Heard recently on a moving TED talk by Tim Ferris about fear setting:
“We suffer more often in imagination than we do in reality” – Seneca
I grew up with a couple of ‘fears’ which I have brought with me in to adulthood. Two of which I have found hard to avoid in adult life: fear of public speaking and a fear of heights.
In countless surveys over the decades fear of public speaking ranked higher than fear of death! (ref any google search on topic). However, not everyone has the same fears, they are personal and impact us each to a differing severity and frequency.
Here I will talk about my personal experience, I do not in any way wish to diminish anyone else’s personal battles, but hope that there maybe something here that is helpful to them on their individual and unique path.
“If the wish is father of the thought, then the fear is mother of the event” Victor E Frankl
In Victor E Frankl’s book ‘Mans Search for Meaning’ he refers to techniques applied in his field of ‘logotherapy’. He discusses ‘Paradoxical Intention’ that the very act of wanting something to happen can cause it not to occur and the fear of something happening can actually cause that event to occur.
He proposes however that the way to hack/cheat this unintentional/inverse law is ‘hyper-intention’ by acceptance and acknowledgement of that which you are afraid of and forcing it to occur you can ‘take the wind out of the sails’ of anxiety.
I would suggest this would be helpful for my fear of public speaking where I am afraid that I may muddle my words or if performing live hit a bum note or forget the words. However, not so for my fear of heights, I would not suggest trying to fall to my death from great height to prove that the fear of falling and dying is unfounded!
Avoidance vs Acceptance: Three best man’s speeches and singing.
I have had the rare honour of being asked to be best man three times by three amazing people I hold in very high regard. While at the time I was initially really pleased at being asked, this sensation was rapidly overwhelmed by that familiar crippling sensation of an invisible ice cold fist clenched around my stomach. This does wonders if you are looking to lose weight as appetite goes out the window, but not recommended for long periods of time.
The first speech: Avoidance – I was young (~20yrs) and was so terrified at the thought of giving the speech that I avoided thinking about it. I regret not planning and writing more and decided to ‘wing it’. In hindsight this was not a good idea and the lack of preparation meant that I just spent the whole time in the preceding days/weeks and on the day itself, anxious, unwell and unable to sleep. It went OK, I was disappointed that I didn’t better prepare, however on the plus side the world didn’t end.
The second speech: Acceptance – I was slightly older (28yrs) and this time I used my hindsight goggles. Prepare, prepare, prepare – I wrote and researched and planned to best of my ability a speech fit for the groom, and I practised and practised. I was still pretty anxious, however I had a reassurance that was lacking previously. It went well and the world didn’t end.
The third speech: Acceptance – more recently (34yrs) as above I used the benefit of previous experience to prepare and write and rehearse. I was still pretty nervous on the day, as it is still a big thing for me to overcome. I stood there and said what I wanted to say and the world didn’t end. Only thing I might change would be perhaps to have had one less beer prior.
Singing in public: Acceptance – This was a challenge for me. I am a guitarist – but I decided to start singing live and front a band about 7 years ago. Our first live performance was a reasonably large venue for a first gig and I was pretty terrified. Cue sleepless nights. But we worked hard and rehearsed, and just went for it – I had a quiet reassurance in my ability gained through the preparation work put in and the support network around me.
7 years later, and I have performed live in almost 200 times in front of groups of people numbering in the thousands.
I intend to keep building on each of these personal victories, and perform at larger and larger venues not stopping until I can retire with my guitar shaped swimming pool ;-).
Next for me is conquering my fear of heights.
What will I tell myself, what will I do and How will I achieve it?:
- You can absolutely do that thing you wish to do. But you need to get your head in the right place: put personal victories before public victories.
- I have run many half marathons, in various states of fitness over the last couple of years and the head always quits before the body. The only way I could turn this around was through short positive mantras that I repeat over and over, usually around 9miles in to a 13.1 mile race – 3/4 done and brain is calling time. I recognise the negative words and replace them with positive mantras:
- Simple positive mantras that you repeat: ‘you’re doing great’, ‘run your own race’, ‘take it easy and breathe’, a key one is ‘just one more mile’ don’t worry about the TOTAL distance, just focus on the immediate task at hand- one mile is about 9-10minutes for me so I just think about the next 10minutes and put out of my mind the rest.
2.RE-WRITE self-limiting belief – HOW:
- Experience – the thought is often far, far worse than the reality – the only way to reprogramme your brain is to put it in teach mode and experience it.
- I now don’t associate the fear of something going wrong with a live performance, but instead think of the positive buzz and endorphin release from completing every performance. There is a sense of relief and achievement much like crossing the finish line at an endurance race. I focus on that amazing feeling.
- I deal with the issues as they arise and have confidence that I am able to deal them. This confidence comes through experience, there aren’t any shortcuts. But by doing I have become more confident in my abilities and therefore the fear that I had before no longer keeps me awake at night.
3.CHEERLEADER(S) – HOW:
- I think the saying is ‘behind every guy is a lady rolling her eyes’ or something along those lines. I am very lucky to have the support of my wife and close friends and believe them to be a rock.
- Although it may be something small like standing up in front of a group of people and talking – small personal victories lead on to greater things.
- It is important to surround yourself with people that build you up, are in your corner that believe in you. So when you do experience doubt and have a ‘wobble’, they give you a metaphorical (or actual) slap to get your head straight for you.
4.ACCOUNTABILITY – HOW:
- I get so much more done when I am accountable to someone else.
- Use this as a tool to get you ‘doing’ -book something with friend or family – odds of you doing it are greatly increased.
- Use an app called StickK – to pledge money to an anti-charity (one you do not support) and see how much your motivation increases. I recently did this to give up alcohol- three weeks sober and counting as I really do not want to give money to the conservative party if I fail. Try it.
5. IT IS OK TO FAIL, but don’t let it stop you moving forward – HOW:
- Things can and will not go to plan. Block out the negative self talk. Take stock.
- Cue positive mantras again – ‘well I am only human’, ‘what can I learn from this?’, ‘anyone that has never made a mistake has never done anything at all’.
- It is absolutely OK. What is important is that you started.
- Weigh things up – are you physically and mentally fit to carry on? You always have a choice and responsibility to put your health first.
- Avoid reacting in the moment and sleep on any big decisions.
This list is as much a go do for me as for anyone else –
Why part 1? Well I haven’t been able to scale my fear of heights yet… I’ll save a pt2 post for a later date when I apply (and perhaps adapt) this advice for Pt2: ‘that time I climbed up that high thing and the worst didn’t happen’ (palms sweating just thinking about it).
Recommended reading: ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ Victor E Frankl