“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”- Helen Keller
As I sit here writing this, I’m currently facing another move to a new city in under a months time. If you’ve been following along for the last few years you know that my wife and I have lived in roughly 5 different places in the last 3ish years; Edmonton (Canada), Brisbane (Aus), Tintinara, a small town 2 1/2hours outside of Adelaide(Aus), Auckland(NZ), Nelson (NZ), and now in under a months time we will be moving to Christchurch here in New Zealand.
I’ve been asked on multiple occasions, by numerous people, if I get scared about moving- if the thought of packing my bags and life up and taking a chance on a place scares the shit out of me? I can tell you with absolute certainty that it does scare the shit out of me. Yet I can also tell you that being complacent and not taking a chance on a place because of fear also scares the shit out of me.
When I take the time to reflect on my life I’ve noticed that there is one thing that I’ve done a lot of in the past few years- doing the things that scare me the most. Whether it’s in the gym, with my career, moving across the world, or adventuring in life I’ve attempted to come face to face with many of my fears and in doing so I’ve learnt a thing or two about why it’s important for us to face our fears.
You’re most likely familiar with the adage of “do one thing each day that scares you”. The directive to “face your fears” is often boiled down in platitudes: Doing scary things helps you grow! Nothing good ever happened inside your comfort zone! As well as the intention may be with these sentiments, they’re unhelpful without understanding the why behind why we should do something that scares us in the first place.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that:
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
We know that fear serves a purpose- to keep us out of harms way- yet sometimes that directive of keeping us out of ‘harms’ way actually does us more harm than it does any good. In order for us to really dive into this topic of why we should face our fears we have to cover a couple of things.
First off, we should ask why should we face our fears?
If fear is meant to keep us safe shouldn’t we listen to it? In Pema Chodron’s When things fall apart, she tells the tale of a warrior who defeats fear by asking fear how they can overcome it.
Fear responds by saying:
“My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”
Think about it for a second, in the last part of the quote fear tells the warrior that if they don’t do what it says that it will have no power over it. So we could argue that if we don’t listen to fear and can muster up the courage to press forward, even in the face of fear itself, that in time that fear will lose it’s power that it holds over us.
I’m going to level with you for a moment, when I first started my journey into Crossfit I was absolutely terrified of doing a handstand. The thought of being close to a wall and kicking myself up to my hands sent me into a whirlwind of anxiety and panic. As far as I was concerned my feet were meant to stand on and walk with- not my hands- and the fear of being upside down was all too real for me. Now place me up against a wall and my fear of kicking up poorly, smacking into the wall, falling down while upside down, and breaking my neck was all that I could ever think about- and it showed every single time that I attempted to kick up into a handstand.
Fast forward to the present day and I have no problem kicking up to a wall or randomly kicking up into a handstand (for a cool picture of course). Had I listened to my fear chances are that I would have never started developing this skill, yet because someone had the patience to work with me and because I chose not to listen to fear I was able to unlock this really cool and technical skill to master.
Now if you’re anything like me you might be wondering is it all as simple as just facing your fears? Or does something have to happen in between? Did Kels just magically kick up into a handstand one day and no longer have any fear of it?
I’ll touch more on that in a minute, but first we need to exam the theory of self-efficacy.
I believe it was Albert Bandura who conceptualized the idea of self-efficacy as as one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. One’s sense of self-efficacy can play a major role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges. For example, and individual with high assurance in their capabilities tends to approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.
So how do we begin to set ourselves up for more of an efficacious outlook in life and in training? How can we set ourselves up so that we are facing at least one fear and doing the something that scares us each day?
In his TedTalk on fear Tim Ferris says that ” Fear is an indicator. Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn’t do. More often than not it shows you exactly what you should do.”. Granted there is a fine line to be walked with this, if jumping out a plan without a parachute scares you it scares you for good reason, because you have an incredibly high chance of dying.
What I aim to propose here is the idea that we need to begin the process of systematically exposing ourselves to the things that scare us each and every single day. The goal here is to start small, as you keep building yourself up you’ll develop a greater tolerance and capacity for facing the things that scare you. Not only will you develop a greater tolerance and capacity for facing those things, but you’ll also learn to use fear as your indicator of what you should be doing.
