Those of you who have read Sickbed To Summits will know I have been fortunate to have made some very good friends serving in the US Navy. They are SEAL trained special operators and a font of knowledge when it comes to anything endurance related.
Some time ago, we were chatting about various challenges I had planned and I asked them, “How do you overcome your fears?” because, I know that ultimately we are all only human, and even they have had fears at one time or other.
For me, I thought maybe a little Dutch courage might help, but this was the response I received:
“Basically there are three types of ways to beat fear.
- Training. We are trained to charge at our enemy, even under fire. Any reasonable individual would duck and hide under fire. So, we train and we do it again and again and again until it becomes second nature, so that when we actually need to pull it off, training beats fear and we do it. The point here is, do again and again until you are no longer terrified of it. Who knows, you might even have fun!
- Substances. Alcohol or other chemical aids. We do not use these to beat fear because they are destructive and addictive… we prefer methods 1 and 3. So…
- Follow an order. That is the easiest. We all have orders, most we don’t like, but we follow orders because that’s the foundation of everything. It makes us sure that if another gets an order to risk himself for us, he would follow that order too.
So, swallow some spit, count to 1 (never 3 because then you hesitate!) and just do what you have to do.”
Whilst for them, their training is extreme and I hope I am never faced with the situations they find themselves in, for me there were a many takeaways from this conversation, particularly since my surgery.
I have met many individuals over the last few years, who are fighting battles we cannot see. Often there seems to be a common thread running through levels of recovery… fear of pushing themselves.
Having lost half my balance system there are many things I now struggle to do. The simplest of tasks, like riding a bike, have become incredibly challenging. After having a haemorrhage and then surgery, I was told I would likely find this extremely difficult if not impossible. I begged to differ.
Now a few weeks after surgery, I managed to get back in the saddle and over a few weeks managed to build up the mileage. Then I started to push myself, but it was then that fear became an issue for me.
I crashed into railings and badly hurt my wrist, and my pride. I carried on riding, but gone was the enjoyment for me. I was back out on my bike just a few weeks later, but almost fell again as a road cyclist passed me – I hadn’t heard him approaching and he made me jump almost sending me into a hedge. This really upset me as I realised how vulnerable my hearing loss had made me. Not only was I scared, I was shaking.
I came home and thought I might just sell my bike. My comfort zone now seemed very appealing, but… there was that part of me that was still pleased to have achieved something I thought I might never do, and a determination not to settle for a ‘new normal’.
I’m not sure what I was most afraid of; fear of not being the person I used to be, fear of falling off and hurting myself or taking a knock to my head (that already has a big hole in it!) or the feeling of failure. I have always hated the thought of failing something. In fact, in the past this fear has held me back as I would rather not do something than do it badly.
The trick is to follow my friends’ good advice. Keep on doing it. Keep riding. I was afraid of riding on challenging terrain, so I went out onto challenging terrain and kept doing it. It wasn’t without incident. I needed anti-sickness medication and I fell off – a few times. There were lots of cuts and bruises, but I survived and did it again.
Whilst it still isn’t the same enjoyable pre-op experience, I am improving. Each ride gets that tiny bit easier (even if it doesn’t feel it at the time), that little less terrifying and with each bad experience, I can look at it and think about why it went the way it did, what I could have done differently, and think about whether it was actually me or others at fault rather than jumping to conclusions.
Now I have realised that my fear of failure isn’t such a bad thing though, and that by failing at things it shows I am at least having a go, I am taking on life’s challenges, and well if it doesn’t go to plan, then there is a lot I can take away from that. I can analyse my weaknesses and put a plan in place to improve and try again.
As I wrote in Sickbed To Summits, “I can let fear paralyse me, and stop me from enjoying life, or I can use it as my motivation. After all, what is fear? Does it actually exist, or is it something we create in our minds?”
So, each time I get on my bike and recognise that feeling of fear, I know it’s time to swallow some spit and count to one…
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