Saturday, 22 September 2007

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

How many times do we avoid doing something because we have decided that we will fail before we have even tried? How many times do we create a predetermined result before we can possibly know what that result will be? How many times have we missed out because we chose not face our fear?

In the early years of my career I worked with children who had learning disabilities combined with what we called “severe behaviour problems”. That is to say, they had learned to respond to the world through “unacceptable social behaviour”. Some were violent, to themselves or others; some would tantrum, scream, shout, spit, vomit and so on. In all cases the behaviour would show up because they had been unable to communicate what they wanted effectively enough to get the result they desired.

We often created situations for these children that would help develop their experiences of the world. For example, we would take them on adventure trips where they would abseil, climb rocks, canoe, go potholing and the like.

On one of these trips we had been taken by our instructors to a beautiful little village in the Lake District of NW England, where the locals and visiting adventurers alike would jump off the bridge into the river some 60 or 70 feet below. The children in our charge ate their picnic lunch on the river bank below watching the continuous activity of a steady stream of people jumping off the bridge with a wild scream, plunging into the water and disappearing for several seconds before emerging with laughter and shouts of delight at their achievement.

Inspired by the excitement I decided I wanted to have a go at this and overcome my “fear” of heights once and for all and experience the amazing fun these people were apparently having. No sooner than I had said it, one of the instructors took me up to the bridge, jumped off and then waited for me to follow.

I stood on the wall of that bridge for over 45 minutes playing it over in mind, anticipating all the things that would go wrong; landing badly, hurting my feet as I hit the water, crashing against an unseen rock, not coming back up out of the water. I also began to anticipate the embarrassment of not doing it, not going through with my commitment, being laughed at and ridiculed. I told myself, 1-2-3 jump. No, in a minute. 1-2-3 jump. No, I can’t do it. 1-2-3 and now, jump! No, I’m scared. And so it went on until finally the instructors, all of whom were desperately encouraging me said “look, we’ve got to go now so jump or get down”. I got down.

It took me another 20 years to face that fear, when I finally did jump. The opportunity replayed in a different way with a skydive. Jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft at 13,000 feet seemed like a great way to finally overcome this fear that I had told myself I had had all my life. The difference with this, as the instructor had said during the training “when you’re sat on the edge of the plane, with your feet hanging out the door and the noise of the wind is unbearable, you can still say NO….however it so often sounds like GO!”

By putting myself in a situation where I would be pushed to succeed and face that fear, was what it took. And the experience itself? Wow! One of the most exhilarating activities of my life! The rush, the freedom, the excitement, the buzz. It was truly amazing.

I had missed out on an amazing experience twenty years earlier because I had failed to “face the fear and do it anyway”. Since then I promised myself to “just do it now”. Is this easy all the time? No. Do I succeed all the time? Not at all. And yet, when I do, when I believe in myself, the results always exceed my expectations.

My invitation to you is this: consider when you are pre-determining the result of an experience before you have allowed yourself to LIVE the experience, and when you let go of your thoughts you might be pleasantly surprised. So just go for it anyway!

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