Facing a Fear in Neoprene Slippers

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If life was a game, then fear would be the Great Hand controlling the direction of that game. Therefore, if one is interested in winning the game, using that fear is the best way to get closer to the finish line.

For many years now, I’ve been curious about fear and how it directs our lives. It’s the constant villain that color thousands of years of history, it’s the shadow steering today’s politics, it’s that voice sitting on our left shoulder, whispering instructions on what choices to make and what not.

Wondering what I’m talking about? Hang on for a little while longer.

Fear is our greatest enemy – but also our best friend. It’s the feeling that both keeps us from progressing and helps us get onward… depending on how you face the fear. They who are courageous enough (and even a bit crazy) to listen to Fear’s voice and, most of all, challenge everything it says – these people can find their way to many great things.

By following our fears we find the roots to our anxiety and are able to deal with them first hand – and we might end up with a more fulfilling, self-confident life. But if you do the opposite and avoid those fears, if you opt for closing your eyes from them and distract yourself into thinking something else, something nicer… Life will definitely be more dully colored.

Are you still there, still reading? Good. Now, let me tell you why fear is the topic for this Thursday.

Facing One’s Fears

For the past few years, I’ve been curious about my comfort zone and what lies outside it. What are the fears I need to face so that I will grow as a person? What am I afraid of and why? How do these fears limit my life and the choices I make?

I am certain of the fact that facing one fear’s is a good thing. But the challenging thing is to know when it’s valuable to face that fear and diminish it, and when it’s better to leave it alone because, in the end, it only limits your life very little.

For instance, I’m quite afraid of snakes. However, as long as I’m not living a life where I have to deal with snakes on a daily or even weekly basis, I can’t see the point of getting rid of my fear for snakes. Working on diminishing one’s fears takes an incredible amount of time and energy, two of our most valuable resources, which means we have to make a choice. Instead of focusing on some more seldom activated fears, I’m more interested in facing other fears – those that limit my life on an almost-daily basis.

One of these fears is calling up people I’m not familiar with. I wrote about it last week because it’s an active fear at the moment, something I have to do for my Master’s thesis if I wish to graduate. But I faced that fear, called those people, and although it was a daunting task and made me extremely stressed, I survived. With a smile!

And last Friday, I faced another fear.

(This year has clearly been a good year for facing fears so far – it’s only the beginning of March and two fears diminished already!)

Neoprene Slippers and a Cotton Overall

For years now, there has been a course I’ve been avoiding as some cats avoid wet grass – a course called Survival Course for Boaters. For years, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in that course and even been encouraged to do so, but I never considered twice if I wanted to participate – because I didn’t.

The Survival Course for Boaters is a course organized by the Maritime Safety Training Centre a few-hour-drive away from my home city. The exercises take place indoors in a huge 43×27 meter swimming pool with a sail boat, life rafts, authentic evacuation equipment for cruisers and, coolest of all, a helicopter.

The course is aimed for sailors and boaters who want to practice surviving in the water. The exercises include, for instance, pulling oneself into a life raft, a sailboat or a rowing boat, climbing up the side of a cruiser ship, and getting evacuated into a ”flying” helicopter. In addition to this, the exercises can be made pretty authentic because the place has a storm simulator which means that they are able to create one-meter-high waves, heavy 10–15 m/s wind, rain and darkness.

It sounds cool, right? And I can tell you that the place is extremely cool – but participating in all those exercises… as I said, I have been avoiding this course for years. Why? Because I was so incredibly afraid: I was certain I would panic during the simulated storms and that my physical condition wasn’t good enough to accomplish all those exercises.

I didn’t want to go because I was 100 % sure I would fail.

And still, somewhere inside me, I was curious to know how I would survive this one-day course filled with physical challenges in water.

So finally, after all these years, I decided to face my fear and found myself beside that pool wearing my swim suit, a red cotton overall, an orange life jacket and neoprene slippers. I had no idea what to expect, how many bruises I would get, or how I would get through all those exercises. But I was there and I was ready to get comfortable on the outside of my comfort zone.

Feelings of Horror… and Surprise

Well, I had the most awesome day in a long time.

In the end of that day, I felt tired but exhilarated. I had had a wonderful, super awesome and cool day filled with climbing, paddling, swimming, jumping and getting pulled up into a sailboat and a helicopter. I was cold and shivered like crazy after having finished the last exercise (two minutes in a 5°C cold-water pool), but as I got into the sauna and my body began to warm up, I felt relaxed and happy, almost as if I had been on a vacation. I even felt somewhat surprised that the day hadn’t been tougher than that.

During the course, I accomplished all the exercises without any problems. I had the energy and courage needed to take action in different situations, and most of all, I could keep myself calm even during the more adrenaline-boosting exercises.

Only once did I experience a clean sense of horror: we had just climbed up the side of the (fake) cruise ship when we found out we were going to go back down the next second… by jumping back into the water from a height of 4.5 meters. To someone, this might sound like nothing. To me, it sounded horrifying. I’m not afraid of heights but I’m not comfortable with them either. I was never that kid who wanted to jump from ten meters to the swimming pool – 1.5 meters was quite enough for me. So when the instructor told us to jump and it was my turn, I almost turned around to say I wouldn’t do it. The sense of horror was extreme, the feeling of panic when I saw the distance to the water – but I only hesitated for a second or two before I jumped.

I was able to face a fear by (quite literally) taking a leap to the unknown.

Fear of the Unknown

My fears that had been built up during years and years of avoidance were proven wrong that day. Of course, good physical condition helps one finish the exercises, especially in the end of the day, but in the end, surviving in the water is much more about your mental strength and knowing the right techniques of surviving.

The thing with this fear, as with many others, is that it was built upon something I didn’t understand or have enough knowledge of. In my case, my fear was built upon the belief that I’m not fit enough to succeed and I’ll panic although I didn’t even know what the exercises of that course entailed.

I built my own fear on the basis of my own speculations, beliefs and horrifying visions, and realized last Friday how twisted they were when compared to reality.

In addition to all those magnificent bruises I now have in my legs and armpits, I have a better understanding of myself and my fear. The course gave me a boost of self-confidence but it also made me realize how wrong my fear has been all these years. And if this fear was wrong, what are the odds that some other fears of mine are twisted as well?

Because, even those phone calls I was so afraid of making… they all turned out really good – another fear diminished.

So, facing one’s fears is a way of winning in this game we call life, because it takes you closer to yourself. Facing those fears helps you get onward with your life because when you’re not afraid of things that aren’t actually frightening, you are able to focus on other things, throw the dice one more time and see where the number takes you. Maybe to another fear, and, extended, to another win?

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What are the fears you would like to deal with? And if you consider them in the light of this post, how real do you think those fears are?