would sometimes be the case with a rejected transplanted organ!
The same can be said of our immunity to change behaviours and beliefs that don’t serve us in the long term. They ‘protect us’ but as we tense, grip on or avoid we weaken our fortitude to do difficult things.
In the case of sports performance and fitness some people have recognised (and even enjoy) the fact that they suffer for the benefits it will bring. Physically, they can see this and again to some people it makes sense “why wouldn’t I go to the gym and push my perceived limits or thrash myself!” They have made a choice, a decision and have come to an understanding that this is something they value and will bring them benefit.
How many people take the same training approach to the mental side of their experience? How many people train their mind by doing the mental reps of taking on challenges and the ensuing (natural) fear that comes with it?
You see if we are developing ourselves, challenging ourselves and pushing to the edge of our capacity some amount of internal activation/ anxiety is a natural response. What changes is the limit this bar is set at as we take on and master increasing stress inducing situations.
NO QUICK FIXES
There are no quick fixes to building mental resilience in the face of fear. As with the gym the hard work has to be put in for marginal gains, which often will feel inconsequential.
In short we can’t bullsh*t ourselves, the mind doesn’t work that way. Yes sometimes we do have ‘bite down on the gum shield’ but ultimately confidence comes from the competence we build when doing difficult things.
Our challenge is to recognise the dissonance between the image we want to portray to the world and what is actually taking place. So much of our fear is driven by the stories we tell ourselves – Did I do ok? What do they think about me? Am I good enough? etc.
So how do we approach this…
Ultimately we have to make fear and anxiety our friend. We have to firstly be aware of it and then welcome it (awareness & acceptance). We have to see the full frontal reality of what is taking place in our internal and external world, as much as we don’t like it, before we can move forward and take action.
This really is the kicker. This really is the warrior path and it is hard! This is how we train the mind and set ourselves apart. To be able to see and then accept what is taking place in us in relation to our situation. To be able to accept that we are fearful and/or anxious rather than fighting it. To turn into fear and be willing to/wanting to fully experience it.
The 4 Stage Model…
Our primitive fight or flight response is really only concerned with one thing ACTION! It wants us to either get away from or fight what has triggered us. It doesn’t want us to sit and analyse or procrastinate, it wants us to do something.
To be more granular we can do this in a 4 stage model…
1) Awareness of what is taking place
2) Acceptance of what is taking place
3) Agreement with self for change
4) Action in the direction of fear
LEAN IN TO FEAR
As we lean in to what scares us, we are inviting, moving toward what we habitually resist. The things we want to push away from. Being curious about our experience and actually wanting to feel the raw emotions and feelings associated with fear, helps us break its hold over us. In this way fear and anxiety can be burned away as we expose ourselves to challenge. We will begin to trust ourselves, we will begin to see there are very few things we can’t handle!