When fear rises up: fight, flight or freeze?

Wise words. Photo credit: livedogrow.com

Wise words. Photo credit: livedogrow.com

Our reaction and response to fear is variable. It can be influenced by the situation, the depth of our fear, and our state of mind. It can also be highly influenced by our desire to make a choice to overcome the fear itself.

Some fears have little impact on our lives. For example, if you were to overcome a fear of spiders, but never plan to spend time in the desert or jungle, making a choice to address that fear isn’t necessarily going to result in you living a bigger, fuller life. However, if you are afraid and deeply uncomfortable with conflict or anger, and you’ve chosen a career as a facilitator, mediator or public engagement strategist, making a choice to overcome your fear will be enormously impactful on the potential possibilities your future can hold.

If you have a fear of failure, or of people thinking less of you, and you have a dream of writing a book, giving speeches on a topic you are passionate about or starting a business, then that fear can hold you back and stop you from creating the future you dream of. That fear could rule your life, resulting in you making choices to live a smaller, less fulfilling life.

Life is short. Making choices to live small could mean you wake up one day full of regret, your life a little less fulfilled than you had hoped for.

It takes courage to face your fears. It takes even greater courage to make choices to live your life and step into your fears even though they make you want to freeze, run or hide. Stepping into your fears will unlock a bigger, fuller life of potential and possibility.

The year I turned 40 I made a list of things that scare me, intent on facing each of them. At the time, most of my fears were physical and I took them on one by one, focusing on getting through the experience so I could check it off a list. For example:

  • Heights: I climbed the Sydney Bridge in Australia
  • Scary things you can’t see in dark water: I spent 5 hours underground blackwater rafting in New Zealand
  • Caves: exploring lava tubes in Iceland

It’s 8 years later, and now I’m in the middle of the Coaches Training Institute(CTI) Leadership Program, exploring all aspects of what it means to be a leader and make a positive impact and change in the world. Turns out that like most humans, I’ve got fears that need facing so I can make choices for positive change. Of course, the brilliant minds at CTI knew that when they designed the leadership program.

I’ve got two really big fears: heights (or more accurately a fear of falling) and a fear that in the end I’m not worthy or have value — that I’m not enough (for whatever I want to do or be). The act of even writing that out creates a pit in my stomach. In January at a CTI Leadership Retreat, I faced both fears at once.

My amazing partner  Carmen Ekdahl  and I on the high wire, teaching a workshop to the folks on the ground.

My amazing partner Carmen Ekdahl and I on the high wire, teaching a workshop to the folks on the ground.

To be clear about what this experience was and wasn’t; I was pretty sure I was going to vomit and pass out the whole time. My mouth was dry, my heart was racing, my knees were shaking. I could barely think, or even move.

As you can see, we fell. It was inevitable. AND we got back up and tried agin.

As you can see, we fell. It was inevitable. AND we got back up and tried agin.

It was a really tough experience. AND I survived it. AND I learned from it. AND I am so much richer as a result.

We can even smile about the experience — after its over.

We can even smile about the experience — after its over.

Facing my fears created an opportunity for learning that I’m still reflecting on. I’m learning that facing your fears requires more than trying something scary and checking it off a list.

For long-term impact and a fuller life, facing fears requires a different way of thinking, making choices and moving forward for the long-term.

It requires:

Authenticity: Where are you now? Where do you want to be? What is holding you back? What do you need to let go of so you can step into possibility? What values do you hold? How do you want to be in the world? What impact do you want to have? Knowing the answers to these questions grounds you, gives you purpose and will allow you to access strength and resilience as you face your fears.

Ask yourself — What are you committed to MORE than your fear? (All credit to the amazing Rick Tamlyn for this powerful question).

Vulnerability: The original definition of the word courage means “from the heart”. You will need to be truly open, courageous and willing to be seen in all your beautiful mess if you want to face your fears. You won’t be able to hide or run if you want to make the positive change that comes as a result of facing your fears.

Leaning in: I think facing your fears isn’t a thing you do halfway, or 50/50. It’s all or nothing — the same with the result. Put all your effort, energy and heart into facing them. Lean into your support network or your partner, ask for help and give support in return.

Staying power: I recognize that when my fears rise up my mind will do just about anything so I can avoid the discomfort that is created. That includes excuses, avoidance and rationalization. Be aware and watch for these patterns to rise up. Practice mindfulness and keep breathing! Its important to note that facing a fear once isn’t going to change your life. Making the facing of your fears and the choice making that results a life long practice is what will change your life.

Positivity: Choose a perspective that serves you as you face your fears. Think positive thoughts like This will be over soon, I will sleep in my bed tonight, I haven’t fallen yet, Look at what you are doing that you never thought you could do, and on and on.

Seek and learn: Redefine failure for yourself. Failure isn’t trying something new and not being successful. Instead, success is trying new and different things, and then trying again. And again. Define for yourself that success is in the taking of action and the exploration. Practice curiosity — what can you learn from this? How are you changed as a result? What has opened up for you? Where to from here?

I’m making different choices in my life each day as I step into fear as a life practice. I’m reaching for a bigger future full of more possibility and potential. I’m trying new things, and then trying them again. In service of that, I’m in Joshua Tree National Park this week with my family on vacation. I’ve been hiking, scrambling up hundreds of feet of rock scrambles, stepping over deep cracks, and rock climbing. I’m not great at it, and I’ll never make a career as a climber. And yet every day and every step, I’m a little more alive, and a little more positive because of my choices.

Facing my fear of heights to scramble up a 450 feet high rock pile in Joshua Tree leaves me feeling grateful for the whole world.

Facing my fear of heights to scramble up a 450 feet high rock pile in Joshua Tree leaves me feeling grateful for the whole world.

If YOU want to learn how to make different choices in your life and face your fears, Carmen and I are creating an online course, available soon!