Breaking through your Fear to become the Best Version of you!
I was sitting on Patong beach, Phuket Island, Thailand. The sun was blazing, the island glittered. I decided to take a moment to meditate, closing my eyes, feeling the fresh sea air graze my face; my toes sunk into the warm and soft sand. The waves crashed like distant applause. My mind cleared, a cloudless sky, the waves of relaxation lapping at the edges of my consciousness.
That’s when the hands closed around my throat. The fingers gripped, tightened. I was going to be strangled. I was going to die, right here, on this beach.
My heart pounding, my blood pumping hard, my eyes sprung open, desperate; what was happening? Why?
I looked in the face of a beautiful, innocent, little girl, no older than six. I was going to be murdered by a preteen. But she must’ve seen my look of wild terror, because she immediately let go, and ran off, laughing. It turns out she was just a little girl on a beach, playing. You see some guy in the Lotus position on a blazing hot day, you have to do something, right? I mean, it would be rude not to. Why not scare him a little? Well, she certainly did that!
But what was my overreaction all about?
A lot of the time fear, shows up randomly, even if it is not required; flight or fight kicks in unbidden. In fact, a lot of the time, fear doesn’t make any sense. It is your body’s chemical reaction to any surprise springing from your external environment.
What was actually happening, biologically, was that adrenalin was flooding my veins, my amygdala was going into overdrive, and my brain was becoming hyper alert, all in a split second. Evolution gifted me this absurd overreaction. My heart rate and blood pressure rose. Increased blood flow ferried a tumult of glucose to my skeletal muscles. Organs not vital in survival, such as the gastrointestinal system, slowed down: you ever wondered why people can poop themselves when they’re scared, there’s your answer. Don’t tell me I never overshare.
All of these things were how I was reacting to a perceived threat.
A lot of the time, we can create this fear by having the wrong mindset; if we can change that mindset, we can change the effect of that fear.
What I am going to share with you in this blog is a paradigm that explains a process by which you can confront your fear, conquer it, and make yourself the best version of you that you can be.
But first let me briefly speak to you about my story with fear.
I grew up in a war zone, with fear an actual, everyday reality. This isn’t a metaphor; I literally lived in a country that was at war. My biggest concern at a young age was whether I was going to make it to the next day. Fear was important back then; it was essential in keeping me alive. But in peacetime, in a different place, at a different time of life, this response to fear leaves you with a legacy that can actually hold you back.
I remember one occasion, when I was just thirteen, that I had to walk through a minefield… with my family. We were crossing the border between two fighting factions; we had no choice.
At some point, while I was picking my way between these deadly explosives, I realized something: if I dropped the bag I was carrying, which was very heavy in a small boy’s arms, so much as slipped and let it fall, that could mean the end of me. It could mean the end of my whole family. That kind of fear taught me a thing or two about survival and how we should appreciate our lives.
Growing up, I decided that staying in my home country did not serve me well; I decided to leave. But I didn’t know what awaited me in the wider world. That was a different kind of fear again. And so this is when my journey started with taking risks; it begun what was to be a personal transformation.
In the end, as a student, I moved to Australia. It didn’t take me too long to fall in love with that majestic country. My experience living there was a complete shift from what I have always known and experienced in my home country. I felt safe, stable, appreciated and, more importantly, I saw a lot of opportunities for growth and development. Nevertheless, it was virtually impossible for me to remain there permanently and make that my new home — my Visa was going to expire soon.
I was desperate and hopeless but out of the stone of my fear about returning home, I had carved out something entirely new: a sense of passion and drive to make things happen — it was almost like a do or die situation. Finally, I ended up studying to become a cook in order for me to be qualified to stay in Australia, as this vocational study was there on the ‘skilled migrant’ requirements list. However, going through that phase, I was constantly living in fear — not knowing if this plan would actually work, or, perhaps worse, fearing that it would work, and I would be compromising on my aspirations entirely. I wanted a corporate career, and this seemed a very long way round. I did qualify in the end and eventually I made Australia my new home.
Fear had driven me, forced me to make the next necessary step.
What is the formula of the best version of you?
Most people start from a place where they feel comfortable. Be it their comfort zone or a place where they know what they are doing or where they feel confident with operating in that self-made status quo.
Then comes the desire to achieve something or try something new in their lives — something that’s enough to make folks take a risk, to change from their comfortable state, to shake things up. If the risk is too high or there is too much pain to experience, or if where they are right now has too much of a competitive interest for them to lose — then they will be faced with a fear that will disable them from pushing through. If you have too much to lose, you don’t fancy gambling, and you withdraw from the table, and take a seat at the bar by yourself. The comfort zone can be a perilous place.
