From Terrified To Terrific

Unless you have been on Mars, or a cave high in the Himalaya, you would not have escaped the topsy-turvy state of global morale on the financial crisis this month. It is affecting most of the world that still depend on the international credit and banking system. Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea might be an exception, though.

Looking at the tone and choice of language used by the mass media, words like ‘ meltdown’, ‘plummeting’, ‘death-slide’ and ‘panicking’ only serve one purpose: to further create a state of fear. You can almost smell it. For nearly two decades, questions I get commonly asked as a mountaineer include ” Aren’t you afraid up there?”

My answer has always been along the lines that climbers are not much different in the arena of fear than Joe Public. We get scared all the time. The difference between us and the average person is that we’ve manager to create what scientists call ‘ fear extinction’ in the part of the brain most chemically connected to creating fear, the amygdala, a wishbone shaped section of the brain.

So, to cut out the gobbledy gook, how can people control and work through their fears of things in life, without undergoing lab rat experiments?  Here are some answers. In the process of extinguishing fear of something, which upon reflection, should not be as deadly as we thing, we need to do a few things.

1) Understand the thing that you fear:
In most instances, it is a lack of understanding of the thing that creates speculation on our part, uncertainty as to the impact ‘ it’ will have, as well as pervasiveness of its impact. On a climb on steep rock face, understanding how rocks crack, and knowing which fissures are likely to provide handholds, jams and means to scale up the face is helpful in reducing the fear factor. Focusing on the downside (like falling) does not help upward progress whatsoever.

2) Take small steps:

I used to be terrified of cockroaches as a child. They were smelly, scaly and had prickly legs all over – and they flew (ugh!). Then my father paid me 10cents for each one I killed around the house. I started killing them with high-powered rubber bands from a distance, and then graduated to rolled-up newspapers. These days, I can kill (at least the small ones) by squashing them with my hands. The same fear extinction techniques apply to anything that you fear.

3) Take small steps Part II:

Focus on the next stage of your grappling with a thing of fear, not the big thing itself. Small time investors only get the appetite of risk and reward by building up their confidence and market fundamentals. They, like climbers, know many risks are out of their control. But if you were to focus on only the big payout and the exit strategy to retirement, you might be too terrified to take the next step. Don’t look too much at the summit, but focus on the net step up.

4) Find a community of people or a friend who has been there:

If you fear heights, look to people who have controlled it or eliminated most of the irrational aspects of this fear.

5) Don’t be ashamed of being fearful of something:

Instead of pin pointing why you fear something, focus instead of what is a more productive response to make when you encounter this thing/person/event/challenge, then start applying steps (1) to (4)

Be terrific, not terrified!