By Christopher Cudworth
Fear is the emotion that too commonly keeps people from reaching their potential in all phases of life.
We fear failure.
We fear success.
We fear rejection.
We fear lack of will.
We fear the unknown.
We fear God. But not always in the right ways.
So, how do we overcome fear, or work with it positively?
Rehearsal breeds success
Rehearsal. We conquer fear by choosing to engage in things that challenge us. When we successfully overcome the challenge, fear is reduced or even eliminated.
Fear can paralyze. Fear can stultify. Fear can make us reject ourselves and others. Fear can teach us the wrong way of looking at things. Then it becomes a habit.
Anxiety is fear. Some of us are born with naturally high levels of anxiety. It affects our ability to function. It creates a flipside that sometimes results in depression. These are biological sources of fear. Rooted in the evolution of all humankind, our anxious fears are exaggerated forms of natural preparedness. A rabbit twitching in the grass, waiting to run, is heightened by anxiety. Fight or flight?
How to be a badass rabbit
But having seen rabbits fight with some ferocity, we know that rabbits are not always afraid. When called to action, a rabbit can be one badass piece of scratching fur.
And therein lies the answer to conquering our fears. We can use situational rehearsal to help us get to know our minds, recognize trigger points for fear and learn how to manage our thoughts––and fears––through “set-aside” activities like running and riding.
How does it work? Quite naturally, actually.
Cataloguing our fears
Any time you prepare for a challenging effort your mind is engaged in preparation. You begin to take in factors that could cause you to fail. But you hopefully engage in thoughts about how to succeed. The trick is how you catalog those thoughts and set them aside to help make room for the hopeful, positive thoughts that can overcome fears and negativity.
Saturday Night syndrome
Fear is interesting in many respects. Let’s say you’ve prepared for six months to run a marathon. On Saturday night your mind is full of good thoughts and positivity. Yet when you rise on Sunday morning it feels like a black cloud moved in overnight. All you can think about are the many things that can go wrong. Your wicked subconscious almost takes over. “I didn’t train enough. That long run three weeks ago went terrible. What if I feel like that today?”
100 miles of fear
Or perhaps you’re riding your first century. The distance is new to you. The farthest you’ve gone before is 80 miles, and that was hard. Will your body give out? Will your back grow tired and cramp up? Will you get a saddle sore and have to quit?
Just listen to yourself.
In advance of both the marathon or century ride, those negative thoughts are natural, because they express our doubts. But if you take out a piece of paper and write down all the reasons you want to succeed and all the reasons why you should succeed, it is likely you’ll find the hopes balance out the fears.
Using heightened senses to your advantage
Fear heightens the senses, after all. A bit of nervousness is how many athletes get up for their competition. But when nervousness flips and becomes translated only as fear, which holds you back from doing your best, then it’s vital that you “get a grip” as they say, and put those fears back into context so that you can move forward with what you want to accomplish.
Remember that piece of paper we just mentioned? Find one. Sit down right away and start writing down your fears. The very act of acting on your fears by writing them down can make a tremendous difference in overcoming anxiety and fear. Something about the physical act of writing combined with getting your thoughts down on paper help. It really does.
Not sure if writing on a smartphone works as well, but whatever…in a pinch.
Capture your fears.
Then use a column to write down all your real goals and how long you’ve prepared for your event. Even if it falls short in terms of counterbalancing your fears, there’s a massive steam valve waiting if nothing else works.
Write down these words: “I can only do my best.”
That’s both a confession and a motivation, you see. It accepts that not everything may go right, and forgives you if it doesn’t. Yet it states positively that whatever you do, you are responding the best way you know how, and giving your best because you’ve had the courage to challenge your self. Welcome the challenge and you’ll find a way to succeed. Give yourself credit for that.
Applying your best to life
When facing major life events, it is often easy to become critical of ourselves and imagine we are not up to the task. I recall the moment when my mother was dying of cancer and my father, a stroke victim, needed me to take over his caregiving. Standing in his front yard before going in to discuss next steps, I realized there were no rules to guide me then. No one to tell me what to do. I could have been full of fear at that point. But all my years of rehearsing how to conquer fears through running and riding came into play. I quickly assessed the near term goals and strategies necessary to do a good job in the situation I was facing. Decisions on life and health and money would need to be made. Suddenly I felt capable.
In fact my former high school track coach called me a few days later. He’d heard that I was also facing a new challenge on top of my parent’s ill health. My wife also had cancer. “You can do it,” he told me. “Your whole life has been preparation for this.”
He knew me well, having first coached me in baseball at the tender age of 13. He also coached me in cross country and track in high school. Later we even did business together. So he’d seen me face potential fears as a 13-year-old pitcher in American Legion baseball, playing baseball against players 3 years older. But I loved the challenge. I literally had no fear. It pays to be young and stupid sometimes. But hey, whatever works.
As a high school runner enjoying some success, there came a time when a sports reporter called me a “junior sensation.” My coach corrected the writer in print by saying, “Cudworth is a good runner, but not a sensational one.” And he was right about that. There were runners even in my conference who were better than me. I’d done some good things, but a sensation does even more than that. Even I knew that.
But it all made sense when my coach reminded me of all those athletic challenges faced over the years, including acknowledgement of limitations. Because to a degree, it resonated with real life, in the moment.
A nail biter
The anxious kid who bit his nails from age three had grown up to handle life emergencies because sports had provided enough mental rehearsal to enable a calm, collected approach to tense situations.
That doesn’t mean I never fail. I recall the day I was standing in a hospital room in Syracuse, New York. My father had his stroke in Seneca Falls and had been transported 6o miles to a magnet hospital for treatment. For six weeks over the summer he lay there in near comatose fashion before reviving somewhat. I traveled to New York to bring the recovering patient home. The plane tickets and transportation to and from the airport had all been arranged. The narrow travel window was tense and difficult. A stroke patient can need medical assistance at any moment.
I thought I had prepared everything well for the journey. Then the doctors said, “Well, perhaps you can take your father home later this week…”
“This week?” I asked. “It’s all prepared for tomorrow. We’re leaving tomorrow…”
And just then I began to faint. I’d never had that experience before. But rather than fall face first into the row of interns standing together in my father’s room, I took a few steps forward and pushed them aside, heading for the hallway.
It wasn’t fight or flight, exactly. It was more like move and breathe or collapse. Same difference. At any rate, I got out into the hallway and took a series of intensely deep breaths. From then on I was fine. We got dad home through airports and beat up medical vans but it all worked.
Recovery from fear
Then I did the one thing that came naturally after a tense, wild affair. I went for a run. Because running and riding are not only great rehearsal in preparing for the big events in life, they’re also great for winding down.
So no matter what difficulties and challenges you are finding in your life at this moment, running and riding can help you prepare. Whether it’s a big marketing pitch in front of a major client, or discussing your child’s math grades with a taciturn teacher, you can learn how to control your thoughts, rule out the negative and find space for the positive. Then go in that room and do what you have to do, because you’ve rehearsed for this. In many ways through running and riding, you’ve done it all before. Conquered your fears.
Now go out there and run and ride. And don’t be so afraid. You can do it. We know you can.