If stakes are high you will default to your comfort zone
For many people, this becomes a vicious circle that can last for years, if not a career or even a lifetime. And the final irony of this kind of stasis is that, in refusing to take a risk, we can lose the only chance to fulfill those more ambitious, wilder hopes and dreams — without taking that chance, you never have a chance at all. You might end up with a feeling of ‘playing small’, or ‘getting stuck’.
And I speak from experience.
After many years in Australia, I worked up the career ladder, and finally secured an interesting job at a famous car manufacturer. I thought that this would give me everything that I wanted: the status, the challenge, the kudos, and yes, I’ll admit it… the perks! Working for a ‘fortune 100’ company felt like a real achievement.
However, it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. The fulfillment just never made an appearance, and I felt that I was missing something; they say that employees should align their values with the values of the company they work for — but one of the main values that was driving me at the time was the aspiration to be a truly international person, maybe even an expatriate. But the company offered no possibility for me to get transferred to another country; if I was to find a job overseas once again, I would have to do so with a different company. In this case, that meant losing a secure role, and it meant taking the risk of nothing being waiting for me when I got to the other side.
For a few months, that desire just simmered at my core, and I got on with the day job. But when simmering becomes a burning sensation, it’s going to take a little more than an indigestion tablet to get you feeling right again. There was an internal flame and it had been smouldering for so long and now it had escalated into a conflagration. When people get to that stage, that crossroads where they are stuck between desire and fear, two things can happen: either they will remain in this stage for a long time, their ambition eventually extinguished and their self-respect turned to ashes, or… or they will decide to take a leap of faith and face their fear head on, knowing that the alternative is far worse than rolling the dice.
Like I said: do or die!
When people cross that line of fear — they will get to experience transformation, since they will be able to give themselves access to what they want. This risk can be in a form of asking for that promotion, letting go of something that does not serve them well, or moving to a completely different place in their lives.
Now these people, these risk takers, have access to something new.
At the very least, they have made a step towards something that they desire — the next step after that is for them to adapt to their new reality, after the transformation. Once again, in time, they reach a new ‘comfortable state’, and once again, that fire inside starts to kindle. But each time we cross the line of fear, we allow ourselves the chance to experience a transformation and see ourselves, eventually, get accustomed to a new reality where we’re living our lives at what we feel to be a higher level. The comfort zone will always return, for human beings are miraculously adaptable creatures. This cycle is not a circle, but an upward spiral, where people continuously grow and evolve and therefore become — yes — that better version of themselves.
For a long time, I stayed in the job though. I remained in my secure position, trying to numb myself with the perks that come along with the golden cage — I mean, you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, as the idiom goes — I mean, a decent job is a decent job, right? A secure job is not to be sniffed at. But the creeping feeling of unfulfillment started getting into a bad place where nothing was making sense to me. The internal conflict was causing me too much pain. So, finally I decided to venture out and take a risk overseas. I moved to Dubai and landed a job working for Louis Vuitton; this experience enabled me to eventually live in three different countries and travel to many more. I made my vision become a reality; I became a professional nomad.
For me, facing my fear and taking the leap worked out.
I suppose what I’m saying is that eventually, once you start to take these leaps, you are bound to find a better version of you at the other end of it. It’s all there, waiting for you, on the other side of fear.
How to cross the line of Fear
When we cross the line of fear, there is a part of our brain or our soul, or whatever, that bestows upon us just that little bit more courage for the next time. Repeat the process, and the muscle strengthens. I call this the fearlessness muscle!
In life, there are things that you can control and things that you cannot control — the actions that you take are amongst the things that you can control. In my experience, there are certain actions you can take or rituals that you can perform that will enable you to strengthen this fearlessness muscle. These actions or rituals form the foundations to support your attempts to confront your fears.
The Four Cornerstones: foundations to confronting your fears:
1. Discipline and raising your standards
By having stronger discipline, you will be able to become more assertive when taking decisions. You will also become more focused on your target. You will start becoming more resourceful. Greater discipline can also make you more emotionally stable, which will help you to function better and give you more insight into how to reach your goals.
Raising your standards, however, is a direct result of a better discipline, as some of the actions that you get to make will start getting you closer to your target and desired outcome. One way that I use to practice discipline is using the 30 days challenge.
