How To Overcome The Fears That Hold You Back From Living A Happier Life.
Since 1700 there have been eight unprovoked shark attacks around the coast of France.
That means the likelihood of you having a swim in the sea ‘En France’ is about as likely as you spontaneously combusting.
Each time I step into the sea in France I have a story running in my mind that something’s going to get me.
Fear. We all have it.
Some more than others. It can be crippling.
It can lead to procrastination, avoidance, lying, flannel, fakery, loneliness, stress, anxiety and breakdowns.
It can keep us safe, comfortable, away from pain, and protect our loved ones.
Overcoming your fears can lead to living a fulfilling life full of love, laughter, and happiness.
This blog is about helping you overcome your biggest fears, one step at a time.
Some of my happiest memories as a child are from annual family holidays to Lanzarote.
Looking back, I can hear the sound of waves crashing on the sandy beach, the sizzling smell of garlic prawns, adventures in and around a freezing cold pool maintained by a lovely guy called Domingo who couldn’t speak a word of English, warm fresh bread from the supermarket, and the hot, hot sun that scorched our skin. Being taken out of school in mid-December each year and boarding the plane was always an adventure. Amazing times. Not a care in the world.
Apart from the sea. It scared me.
My Dad was into snorkeling and, over the years, we practiced with him in the pool, armbands n’all. It was incredible fun to float around the water peering into the bottom of the deep blue pool, exploring each nook and cranny. Then, around the age of 10, the day came when we were going to go snorkeling off a pier in Puerto Del Carmen, a local town.
I can remember the feeling of dread. And fear.
I think it was a combination of reading too many Willard Price adventure books and visualising the stories of snakes, piranhas and jungle creatures jumping out of the book with every turn of the page.
Watching the film Jaws at far too an early age may have also fed my overly active imagination.
As I tiptoed down the loosely fixed rusty ladder attached to the concrete wall of the pier my mind was racing. My heart beating faster and faster, as if it was going to explode out of my chest.
As my toe entered the cool water I went for it and jumped in. After a little splashing, I opened my eyes and looked down into the abyss … a massive depth of around four feet.
Then, I saw it.
A huge slightly decomposed fish with large teeth, nestling snugly between the rippling waves of sand on the seabed … ready to pounce on me from the underwater sand dunes.
I was paralysed by fear.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a 10-year old boy screaming through a snorkel but it’s a very distressing sound. I imagine it’s a bit like someone skinning a cat.
Dad panicked. Mum panicked. Brother laughed.
I scrambled my way back to the rusty ladder, clambering on for dear life and was dragged out by my Dad in tears, shaking and freaking out.
It was true. Just like in Jaws. Things in the sea are going to get me. I bloody well knew it!
Jump and the net will appear
Fast-forward 29 years later. I still carry a fear in my mind that open-water swimming in the sea means shark attack. Loss of limbs. Blood. Death.
But now I have two sons, the light of my life. I’m Dad. I’m here to nurture, protect, instill values, lead by example, help communicate, raise their awareness, teach them how to problem solve, encourage them to lead and have lots of fun!
We go to France every year and swim in the sea, not too deep, just past waist height, to keep ‘safe’.
83 million people visit France as tourists each year. It has a population of 67 million.
In the last 317 years, only eight people have been a victim of an unprovoked shark attack off the coast of France.
I know this fact, yet, still think they’re going to get me or my two boys if we do any open-water swimming further out than say 3-4 feet.
This year I said to myself I’m going to do an open water swim across the bay of the local beach.
The fear was crippling. After a couple of glasses of Rose, I courageously told my wife, kids, and Dad that I was going to do it. Several times.
They didn’t believe me. I didn’t believe myself.
But, I knew if I shared my goal with others it would help with accountability, and harder to back out.
To help build my confidence before the ‘big swim’ I set myself a mini-challenge. Why? Because confidence builds up after having the courage to face into things you find challenging. By taking action.
The first jump
There’s a pier on the beach we go to. The water below it is about four feet in depth.
I’ve always wanted to dive off it. I worked out I could dive in and immediately swim to shore very quickly which, in my mind, limited the chances of being attacked by something.
I did it, felt great. It wasn’t as bad as I feared in my mind.
My two boys, who are three and six, saw me doing this.
I love them more than words can describe.
As I came out of the sea trying to look cool I stumbled on the sand and small rocks (have you ever noticed how hard it is to do a James Bond-like walk out of the sea without tripping on something? How does he do it?).
Then, I heard two very excited little voices …
“I wanna go!”
“Can I do it now?”
“Do it again!”
Shit. Now what?
It’s my job to protect them and now they want to jump off this pier. The one that’s taken me years to build up the courage to do?
Children can be very persistent.
My two boys have the gift of being very, shall we say … focused … if they want to do something.
I relented and said yes, but, only if they listen to Daddy first about how we’re going to do it.
I popped their goggles on, and my three-year-olds flotation jacket. We walked to the end of the pier and I explained our plan.
I would go in first and wait for them.
Then, and only then, I’d say to my eldest to jump in. Then, after he had come in I would tell my youngest to come in. We all made an agreement that this was going to happen. They were so excited.
I was shitting myself.
Not only have I got to do this dive again, but then, I’ve got to bob around waiting for the two most precious things in my life to jump in, grab hold of me, and take them to shore.
What was I doing?
Because they pick everything nonverbal I put on my best ‘brave’ face.
I came back up with a gritted-teeth smile, displaced comb over, looking all excited and said, “right, now your turn!”
As I looked up I saw the eyes of my two beautiful boys.
