At 1 AM, I continued to toss and turn alone in my hotel room in South San Francisco. I rolled out of bed, put some running shorts on, a shirt, and laced up my shoes. I felt my heartbeat quicken as I stepped outside the lobby door and inhaled the cool night air. With a room key in my pocket and a bottle of water in my hand, I started down the dark dirt path that ran along a section of the San Francisco Bay. As my lungs opened up, my pace quickened, and I ran towards the outdoor exercise station with equipment for pull-ups, bench jumps, and sit-ups. A small group of three rough looking men stood around that area as I approached, each one of them puffing on a cigarette.
As I reached the workout station, I stopped running and walked towards the pull-up bar and closer to the men. I nodded. One of the men lifted his head in recognition of my gesture, while the other two just stared. Adrenaline surged further through my body. I felt shaky, but consciously walked deliberately and without hesitation to the pull-up bar to appear confident. I jumped up to grab the bar and started my routine. As I pumped out my pull-ups, I didn’t stare directly at the men, but kept an eye on all of them within my peripheral vision. After 6 or 7 pull-ups, they began walking away towards an adjoining parking lot. I finished my routine and continued further down on the path, relieved that nothing significant came from the “what-ifs” that flooded my mind. Just as this calming feeling occurred, what appeared to be a medium-sized animal ran along the bushes 2 feet to my left. I jumped, and I felt my heart move up to my throat. I turned my fast jog into a sprint, completing the dirt loop, returning again to the hotel lobby entrance a few minutes later. I walked through the hotel doors with a smile, feeling exhilarated and accomplished for getting to this point. As a child, what the night brought, used to paralyze me with fear.
As a young boy, fear ran my life. Even as I got a little older, assignments like speaking in front of a group brought so much fear, despite my mother being a debate coach, that I dropped the debate class before the first presentation during my freshman year of high school. In the years to follow, I adopted the phrase, “well, if I die, I die.” That may not be the best type of encouraging self-talk, but what I did know at the time is that I could not continue to live paralyzed by fear and worry. I began working to stretch myself.
With a fear of spiders, I began catching and holding spiders that I was assured were non-poisonous. I sat at the top of a mountain decline for nearly 45 minutes alone on my mountain bike before I started to descend down a trail that stretched my abilities. I enrolled in a public speaking course and stumbled on my words as my mind went blank in front of a group. I can still feel the heat radiating from my head as my face flush red, but I did it! I showed up. Through embarrassment, it literally got to the point to where I thought to myself, I have made a fool of myself so many times, it doesn’t matter if I do it again at this point. As I thought that to myself, I relaxed, performed better and felt the fulfillment of achievement occur. I had become comfortable being uncomfortable.
When I bring up the concept of being comfortable being uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard. A lot of times it still is, but I slowly built the confidence that I could get through the challenge, fear, and anxiety before me.
Regardless of what the challenge is, I’ve learned that the most important step is as simple as just showing up.
Showing up, regardless of the outcome, in its self is a significant achievement that paves the way to building the skill of being comfortable being uncomfortable.
From what I’ve experienced, is that the uncomfortable experiences need to start small. A person does not go from a deathly fear of heights to bungee jumping off of a bridge over the Grand Canyon, or the fear an individual is trying to overcome will become cemented in even further.
Failing to show-up and complete the act determined to help a person overcome fear, can further ingrain that fear. Start small, and slowly build up to larger achievements.
This concept became even more clear to me as I obtained a yellow lab named Bailey that seemed to be ruled by fear of the world. As I read about socialization of a fearful dog, I read about how doing too much can have the opposite desired impact. I needed to start slow and to associate positive things with the uncomfortable experience. I started by slowly introducing others to something she loves. I threw the ball into a public pond that just a few other people without animals were around. Bailey was tentative at first, but then began to forget about the others in the area as she jumped in with pure joy to retrieve the ball I had thrown in. Next, I just sat with Bailey on a bench in an outdoor mall area and watched with her as others walked by. Praise and treats were a part of the experience.
Just as a trainer does with an animal, associating something positive with the experience that brings us anxiety is important. It can be as simple as an treating yourself to an ice cream cone after hiking up a small hill that stretches your fear of heights or allowing yourself the space to just sit and watch a sunset after having a courageous conversation that you would prefer to run away from.
Associate something positive with the uncomfortable experience, regardless of the outcome.
Confidence builds as small achievements occur. A gradual transition occurs from fear that causes a person to freeze, to seeing the adrenaline that floods in as an asset that can be used to help overcome and perform in the challenge before you.
See the adrenaline and increased heart-rate as an asset to help overcome and perform in the challenge before you.
Determining to take control of your life, your feelings and experiences occurs just one act at a time. Determining your reality is a choice that we all have control over. For more ideas on dealing with fear, stress and anxiety, click here. To become part of Choose Your Fate world, share your unique perspective, or to browse other topics, visit CYFworld.com.
Travis N. Jensen
Choose Your Fate world
Author of Lulled