Standing on a dime sized edge of rock 800 feet off the ground, the wind picks up a little bit, as if it’s trying to push me off my precarious stance. My mind vacillates between laser focus in the moment and distracting thoughts. I am acutely aware of the tiny foothold I am standing on and the slippery handholds my fingers are curled around. What am I doing here? Is this worth the risk? Fear and judgment are ever present. I breathe slowly, acknowledge the distractions, refocus and commit to the task at hand: I continue climbing.
I have been here before, as have you—maybe not on an actual climb to the peak of a mountain, but at a point of critical decision (or, sometimes, indecision). Maybe you do take on physical challenges for fun, or maybe you struggle with social ones—finding the courage to speak up and out to others, to live your values, to support a friend in need.
That Critical Moment
At this precious point, we have a decision to make: to engage with fear and judgment and awaken to the strength, confidence, and power we all hold or to allow fear and judgment to silence our strengths and overpower our clarity of vision and desire. Our highest endeavor in life, our goals and dreams, hang in the balance of our relationship with fear and judgment.
I have made it my life’s work—as an adventurer, climbing guide, psychologist, and personal coach—to support individuals when they are at this choice point. I do it everyday, sometimes literally while climbing mountains with my clients and sometimes figuratively while coaching my clients through a transition or supporting them to reach goals previously out of reach.
How to Face Off With Your Fear
When working with individuals facing a “do or don’t do” scenario, one that will support and empower them towards their goals or keep them stuck where they are, I ask a couple of questions:
- What is the worst thing that can happen? Literally, the worst thing that can happen. How likely is that to happen? What is more likely the result that will occur? Often verbalizing and acknowledging the worst case scenario gives us an opportunity to see that the likelihood of that occurring is low (usually very low!) and that the true worst case scenario is something that we can handle. This knowledge alone can often set us free and shift our relationship with fear.
- What if I do nothing? How long can I stay right here in this place that is uncomfortable, but at least known? Doing nothing can feel like the safe bet and out capacity to stay here is well documented! We have all done it! Explore this question with honesty and humility and you may find that “doing nothing” is actually more damaging and more difficult than “the worst thing that can happen”. “Doing nothing” can slowly become even more debilitating and painful, we just may not recognize it because is moves so slowly and creeps into our lives!
- What if I succeed? This can be a scary one! My clients are often surprised to learn that the fear of success has played a role in keeping them stuck! It is a cruel irony we experience; the paradox of seeking success and fearing it simultaneously. Give life to your success; imagine fully it coming to fruition. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What are your best attributes while engaged in this success? Make it come alive.
I find these questions best addressed in a direct conversation with a close friend or as a journal writing exercise. Give yourself the opportunity to honestly, and with humility, acknowledge how each of these questions impacts your life. How they can support your success and support your goals and dreams. Often taking a few minutes out of your day and examining your life and challenges from a slightly different perspective gives you the re-frame to shift from stuck to un-stuck: from paralyzing fear to confident action.
Matthew Walker is a world-class mountain climber, psychologist, and the author of Adventure in Everything, which helps readers bring the energy and vitality of adventuring into their everyday lives, their relationships, and their community. His organization, Inner Passage, supports individuals and organizations to bring the spirit of adventure forward in the everyday and in our highest endeavors. Learn more at: www.innerpassage.net