Some thoughts on the crippling power of fear, and how that mean little gremlin of a feeling can be overcome in the search for confidence and adventure.
There are two different kinds of fear. The sensible, preserving fear is good, your instincts are a useful tool. If a situation you find yourself in – watching others cliff-jump into dangerous-looking waters, say, or wandering into a dodgy part of a city when travelling – sets off alarm bells for sensible reasons, then listen to them. Putting yourself into obvious danger is never brave, just foolhardy.
But then there’s the crippling, confidence-sapping fear of trying something new, of venturing out alone, even of speaking your mind. This is the one we’re going to pummel into submission here. The answer to this kind of fear is to take small steps. Confidence is like any skill – it needs developing, it needs flexing like a muscle in order to grow. Learning that you’re capable of running a mile will give you the confidence for two, until suddenly you’re running marathons. You can stack your confidence in your own ability up, like building blocks, and then stand proud on top. A bit of support is important when you take the first steps, too. Want to try climbing but scared of heights? Book onto a friendly beginner’s course. Want to travel with a bit of a safety net? Sign onto something like a surf camp or a group trip.
Just don’t let a lack of confidence stop you. The adventures I’m proudest of achieving have always been the scariest, and each time I’m about to head off to a faraway place or on a solo trip I get The Fear, sometimes so badly my cowardly brain will find a million reasons to bail (as I recently told an entire crowd of people, I’ll often have a little cry in the airport toilets before getting on the plane and facing my fear. I’m always fine after that).
Confidence, or at least mine, is a fickle little beast – it takes years to grow but just one setback can completely knock it out of the park. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t feel ready for the big leap. Being brave means different things for different people – if cycling to work for the first time or one night camping alone is your idea of a Really Big Deal, don’t let anyone else tell you that it isn’t. You are allowed to feel proud as hell of taking the smallest step. Don’t be afraid of feeling stupid – we all have to learn, we’ve all been beginners.
It’s a competitive, often negative, difficult world we live and try to flourish in, and having a voice or sharing your ambition can feel exhausting at times. Our brains seem to be hardwired to feel every criticism, every no, far more keenly than any supportive words, every affirmation. But keep going. You’ll build up your own inner safety net of belief which will help you weather the bad and relish the good. Get your thoughts and your ideas out there, and remember it’s a lot easier to be the critic than the creator.
Fear can be a useful tool, if you can train your will to recognise it and then beat the crap out of it.
Still feel scared? No problem. Just do it afraid.