Fear. As a psychological response it was designed to protect us. But so often it just acts as a barrier to adventure, joy and success. Recently my son overcame his fear of the ocean. Watching him inspired me to explore my own fears and how to put them aside. In a month dedicated to positivity and new beginnings, I want to be fearless.
I searched around in a slight panic. Where was his head? Where was he? The white water crashed against my legs and obscured my view. The now-freed body board bumped against my knee. A moment later, he came up laughing, eyes shining. That was fun Mum! he said, oblivious to my thumping heart. The dumping waves he had once been so scared of had turned and become his playground. He grabbed his body board strap and wrapped it back around his wrist, heading back to catch another wave. He had been scared of the ocean for such a long time. He would fret if anyone swum out beyond the breakers, demanding that his loved ones stay on-shore. My husband and I had almost given up encouraging him into the sea. Then he got a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles body board for his birthday and everything changed. He caught a wave and realised that the sea could be fun. The little boy that would run from the waves was now throwing himself into them.
Fears are funny things. They tend to grow out of all proportion until we face them. When we take action, they dissolve into nothing and adventures begin. I watched my son, freed of his fear of the ocean, and wondered how that happened. How did he let go of such tightly held terror? He had tried body boarding before, albeit on an adult board. He hadn’t enjoy it. But this body board, sporting his heroes and exactly the right size, wielded the right kind of magic. Maybe it was age. Maybe it was the right kind of waves. Maybe he made a conscious decision to change his mind-set. Maybe the fears were silent long enough for the promise of joy to take over. Whatever happened, he traded paralysis for exuberance, anxiety for experience.
I am fearful of so many things. Some of those fear are founded in experience. I am protective of my boys, knowing how easily life can change. Some of those fears are about very large things. What the world will look like in the future. But fear does nothing to change the outcome. And then most of my fears, the ones that are truly holding me back, feel silly. Fear of not being liked. Fear of standing out. Fear of not standing out. Fear of being found a fraud. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of failing. How do I silence those fears? How do I find the courage my son did and open the doors to new experiences and adventure?
There are plenty of tools. There is thinking about what would occur if the fear was realised and working back from there. As someone who has lost a son, that method is not for me. The wonderful Julie Cross suggests creating a “courage bank”. Do the things that scare you – jump out of a plane, swim with sharks, speak in public, dance, go on stage, ride a roller-coaster – and when you come against fear again, think back to the fears already vanquished and cash in your courage. Others encourage “feel the fear and do it anyway.” To acknowledge that the fear exists and reframe it as an opportunity.
I don’t think you can simply dismiss fear. I think you have to work through it, figure out why it exists. Figure out what can defeat it. I know that self-belief will go a long way to counter-acting my particular fears. To that end, I am writing myself affirmations. It might be a bit “woo-woo” but the voice that speaks the doubt is insistent and I need another voice to answer it.