Here are three sources of fear that I have identified and some tools that have worked for me to deplete these sources. As always, it is a constantly monitored work in progress. I don't pretend to know any more or less than anybody else; these are ideas I have blundered on through reading, studying and most importantly, stumbling and falling. In my opinion, the sad thing about fear is that it can both rob you of the hope of today and destroy your dreams. Take a moment to think not just of races you might not be able to complete, but of wonderful opportunities lost in your life due to illegitimate, unwarranted fear ... it can be that debilitating.
# 1. Fear lives in the future
Rough patches are inevitable but I believe that many of these situations were brought on by my worrying about what lay ahead ... what might happen further up the course, later in the race. When you are dealing in hypotheticals, when you are living in daydreams and expectations, you are living in the future. With that, as a function of human nature, worry and fear will usually follow if you dally too long in "what ifs".
One trick I use to bring myself back into the present tense is to FOCUS. The mechanism by which I do this is to look at and focus on the rings I wear on each hand when I feel I am not living in the moment. This snaps me back into a reality, a reality that is no longer perched on an unstable cornice, ripe and ready to collapse into a massive valley. If you don't have a ring or two, then you can borrow one of mine or else write the word "focus" on your hand just prior to the start of the race.
|Staying in the here and now.|
# 2. Some fear is natural
All feelings and emotions are beautiful in their own unique way. I used to believe that a feeling like fear was to be ignored or suppressed right away (more on this in a moment). Now I have come to understand that I was mistaken. In fact, the presence of fear, in addition to serving a more basic evolutionary purpose, can actually be arguably healthy. I believe it is when one takes on too much unwarranted fear and wallows in it, that fear becomes a dibilitating problem.
I love the quote from Scott Peck's "Road Less Traveled"; paraphrasing, it tells us courage is not the absence of fear, rather it is moving ahead despite the presence of fear. Along this same line, my Montana friend Melissa ironically sent me the following magnet in the mail just the other day:
Although not an experience directly related to running, when I moved to Alaska several years ago, I was completely alone. I had no family, no parents, nothing. I didn't know a soul where I was going and had no place to live. As the days went by on my drive up the ALCAN Highway, and as the miles of tundra rolled past me, out in the Yukon sleeping in my car jammed with boxes, I was scared. Very scared. I felt like I was jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. I managed the fear by being patient and gentle with myself, by taking a deep breath, doing my own version of meditation, and relying on the spiritual connectedness and kindred I felt with my friends, and letting the natural and momentary feeling of fear pass through me. In short, I just worked through it.
I now look back and see that a moment that was so fearful to me yielded opportunity and growth on many fronts because I worked through the moment. I grew stronger. I grew tougher. And I now had an emotional standard by which to more fully appreciate all the wonderful, simple components of life. Yes, it is true, the strongest steel comes from the hottest fire. And it is that steel you will use to forge a sword and shield to successfully slay the dragon. Whether you are crossing the finish line of a race, walking up the stage to receive your diploma, or reveling in your own personal victory, I have no doubt that in some way you will look back and come to the same conclusion.
# 3. Fear can be externally driven.
Are you looking to run your first 5K or join a gym after years of physical neglect? Do you want to run a 100-mile race out in the Rocky Mountains? Put down a sub-3 hour marathon? Attempt your first sprint triathlon? What about life in general? Are you looking to start college? Open up a new business? Venture into a serious relationship?
Unfortunately, for basic reasons that can be good or bad, you can expect some resistance and blowback from other people in reaction to your self-improvement. There are going to be those who say you can't do it. In fact, some of these people might be your friends, boyfriend, or girlfriend or worse, even your spouse or family members. There will be those that offer no support at all, and those that mock your goals, either openly or in a passive aggressive manner. Personally, I'd try to avoid toxicity like this at all costs.
The trouble with letting other people define you is that it sows the seeds of insecurity and doubt in your mind, the tinder, if you will, for fear. Accordingly, when that inevitable moment comes during "the race" when the dragon comes, be it a marathon or a college degree program, then you will start to believe that you can't do it and that all the others were right all along and that you just aren't good enough. In summary, you'll give in to fear and give up.
Last autumn, my friend Annie asked me what was the one thing I regretted most in my life. To me, that's a loaded question that is difficult to answer, which is probably why she asked it. That said, my answer was simply this:
Conforming my beliefs and actions to other people's expectations of who and what they wanted me to be.
Now it didn't come easy and I still battle setbacks from time to time, but I have reached a point in my life where I am increasingly comfortable with who and what I am. I always tell myself that it is not the roar of the crowd that matters, rather the silent voice in my heart. And to be true to myself and all good things will follow. When you believe in yourself, and are surrounded by the finest "support crew" you could have of good people and friends, you can do many great things. It will also make willing yourself to head out the door in a driving, cold rain to do a 20-mile training run tolerable.
|Bill Gentry and Jack Broadus respectively to my left, the definition of good people.|