Today I thought I’d talk a bit about fear.
Fear’s a funny thing, isn’t it? At its most basic it’s an emotional reaction to a threat or danger. It comes from our primal instinct to keep ourselves safe. But what’s interesting is that the trigger is often a threat that exists only in our imagination.
Facing something scary keeps a large number of our entertainment industries in business. From horror movies to rollercoaster rides, the promise of the thrill pulls us in. Many of us crave that adrenaline rush as part of our leisure time. It stimulates us, makes us feel “alive”. The thrill sensation comes from a rush of adrenaline, but what is that?
The release of adrenaline is our body’s response to stress. The hormone releases as a way of helping us cope with a perceived threat. It heightens our awareness and concentration. It also makes us feel stronger by using our body’s natural sources of glycogen. It’s that fight or flight mechanism we hear so much about.
Here’s the sciencey bit:
Adrenaline (also known as Epinephrine) increases the strength and rate of the heartbeat. This causes dilation of the arteries supplying the heart and muscles. Other arteries constrict. Respiration increases in rate and depth. The blood sugar level goes up, which stimulates the general metabolic activity of the cells.
We put ourselves into these manufactured situations without a second thought. But many of us have problems pushing through fear in our everyday lives. Why is that?
The physical response is generally the same for all of us. Is our appetite for the thrill somehow increased if someone else is in control? Or, if you know there's an "off" switch?
Someone recently told me that “something you’re afraid of is only scary until you do it”.
Have a think about that for a moment.
The thing you are afraid of doing is only scary until you do it.
When I thought about this concept this is the first example that sprang to mind:
Some years ago, more than I care to mention, I took part in a team-building event in the Malvern Hills.
Six teams were competing for a regional trophy. We were assigned a series of activities designed to test us as individuals and build team rapport.
Having joined the team only a week or two before, they asked me to come along at the last minute. Great timing for me as I didn’t know any of them well.
We were doing pretty well considering our lack of experience and the fact that most of us didn’t know each other. Tasks were varied: problem-solving, orienteering, abseiling, that type of thing. On the second day, we arrived at a huge tree with a rope ladder ascending the side.
Our instructor explained that we would each climb the ladder high up into the tree. We'd then step out onto a horizontal plank about a foot wide and 5 feet long, and jump off!
Everyone looked at each other in horror. None of us could visualise what was would happen when we jumped, so we all imagined the worst. Of course, it was all set up for complete safety, but it didn’t matter, the fear had been triggered.
I’m not known for my leadership qualities, it's not something I seek out. But I saw in the five faces of my teammates that if I didn’t go first we would fail the challenge.
I took a deep breath and started to climb. The ladder was sturdy but swung around quite violently. Arriving at the top I gingerly stepped out onto the plank, it was high, wow.
I’m lucky that heights don’t worry me much. Even so, standing on a very small plank of wood so high up was imposing. My colleagues below looked as scared as I felt.
It took me, what felt like, a long while to approach the end of the plank. Another deep breath and I launched myself into the air.
A moment of belly clenching freefall followed until the zip wire, hooked to my harness, picked me up. Wow, what an amazing feeling. My colleagues cheered loudly.
At that point, I couldn’t wait to have another go, and they couldn’t wait to have a turn, jostling for who would be next. Everyone took part (lots of times) and we aced the activity. So much so that the instructor had some trouble persuading us to stop for lunch.
The fear I overcame not only freed me but also freed my colleagues from theirs. That one step off the ledge might have felt completely crazy, but the rewards were enormous.
Every task we faced together that weekend challenged us in different ways. Every member of the group stepped forward to contribute to our success. It brought us together as a team.
"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."
- Eleanor Roosevelt
How often do we talk ourselves out of trying something new because we are afraid? It doesn’t even need to be anything physical. It could be joining a new club, meeting new people, speaking in public, or signing up for a course. Anything “out of our comfort zone” is sent to the scrap heap of abandoned ideas because of fear.
This morning I took part in an online writers workshop. Most writers are notorious procrastinators. We want to write but making the step to sit down and actually start writing is the hardest part of the day. We find all manner of excuses - even down to doing things we normally avoid, like housework for example. Bizarre but true.
The meeting consists of everyone showing up at a certain time and committing to writing for one hour. What a fantastic idea. This was my first workshop - so far it’s working. 
One of the moderators read out a passage written by Elizabeth Gilbert. When explaining she had no time or space to write to a woman at a party, the woman asked:
“What are you willing to give up to have the life you keep pretending you want?” 
What a poignant question. One which she says was the turning point towards a very successful writing career.
There are many sacrifices to be made on the path to achievement. Fear of failure has often paralysed me, stopped me from moving forward. When others need me to be, I'm brave. But moving my life from a "safe" place to an “unsafe” place - well that’s another story.
Give your conscious brain room to manoeuvre
My conscious brain decides it wants or needs to do something new, then my primal instinct to stay safe begins to talk me out of it. This internal tug-of-war can be draining. If you're not paying attention to what’s happening the only thing you get for your trouble is a headache. I can go through the process several times in a day and always feel dissatisfied with the outcome.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” — Paulo Coelho
Now I’m not saying that every idea is a good idea, although many are. The only way we can find out is to explore them deeper. We can’t do that if we allow our subconscious to take over and shut them down before we even try.
Once I became aware of the pattern I started to write down my ideas, otherwise, before I know it they are gone in a heartbeat. The act of writing something down gives it an importance that it can’t gain simply floating around in your head. When you have your idea on paper it becomes a tangible thing. It demands your attention. If you only write it down and then throw the paper away you will still have given it more thought than if you didn’t write it down in the first place.
More likely is that you will take some time to assess your idea. If you do, and your first thought is not to bother, then ask yourself:
“Am I abandoning my idea because I’m afraid?”
At every stage, ask yourself this same question. If you can truly answer “no” and give a valid reason for not following through, you will be on the way to a life with no regrets.
As an added bonus you may find that you start to put new plans into action and truly begin to conquer your fears.
Much love and encouragement,
The Reluctant Achiever
 Anatomy and Physiology for Nurses - Roger Watson
If fear is something that you’d like to understand more about, I recommend reading Susan Jeffers' book: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. It was recommended to me and I found it really useful and will definitely re-read.
The Reluctant Achiever is written by professional copywriter Wendy Ann Jones.