None of us is fearless. It’s what we do with our fear that counts. Here are 3 powerful steps to overcoming fear and conquering your own Everest.
3 powerful steps to overcoming fear to climb your Everest
We’re all afraid of something. It could be heights, public speaking, decision making or myriad other worries we battle with daily. But when it comes to fulfilling our potential and achieving our goals, fear is by far the biggest obstacle holding us back. I’m an extreme adventurer who’s constantly pushing the limits. But the truth is, though I’ve tried to conquer my greatest fears, I’ve learned that it’s not possible to eradicate them. What I have done is face, embrace and harness my fears to my advantage. With the right tools and motivation, I believe it’s something we’re all able to do.
“You can’t completely conquer fear, but you can face, embrace and harness it to your advantage”
First, let’s look at fear and why it’s so powerful
Fear is a primitive human emotion. It’s programmed into our system to protect us from danger, and as our survival mechanism, it’s a powerhouse of emotion. But even though the fear response to physical danger is natural and instinctive, (you’re near the summit of Mt Everest, inside the ‘Death Zone’, afraid of suffocation while struggling to breathe due to the lack of oxygen), how you decide to experience and act on that fear is a matter of choice.
Perhaps Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mt. Everest (along with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa) described it best when he said, ‘It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.’ Because while your instinct may be to steer clear and retreat to safety, you can decide to acknowledge your fear and tackle it head-on. It’s only then you’ll experience the triumph, exhilaration and breath-taking beauty (in my case, literally) of the view from the very top. One option is avoidance and to hold yourself back. The other option is to use these three powerful steps to move out of your comfort zone and embrace your fear in pursuit of your dreams.
Step 1. Face your fears
The most important thing to recognise about fear is that it won’t disappear if you turn your back on it. (As anyone who’s waited ‘til the night before to write a big presentation can testify.) Avoidance only compounds your fear and legitimises it. Facing fear is confronting but vital to achieving your goals. And this could be fear of failure, rejection, the unknown or the fear of success itself (lookout for a deep dive on each of these in a later blog post).
When you face your fears, you can better understand them and put them into perspective. I’ve never experienced a fear of heights – something that worries a lot of people. Nonetheless, many other things scare me. For example, I recognise that suffocation frightens me. I understand that the fear of being unable to breathe has stuck with me since childhood when my chronic asthma was so bad I was hospitalised. I’m also fearful of freezing to death or my fingers dropping off. This is no doubt due to my Raynaud’s Phenomenon – a circulatory condition which means my fingers and toes get cold even on a warm summers’ day. Neither of these conditions or fears arising from them mixes well with the rarified air at extreme elevations or the risk of frostbite presented by high altitude mountaineering. But after recognising them, I leant into them.
2. Embrace your fears
Thankfully, my parents taught me the importance of unmasking my fears and finding the courage to step outside my comfort zone. I went from not just accepting life’s challenges, but to actively seeking them out. I didn’t want these fears of breathlessness and cold to have power and control over me so I decided to embrace them. In fact, it could be because of these fears that I’ve fulfilled my wildest dreams. Once you’ve unmasked and acknowledged your fears, they can become an incredibly positive motivating factor!
You see, recognising and organising your thoughts and feelings around a difficult emotional experience helps reduce its intensity. So, once you’ve unmasked your fear and put a name to it, it becomes easier to manage. You can focus on the facts with clarity and objectivity, rather than relying on subjective and often exaggerated perception. This step steadies you to tackle what’s between you and your goals and those fears can suddenly feel a lot less potent.
Climbing through the night to reach the summit of Mt Everest, I panicked as I realised, I could no longer feel my toes – they were completely numb. Images of blackened frostbitten toes consumed me until I realised, it was actually a loss of control and failure to achieve the goal that scared me, not the prospect of losing a toe. And whilst I couldn’t warm up my toes right there on the summit ridge, I knew I could continue to take upward steps toward my target, and I’d likely have the time to recover my toes once I’d descended.
Try writing down the things that scare you. Sit with them and consider the sensations that come up when you think about tackling them. What are they trying to tell you? Where are they coming from and how are they trying to protect you? What is the story you tell yourself about why you can’t overcome them? If the thought of giving a work presentation or changing jobs or buying a house scares you, ask yourself why. Sit with the discomfort and muster the courage to break it down and analyse your fears.
3. Harness your fears
Now you’ve unmasked, dissected and embraced your fears, you should have a clearer perspective on the things that hold you back and why. But this doesn’t mean you can now put those fears behind you. A better strategy, with this new understanding, is to harness them for growth. You can do this by reflecting on your dreams, aiming high and creating goals worth pursuing; goals that are big enough to warrant the energy to work toward them. Let your fear of failure, self-doubt and your desire to conquer them be a driving force for success in your personal and professional life.
Following my passion for heights, the inspiring, compelling and worthwhile goals I set and actively worked toward took me quite literally to the top of the world. What’s your Everest? Dig deep and ask yourself, what’s your ideal outcome? Consider what your life will look like if you don’t achieve this outcome and compare it to what your life will look like if you do. Once you feel your goal is essential, the fear of not trying at all eclipses the fear of failure – that’s when you’ll be inspired to act.
Now, make that nervous energy work for you
The fear response pumps stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline into your system to prep you to fight or run (known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response). Now, what if you channel this energy in a positive direction? Take public speaking (again more on this in a later blog post). The average person ranks the fear of public speaking higher than the fear of death. (It’s certainly less deadly an activity than others I’ve survived, but it sure can feel like you’re putting everything on the line.) Being able to assert yourself is a critical skill whether you’re in front of one person or many, and not having this skill can hold you back. The trick is to channel that nervous energy towards making a compelling point or giving a passionate presentation. This is exactly how I use my nervous anticipation before ascending into thin air above the clouds on the world’s highest peaks to ensure I’m prepared, focused, energised. Ready!
It is possible to feel the fear and do it anyway. By facing, embracing and harnessing your fears, setting yourself inspiring, compelling and worthwhile goals, being willing to stretch beyond your comfort zone and converting your nervous energy into constructive energy, you can chase your biggest goals and dreams. The key is to take decisive action because avoidance propagates fear whereas action breeds courage. Having the courage to say, “Let’s do this” has led me on the journey of a lifetime. Now it’s your turn.
If you’re keen to find out how I can help motivate and inspire you and your people with lessons learned from real-life experiences of building resilience, managing change and uncertainty, persevering through adversity, and strengthening mindset I’ve got lots to share. Stay tuned!
“No one is fearless. It’s what we do with our fear that counts. Feel fear and do it anyway!”
Daniel Bull is a sought-after inspirational adventure speaker on “feeling fear and doing it anyway”, as well as a 3 x world record-breaking extreme adventurer who inspires audiences with his passion and down-to-earth approach on topics such as motivation, goal setting, teamwork, leadership and more. Find out more at www.unstoppabull.com.
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