Have you ever seen a free climber hanging by their fingertips from a 100-feet precipice?
How about a snowboarder throwing themselves down a beasty backcountry descent, a paraglider weaving through alpine peaks or a mountain biker navigating roots, rocks and gnarly drops at speed?
Extreme sports enthusiasts regularly throw themselves into the abyss and hope for the best. They’re self-confessed addicts who dance in the face of danger and chase their next high.
To the ordinary person, it seems crazy. For others it’s just another day in the office…
Those capable of leaving fear behind. Who rise above it all and break through to the other side. Who crush it and channel it into something positive. They’re the ones who inspire us.
But are they mad or is fear something each and every one of us can overcome?
Fear and Failure
Fear is only natural. It follows us most places, and affects us to varying degrees.
What we do. How we do it. Whether we do ‘it’ at all. Our decisions, and subsequent actions are often shaped by our fear response. It’s called self-preservation.
However, if you ever want to fully embrace dangerous sports and realise your potential, you must first learn how to take control of your emotions in high risk situations.
We’re not talking about avoiding public embarrassment or jumping out of your skin during a horror movie when we talk about fear in this sense.
As you progress in an extreme sport like mountain biking or climbing, you put yourself in increasingly dangerous situations. Inevitably it means that painful accidents, injuries (or worse) become a real possibility—and it doesn’t matter how mad you are, no-one wants that.
Fear of suffering is the most debilitating of them all, and the biggest hurdle you’re likely to face, and one you’ll only clear when you’re able to come to terms with the worst case scenario.
When you accept it could happen, but probably won’t.
“With a hint of good judgment, to fear nothing, not failure or suffering or even death, indicates that you value life the most. You live to the extreme; you push limits; you spend your time building legacies. Those do not die.” – Criss Jami, author of Killosophy
Just because you feel fear doesn’t mean you have to succumb to it.
When we make the conscious decision to do something in spite of everything our gut is telling us, we begin to break down our inner barriers, and build self belief.
Fear, after all, is rooted in the idea of failure.
It’s always a possibility when trying something new—a new trail, a new route, a new sport. And when we convince ourselves that failure is this horrible beast we need to avoid, that we also avoid trying at all.
This is when you can begin to look at fear and failure in a different way…
“Failure isn’t real, it doesn’t exist,” says Sports Performance Mentor Gary Gingham.
“Man, at some point, invented the concept of failure. When primitive man was trying to light his first fire, do you think he said “I keep failing” or did he say after the 100th attempt “I’m 100 steps closer to being warm”.
Whatever it is you do, as long as you’re realistic, take those 100 steps over time, and learn from each and every one of them, you’ll grow in confidence and competency.
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The Golden Rule
So, what’s the secret to overcoming your fear? Self belief.
Trust in your judgement, your gear and your ability. Believe that you are capable of achieving whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. Look fear square in the face.
Use proven mind techniques like self talk and mantras to remove all sense of doubt.
“More often than not, when we feel afraid, we’re actually safe,” says mountain climber Samantha Larson, who summited Mount Everest aged 18. “Mindfulness techniques can be very helpful in working through fear in almost any situation, and that means going through the process of recognizing that you feel afraid, analyzing whether you’re actually in a dangerous situation, using that analysis to decide how you want to navigate the situation, and then trusting in that decision and acting on it with purpose.”
Once you have that self belief you are able to fully commit—and that’s one of the most important factors in driving better performance. Don’t tense up, relax. Don’t hesitate, accelerate.
Evolving the Psyche
We’re so often the barrier to our own success.
Masters at formulating reasons and excuses—it’s in our DNA to exercise caution. But we also possess the power to change the way we perceive and confront things.
According to psychologists Eric Brymer and Robert Schweitzer, in facing our “greatest ‘true’ fears whether they be death, uncertainty or something else and taking action despite these fears, we transcend our own limitations and invite new possibilities into our lives.”
Extreme sports enthusiasts accept their mortality, they know they’re not invincible. And yet, they still throw caution to the wind. Why? Because they don’t let fear stand in their way.