Feel the fear — and do it anyway

My grandson lives in Florida. When the family moved in 2020, the new house had a pool. Bonus! — given that public pools were closed due to COVID. Last summer, 4-year-old Patrick hated if his face even got wet. He would stand on tiptoes to make sure that his head was above the water line. If a toy fell to the bottom of the pool, one of his sisters would pick it up. My son and his wife told Patrick that when he turned 5 this year, they were signing him up for swim lessons. Not being able to swim with a pool in the backyard was a safety issue. What happens if he falls in and can’t get out? It was time for Patrick to overcome his fears and learn to swim.  

We’re all scared of something. The difference between us and Patrick is that we don’t necessarily have someone insisting: “Get over it.”

We know these things about fear:  

  • Fear is natural. The “fight or flight” stress response starts in the brain’s amygdala.
  • Fear can be contagious. When we feel helpless and are with other people, fear can spread like a virus.
  • Fear can be lifesaving. Rather than seeing it as a weakness, fear can be useful — a survival mechanism that reminds us to be careful. Look both ways before you cross the street. Don’t get too close to the edge; the rocks are slippery. “Watch out! That driver is swerving into your lane.”

But fear can also be life-denying. It can be a delusion that says: “Don’t try. You might get hurt.” Don’t say “yes” to giving a speech; you might freeze or forget the words. You’ll look like an idiot. What if you fail?  

Fear can be a monster of our own making. It can protect or overpower. How do we know if the situation we’re facing is legitimately dangerous? Take a deep breath. Look around. Is the threat real? Should I be worried?

Do you want fear limiting you? Or are you willing to face it? How can we take a risk? It’s more complicated than just saying: “Don’t be afraid.” Or even worse, making fun of someone for being scared. He’s afraid of water; maybe you’re afraid of heights or elevators or snakes. Fear may be innate, but courage can help us do the thing we’re afraid of.

😱 Name it: Think of something that scares you. Is it giving a speech in front of a group? Jumping off the high dive?
😱 Claim it: Be aware of the consequences of living small and not changing. “Those waves look mighty big, but people seem to be having a blast in the water.”
😱 Reframe it: Change your perspective. Consider the worst that can happen. Instead of approaching a work presentation thinking: “If I mess this up, I could get fired,” practice your pitch like crazy and imagine impressing the clients with your knowledge of their needs.

Everyone will face scary things, but fear doesn’t have to define who we are. We can learn from the situations life throws in our path. And remember: if nothing changes, nothing changes. Civil rights marchers recognized they were facing the possibility of injury or death, but a vision of progress inspired them to keep going: “It doesn’t matter if you’re scared, just keep on steppin.” The fear can be a comma, instead of a period.

So how did Patrick’s swim lessons go? I was expecting to hear he approached the ordeal like he was walking the plank…

But no. According to my daughter-in-law: “He absolutely loved them!!! He was freaking out until right before he left and he just said ‘Maybe I will like my swim lessons. Yes. They will be great!!!’ And he kept that outlook the whole time.” Yeah, Patrick!

© Joan S Grey, 28 May 2021 ∞
IndexCardCure™: Courage goes hand-in-hand with fear

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