How to Make Fear Your Companion—Not Your Roadblock
March 21, 2018
Mew (pre-loved) motor scooter was outside the window when I woke up. It had been decades since I got a new bike (a bicycle back then) and I felt the same rush of excitement.
It was raining. I tiptoed outside in my bare feet, took a seat and gingerly hit the starter button. As the bike lurched forward, I accidentally accelerated, falling over and bruising my leg. My daughters laughed, not unkindly, but there was a subtext: aren’t you a bit old for this?
For a few days after that I stared at the scooter through the window as the thoughts ramped up:
●︎ It’s too heavy for me.
●︎ I won’t be able to handle it.
●︎ This is a very windy city.
●︎ I should have test-driven it first.
●︎ I got hurt. What if it happens again?
Fear. It had me by the throat.
As a psychologist I knew it. I almost smiled each time a new negative thought came in. But it was a smile through gritted teeth. What worried me more than the negative thinking was that age was beginning to bite.
I’d had a motorbike when I was younger and, even though I’d come off a couple of times, I was never afraid of it. I loved it; I loved the freedom, the crisp air, the songs I sang loudly to myself under my helmet.
I’d always tried to be a fearless person, throwing myself off bungy bridges, trying new (sometimes stupid) things, not taking the expected path. It made me feel like that old cliche, like I was living life to the full.
But now? The scooter had given me a jolt. I’d seen too often in clients what happens to people as they feel the pinch of age. Instead of seeking and grabbing new opportunities, they’d back off, lose confidence, play it safe.
I’d heard the line “At my age, I can’t ... " too many times to count. And often from people who were still in their 40s. I didn’t want that to happen to me, and yet here I was scared of a scooter.
It was time for some therapy. I know the treatments for anxiety, but I knew that meditating and box breathing weren’t going to do anything for this one. So I sat myself down on my own couch for a little chat. It was a one-liner that went like this: “Feel the fear but don’t be a baby with it.”
Then I wrote myself, in my head admittedly, a four-point plan:
1. Notice the fear.
Notice, acknowledge, but don’t fight. We’re all afraid of something; fear is a bunch of thoughts that we’ve grabbed onto and are giving far too much attention. Sit with the thoughts for a while and you’ll realise thoughts on their own are harmless. They’ll only strike out if you hand them the power.
Fear is a bunch of thoughts that we’ve grabbed onto and are giving far too much attention.
2. Strike a deal.
Remind yourself of the importance of walking towards the fear. Especially if there is another player in the game—in my case, age. Fear is always up for the game and will be thrilled if you back off, avoid or hunker down to whatever the challenge is. Because it has won.
3. Do one small thing.
If you’re scared of flying, go to the airport. Learn breathing techniques or coping tools. Ditto for any other fear. If you’re scared of motor scooters put on your helmet and go sit in the lounge. No one has to see you do this. The point is, step forward—not back.
4. See the big picture.
This is the biggest because it gives you some perspective. Ask yourself what kind of life you want to live. If you genuinely don’t want to fly anywhere, ever, or speak in public—and you can live with that, fine. But if you say no to something you might enjoy or might help you make progress or do good things in the world, that’s wrong. It’s still your choice though.
Ask yourself what kind of life you want to live.
Remember, fear wants to make your life smaller, when our aim, as long as we can breathe, should be to supersize it, in whatever ways we can.
I ride the scooter most days now. The smile beneath the helmet is genuine. The songs are still loud. My daughters will NEVER ride on the back.
But I’ve got this. It’s not about the bike. But you already knew that didn’t you?
This article originally appeared on Medium.
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