In this article, Ambassador Nathan Briggs talks about overcoming fear and finding the flow state in various areas of life.
In my last article I wrote about emotions, and stress in particular. Given all the positive feedback, I’d like to piggyback on that one. This time, I’d like to write about fear, and that most familiar shade of fear: anxiety.
As the man said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” But why is that the case? In my experience it’s that every weakness, misstep, or personal struggle can be boiled down to a fear.
In a past life, I trained skydiving students. Let me tell you, it is unbelievable what fear can do to a person’s mental state. Students would exit the plane and start flailing around trying to swim back into it (not gonna happen), or free-fall for a full minute with nearly zero recall of the actual experience. That’s right, students could be so overloaded with adrenaline, supplied by their fear, that they totally blacked out.
You don’t have to be falling to the earth to experience some degree of this mental overload. I know I’m not the only one that has come bombing out of transition without some crucial piece of gear, or simply failed to execute a well thought out nutrition plan.
Furthermore, race day jitters aren’t just a distraction, but genuinely consume our precious energy resources. Fretting over rank position, or pace vs. goal, is not only useless in the moment, but actually saps our strength and reduces our ability to perform.
Have you ever had that feeling where worries disappear, and nothing matters but the task at hand? All you can see is the way forward? That is the ‘flow’ state. To some, it is synonymous with Zen, or an unwavering presence, grounded in action. But to me, that flow state is something born in the conquest of fear. To me, flow state is a particularly profound presence that’s surrounded by fear, like a clam’s pearl, or a hard pressed diamond. Flow state is special because it happens when we are successful against odds.
My good friend and instructor, Gary Shaffer, once explained to me how skydiving made him feel. He said that it was is if he were nothing but a wire frame, and all the burdens of the world, the struggles and challenges of his life, were but papers wrapped and folded around that frame. The moment, however, that he left an airplane, the wind began to tear away at all those worries, and strip the banal concerns of the world away from him one at a time until he was empty, at peace, and the air just flowed through him. If you ever find an activity that can bring you such focus, and peace, cherish it.
Overcoming fear and finding flow
For me it used to be skydiving, it’s been rock climbing, and today it’s endurance sports. By whatever means you choose to explore your boundaries and push the limits of the human spirit, be sure to overcome your fears and find that flow state. But how?
Future planning. When I first started BASE jumping, I was so overcome with fear at the exit point that I almost couldn’t make the jump. I overcame this with careful planning. I was sure to tell ‘future Nathan’ exactly what he should be thinking and doing in that fearful situation in which he’s not to be trusted. Over time, I came to learn that I could trust my plans more than I could trust myself in certain situations.
In endurance sports I practice positive self-talk. In hard workouts I’ll shout words of encouragement to myself (usually in my head) and these become mantras that I can use on race day. This repetitive practice of encouragement gives real power to positive self-talk during a hard race effort, as those words ground me in past experience.
And most importantly, a genuine acknowledgement, and acceptance of fear, allows us to move through it.
But life is not all about race day, and neither is a close relationship with fear. Fear may be problematic and the ultimate source of any pain in my life, but it is a blessing.
If I am afraid, then it means that I have something to feel good about; that I care for something and don’t want to lose it. There is a goodness at the source of that fear if I look for it, and the gift of fear is the discovery and appreciation of joy.
“Lean into the sharp points and fully experience them. The essence of bravery is being without self-deception. Wisdom is inherent in (understanding) emotions.” – Pema Chodron, ‘When Things Fall Apart’
In all parts of my life, if I am afraid, then I am uncomfortably close to an opportunity to explore something that is important to me, but currently hidden. I need only ask, “What am I afraid of?”