Remember my example I gave about how I learned to kick up into a handstand? I didn’t just magically kick up one day and have no more fear. It took hundreds, if not thousands of attempts before the fear of kicking myself up onto my hands remained no more.
How can you apply this to the gym and to the rest of your life?
We all have something that scares us, maybe you’re scared of a specific movement in the gym- it could be something like deadlifting because you hurt your back while doing them once. Maybe you’re scared of hitting a specific weight on an exercise, like a 100kg squat. Or maybe you’re afraid of kicking up into a handstand much like I was.
Outside of the gym you could be scared of a big work proposal or presentation that you have to give. You could be scared of leaving your job to start new or start up your own business. Maybe you’re afraid that you might not be a good mother or father to your child. Or maybe you’re afraid of heights.
The key to all of this lies in exposing yourself- little by little- to that which you’re afraid of. If you’re afraid of deadlifting because you hurt your back performing them you can start by exposing yourself to hinging patterns, then progress to things like Romanian deadlifts or rack pulls, and eventually you might find yourself pulling from the floor again. If you’re afraid of squatting 100kg, you can start by working your way up to it. The more exposure you get to loads like 85,90, and 95kg the more confidence you’ll have when you get under 100kg for your first time.
The key to accomplishing these things is to expose yourself to them- bit by bit- and by doing so you’ll gain the confidence and build the habits that involve facing your fears. The more that we listen to our fears the more power we end up giving them- conversely, the more we face them the more we gain strength and power over them.
What fears are you looking at facing today?
Here’s some sample programming for the week ahead. If you’re interested in finding out about how we can help you reach your goals get in contact with us today by clicking here.
A. Box Squat- 4 x 3 @ 8 RPE @ 4,2,1,1
B. Wide Stance Good Morning : 4 x 5 @ 4,1,1,1
C. 12 Minute AMRAP:
*Perform session at a perceived exertion of 8/10*
I) Dumbbell Walking Lunge: 8 Reps @ 22.5kg/15kg
II) Farmers Carry (with dumbells): 40m @ 25kg/15kg
III) Burpee: 8 reps
A1) Push Press: 4×5 @ 8 Rpe @ 1,3,X,1
A2) Pull-Up: 4×5 @ 8 Rpe @ 1,3,1,1
B1) Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 x 6 @ 8 RPE @ 4,1,1,1
B2) Ring Row: 3 x 6 @ 8 RPE @ 1,4,1,1
C) 5 Rounds For Time (Intent should be on Quality):
I. Single Arm Dumbbell Push Press: 8/side x 22.5kg/15kg @ 3,1,X,1
II. Dumbbell Renegade Row- 8/Side x 22.5/15kg @ 1,3,1,1
III. Reverse Lunge (With Dumbbells): 8/Side @ 22.5kg/15kg @ 3,1,1,1
IV. Hollow Hold: 30s
A) Deadlift (2″ Block Pull): 4 x 5 @ 8 Rpe @ 1,1,1,1
B1) Split Squat (Dumbbells)- 4 x 6/side @ 8 Rpe @ 3,2,1,1
B2) Split Stance Romanian Deadlift (Dumbbells): 4 x 6/side @ 8 RPE @ 3,1,1,1
B3)Side Plank- 4 x 30s/side
C) 4 Rounds For Time:
I) Overhead carry (w’ dumbbells or kettle bells)- 40m
II) Overhead squat (w’ dumbbells or kettle bells)- 10 @ 8 Rpe @ 4,1,1,1
III) Front rack carry ( w’ dumbbells or kettle bells)- 40m
IV) Front rack walking lunge ( w’ dumbbells or kettle bells)- 10 @ 8 Rpe @ 3,1,X,1
V) Farmers Carry (w’ dumbbells or kettle bells)- 40m
VI) Romanian Deadlift (w’ dumbbells or kettle bells)- 10 @ 8 RPE @ 4,1,1,1