A 30 Day Challenge is a proven strategy for implementing new healthy habits in life. It’s a great way to try new things, keep ‘life variety’ high and undertake new challenges without putting too much pressure on yourself, which is often a surefire way to kill any resolution… Why? The theory goes that 30 days is a period just long enough to be able to stick to something, as well as a good period of time to be able to properly assess: Is this new habit working for me?
2. Taking small, fearful steps, 2mm at a time
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) has gifted us a lot in recent years. In one study, they found that kids who had been dealing with traumas were able to cross the ‘line of fear’ and face their trauma by taking baby steps. It’s a simple idea, but it really works. I’ve written about this before here, but another really good example is when you go to the gym. You might pump iron every day, but look at yourself in the mirror and see no change: this is only because the improvement is so small that, on daily basis, it cannot be perceived.
Come back in a month, in a year.
Taking small steps towards that fear, taking little bites out of it, can help you to exercise the fearlessness muscle. You can do this every day: take a cold shower, book in a bungee jump, stop dithering and ask that person out! Whatever it takes to get your pulse racing and get used to your old friend fear curling up beside you, nudging you to do something new: do it! For me, skydiving was a big one… but more of that in a minute.
The most important thing about the 2mm thing is that it allows you to slowly step out of your comfort zone, start expanding your experience and build up a capacity to face bigger and bigger fears and challenges.
3. Community of Quality People!
You are the average of the closest 5 people that you know.
Sharing what you are doing with a community that not only ‘gets it’, but also may have done what you are trying to do, is very powerful. It’s why going to the gym with a trainer when you’re trying to get fitter works better than doing it on your own. Connecting with masterminds in your field — or in the field that you want to be in — or using coaches, can help you get direction.
4. Fear Setting exercise:
This was initially introduced by Tim Ferriss, and demonstrates where fear tends to cloud your thinking. Fear causes us to:
- Exaggerate the potential negative consequences of taking action.
- Understate the potential positive results of taking action.
- Ignore the costs of inaction.
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Seneca
By defining your fear and chunking it down into small bite size fears, you will unpack it and get more acquainted with its components.
The method is simply done by:
- Putting your fears under a microscope.
- Considering the potential benefits of taking action.
- Considering the consequences of inaction.
Here you will find more details about this tool.
This exercise is like putting your fear under the microscope, in order to understand:
- The “worst-case scenarios” of taking action actually aren’t that bad.
- The benefits of an attempt, or partial success are usually better than first thought.
- Although maintaining the status-quo can be comfortable, it’s overrated.
The Sky Dive
Here’s a photo of me about to jump out of a helicopter at an altitude of 12,000 feet.
All this talk of taking a leap and facing your fears? Well, you can’t call me a hypocrite now.
I want to invite you to have this experience with me through your mind’s eyes. Imagine that the night before the jump: you were losing sleep over-thinking it: why did I sign up for this? Why am I doing this? What am I supposed to be proving, and to whom?
What if the parachute doesn’t open?
Then comes the day of the skydive and here you are, having a series of panic attacks. Yet, what is this? You find that you are nevertheless getting into the helicopter; the helicopter is a matchbox with flimsy rotor blades made of what look like repurposed spatulas. The chooper is clearly designed to accommodate one small child or a medium sized cocker spaniel, yet here you are, with four other adult-sized gibbering wrecks. You are strapped tightly to a stranger that you are going to be jumping with. He starts going through the possibility of the chute not opening and your heart is pumping so fast that you cannot hear him anymore.
The helicopter lifts into the blue sky. You hope that your parachute will open, it’s kind of a deal breaker for you actually. As the helicopter is flying, you realize that, at 12,000 feet and in a helicopter with no doors, you’ve just added ‘fear of freezing to death’ to your lengthening list of fears.
Now you are standing on the ledge and you are looking down, staring death in the eyes. Until that moment, everything that can go wrong has been controlling your mind. The dude behind you counts to three and you…
Until that moment, fear, whether you like it or not, has had a certain control over you. But then, suddenly, there is a shift, and you’re not falling anymore… you’re flying!
This is the most amazing and exhilarating feeling that you have ever experienced — I mean, you are FLYING!
The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear! This is pleasure and happiness. Up to the point I was standing on the ledge of that chopper, I had no physical or tangible reason to be afraid — my mind was just filling a vacuum, trying to avoid me having that ‘fearful’ new experience. I broke through it, and took the plunge. I’m so glad that I did.
Get your parachutes on, folks. Step out your comfort zones, and get up on that ledge. Face your fear. Take the leap.
And find what it means to fly.
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