Fear - What's Yours?
I recently listened with awe to an interview with free solo climber, Alex Honnold, on overcoming fear - and he should know what he’s talking about!
You may have watched the recent documentary showing Alex’s stunning scramble up the 3,000 foot tall sheer granite cliff face of El Capitan, in Yosemeti Valley, California, in what has been described as the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.
Alex talked openly about his achievement, how he prepared, the power of visualisation, and how he mentally coped with something that is much better suited to physical preparation. But what I found staggering was his admission that he wasn’t at all scared during the climb. He explained that you can’t allow fear to creep in and get a hold, you have to stay in control of it and your mind and keep fear well and truly out, or it will be your downfall - quite literally.
But more interestingly, he shared that he finds talking to people far scarier than hanging off a sheer cliff face at 3,000 feet, without any safety equipment. During three years at University, he didn’t have a single friend - he spoke to no one other than his lecturers or tutors, and only when he had to. Socialising for him was terrifying. Going into a pub and ordering a drink was overwhelming and for a long time, impossible. And the thought of one day speaking on camera during the filming of a documentary, or sharing in a podcast interview, would have absolutely petrified him.
He explained in detail exactly how he overcame his fears. First, of course, it is making the decision that this cannot continue and things have to change. Thereafter, he made tiny, incremental improvements. Bit by tiny bit, he worked on it. He gives the example that first he would just make himself go into a Pub/Bar and then leave. Once this became less scary, he would make himself just stay inside for a few minutes longer, and then leave. Shortly after that, he extended the time, and very soon he built up to being able to order a drink and sit for slightly longer. Eventually, and most terrifying for him, it was to build up the courage and confidence to just say a one line comment to another customer each time he went into a bar. Having a full blown conversation with a stranger was his ultimate goal with this exercise, and by building very slowly with small goals and tiny progress, he got there. Now he has progressed to having proper friendships in the “climbing world',’ a long term girlfriend, was fairly comfortable on camera, and chatted freely on the podcast interview. He concluded by saying how each and every one of us experiences fear and that our triggers are all very personal to each of us. For some it is public speaking, for others it’s heights, for others it is water, spiders, being alone, dying. What’s yours?
But he stressed that we CAN all overcome our fears. Each of us can decide we no longer want to live at the mercy of our fear and either get help to overcome it, or do what Alex did, and slowly but surely, work daily, building on the tiny steps and small successes, until you get the calm and peace that you are aiming for - never giving up but pushing just a little bit more each time.
If you want to listen to the interview go to Simon Mundie’s “Don’t Tell Me The Score” Podcast, or watch the National Geographic Documentary on Catch Up.