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Feel the fear

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Most of you would have heard the expression: feel the fear and do it anyway. Susan Jeffers wrote a best-selling book of the same title, and in fact it’s her registered phrase. This self-help classic was published 25 years ago, and has recently been re-issued. It’s sold 15 million copies in 100 countries. So what makes the book and the sentiment behind it so popular, even today? It’s quite a ‘bible’ for some people – particularly women - and Jeffers’ hypothesis is that doing anything new or different in life is scary — we all have that fear. The only way to get through this feeling is to get stuck into the things that terrify you. Does it make sense that fear can be confronted and dealt with, simply by getting into action? I’ve certainly found that when I’m out of my comfort zone, there’s an opportunity for growth. It’s not that I’m always jumping for joy about this chance to expand, it’s just that most of the time, I try and rationalise that this moment of discomfort or emotional awkwardness or genuine fear means that I need to confront something about myself – I need to overcome something.

 

Think back to your childhood, and what scared you then. The dark, monsters, shadows, scary stories, the first time you got on a bike, or went really fast down a hill, or jumped off a diving board…And as an adult these fears have been rationalised. We become less afraid of things we’ve dealt with or made sense of. But of course it’s all relative. We grow and confront new experiences and these become the new frontiers of our fears. Perhaps you feel fearful of entering a room full of people you don’t know. Or you’re fearful of that interview or first day on a job. Or you’re scared you might blow it with your new date. Maybe you’ll forget your words on that stage or in that presentation. Or you think you’re going to hurt yourself if you do/jump/leap…

 

I remember vividly the feeling when I first went to Costa Rica. I was so excited to be in this beautiful, tropical paradise – it was like nowhere I had been before. And I was also fearful. I was not a huge fan of bugs, particularly spiders. Nor snakes for that matter. And here I was in a country that is home to almost 5% of the world’s biodiversity. However, living there on and off over 10 years or so was probably the most confronting, challenging, exhilarating and rewarding thing I have done. But as I faced my fears, sometimes on a daily basis – and not just bugs – other physical challenges, I could literally feel myself grow. My heart would race, I’d feel that frisson of fear…and when I had confronted the new challenge, when it was behind me, I would savour the feeling. The sensation of having achieved something, or overcome something. Once you’ve expanded that little bit, it’s pretty hard to shrink back. I’m not saying that all fear has left me, no, just that particular fears would disappear if I confronted them often enough, and the feeling of fear would be diminished, put in to perspective and often enough, my fear-confronting-moments became the basis of some bloody good stories! But the practice of dealing with fears is just that – something to keep doing, to keep exercising because that’s what gives you the confidence to continue facing those challenges.

 

Here are the basic truths about fear that Jeffers espouses in her book, which I think make a lot of sense:

 

TRUTH ONE: The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow.

 

TRUTH TWO: The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.

 

TRUTH THREE: The only way to feel better about myself is to go out and do it.

 

TRUTH FOUR: Not only am I going to experience fear when I’m on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else.

 

TRUTH FIVE: Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness

 

Above all, when I look back on my Costa Rica experiences, I felt A-L-I-V-E! My senses were sharpened, my spirit felt refreshed and awakened because surely it is part of our human condition to learn and grow…So here on the South Coast in East Sussex, I'm not confronting those bugs, but other challenges and new fears present themselves because growing is what we do best.

 

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson