So what about those people who are somehow able to perform spectacular feats of athleticism in high risk environments? How can people seem to manage their fears to be able surf 50ft waves, hang precariously off cliff faces and fly down spectacular gorges. For most of us, the fear that we might experience in these situations is difficult to even imagine. In extreme sports, the most common emotion that these athletes have to deal with is fear. That hugely unpleasant emotion that paralyses so many. The emotion that President Roosevelt famously addressed with: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself…” Fear can be crippling and devastating when it comes to high performance in extreme sport, so how can these people still perform when death is a realistic consequence of poor performance?
Well researchers have examined these types of athletes and found some interesting findings. Firstly, fear is often spoken about as a healthy and productive experience. If these people are feeling fear, then in many ways, they know they are doing something worthwhile (in their eyes). Not only that, they felt like fear, in many ways, kept them alive! Feeling fear is a natural human experience, and for many extreme sports people, they welcome, and often accept that if they are NOT feeling it, then something is wrong. Either they are doing something not worthwhile or challenging enough or they have lost touch with the reality of what they are doing, a dangerous place to be.
What’s important is that slogans such as “no fear” and adjectives such as “fearless” may convey the wrong message. Everyone experiences fear (yes it is true, some people more strong than others) so pushing the message that if you want to be good at something risky, you have to be able to “get rid of” the fear would cause many people to hold back and avoid anything that has risk. Believing that fear should be gone before you accomplish something primes you for an avoidance mindset, because avoiding the activity obviously gets rid of the fear that you are supposedly not meant to be feeling. So we get stuck, we live safe lives where we don’t do things that are important to us because we think that fear is a bad bad thing.
We can learn a lot from extreme sports people, even if we don’t want to go free climb a mountain face.. We can learn that if you can develop a mindset that embraces fear, create some space to be able to have it, and still do what you need to do, then you can truly develop the courage to go out and do amazing things.