They sparkled like diamonds in the warm Mediterranean sunshine against a backdrop of crisp, perfectly blue skies. In their eyes, I saw a mixture of fear and excitement.
Everything slowed down. I was so present in that moment.
After some gentle encouragement, they both followed the plan.
One after the other they jumped.
The net appeared.
After their lemming impression, they went down and came back up out of the fresh salty sea, the sheer excitement of what was happening hit them. They clung to me like barnacles on the edge of the pier we’d just launched ourselves off.
I swam them back to shore.
I say swam in the loosest sense.
It’s a more accurate description to say I became a hairy buoyancy aid – the net for my boys.
I now have a newfound respect for David Hasselhoff. How does he carry adults back whilst swimming? It’s bloody hard work!
We all did the sandy stumble out of the sea looking more like shipwrecked pirates that Bond. I was so relieved. Now I could relax.
Then I heard it.
“AGAIN!” came the chorus.
“Let’s do it again, Daddy!”
They wanted to do it again. This time, there was no fear in their eyes, nor mine. Just joy.
We did it again. It was brilliant!
Joy came from taking courageous action in the face of fear.
Magical memories were created that will last a lifetime.
My children had inspired me. They hadn’t seen Jaws. Or read Willard Price. They had no story in their mind about what might be lurking beneath the waves.
Now I had a choice point about my open water swim across the bay.
I’d made an agreement with myself and I knew, deep down, that if I didn’t follow-through with this swim I was giving myself permission to not follow-through with other things. And, more importantly, not setting an example to my children.
I had to step-up. Face my dread. Lean into the fear.
I chose courage again because I knew joy would be on the other side.
As I tiptoed across the sand, admittedly fueled by Rose and espresso, I thought of my boys.
They are my biggest teachers. Their lust for life, curious minds, fearlessness and magical energy for everything at the same time as trying to navigate their way through this thing we call ‘life’.
Then I put my foot in the water. Shit, it was cold. No backing out now.
I put my goggles on and went a bit further in.
With each step, my breath quickened. I could feel my heart trying to jump out of my chest.
The vivid story I’d told myself for years about the sea being dangerous was back in full technicolour. I felt like that 10-year old boy lowering himself down off the pier in Lanzarote.
I stopped. Frozen.
This was a choice point for me. It was more than swimming across the bay.
It was about walking my talk and facing headlong into the discomfort of fear.
It was about overcoming the mental shackles I’d put onto myself for 29 long years about being attacked in the sea.
It was about growing up in so many ways.
The fear of discomfort was far worse that the fear of failure.
Something happened in that moment. Something shifted in me.
I could see the look in the eyes of my boys before they took their leap of faith into the unknown and it inspired me to keep walking in.
Jump and the net will appear.
If you’re expecting a glamorous account of what happened you’ll have to rely on your imagination.
It wasn’t pretty.
And, like most of us, like to look good.
As I made it across the bay I probably looked like I was having some kind of fit.
I could see the dune-like sand beneath me as I swam. Along with fish, seaweed, rocks.
But, I did it … without adding to the statistics about unprovoked shark attacks in France.
The story in my head I had been telling myself for decades was now nothing more than a long lost fable.
I’d built this up to such a degree I actually believed it. For 29 years.
This was a watershed moment for me. Nothing seems impossible now, having started the journey of being bigger than this fear I’d held since I was a little boy.
We all do this, each and every day. We assume. We make up stories. We let fears from many, many years ago hold us back.
We hold ourselves back from stepping into the best version of ourselves.
Your turn to jump
Right now in your life, what’s one fear holding you back?
What is it that you can feel yourself wanting to express, yet never say?
If you worked on becoming bigger than this fear what impact would it have on your life?
What joy would be on the other side?
What if you took massive action to overcome it?
Here’s a simple four-step process to help you get started:
Take note of a recurring fear you keep feeling. It can be anything. Maybe you’re not expressing how you really feel to people close to you. Or, there’s a person you’ve been meaning to call for a long time, but keep putting it off. Perhaps there’s a problem you’ve been avoiding that’s getting bigger and bigger each day, in your mind.
Write down what life would be like for you when you overcome this fear. How would it change? Would it be better for you? Worse? What joy lies on the other side of facing into this fear?
Identify one baby-step action you could take that would help you start your journey of leaning into this fear. Then another. Then another. Write until you get to ten action items that are all small on their own, but, collectively add up to something significant.
Make an agreement with yourself to follow-through with the actions each day for 30 days. Having the courage to take action builds confidence. Guaranteed. And, joy will follow.
Rinse and repeat and you will become bigger than the fear.
Are you up for the challenge?
If you’ve read this far and like my style, I have a gift for you. I’ve co-authored a book called Mastering Accountability: Getting Sh*t Done In A Busy World that shares 7-steps to help you follow-through with your most important stuff so you can live a happier, more fulfilling and successful life. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
David Foster helps high-achievers across the globe live their ideal life through deep coaching – one conversation at a time. He’s married with two children, who are the light of his life, and lives in the UK. He has a unique background as both successful entrepreneur and high-level coach. He’s an expert at cutting through the chaos to bring clarity, vision, strategy, and accountability to clients. Unlike most coaches, he’s not afraid to share his successes or his struggles. All people have them, few discuss them so openly and authentically. David is energised by helping people create inspiring visions, backed up with a solid strategy, to live a successful and nourishing life. If you’re frustrated with the challenges that trying to get to the next level in your life can bring—or you want to craft a powerful vision for what comes next—he’s the right person to speak to. You can find out more about David at www.beyond-your-limits.com