It is that time of year when people start making resolutions to change. What are you reluctant to try? By avoiding what we fear, we make that fear stronger. It is now time to change that gut reaction and go toward what you fear.
In treating anxiety, we have a motto: “If it feels bad, do it.” People with anxiety tend to avoid situations that lead to more anxiety. Avoidance reinforces the idea that you are fragile and cannot handle difficulty. In this article, I will cover some ideas that can help you push through plateaus in your career, relationships, and training.
Stand Up to Your Fears
My goal in writing this article is to show how experiencing difficulty can make you stronger and less fragile. This article is not about causing pain that does not lead to gain. Just as bad form does not help us achieve our training goals, we do not do things just for the sake of pain. This article is intended to help push you to do things you have been reluctant to try because of fear.
Let me start with a quick analogy of what happens when we avoid the things we fear. I was treating an eight-year-old girl who was scared of elevators. She would go to the doctor’s office on the ninth floor and take the stairs. Each time she approached the elevator and then diverted to the stairs, she reinforced the fear. Her avoidance told her body, “Phew, it was a good thing you avoided that dangerous elevator.”
"If it feels bad, do it. Push through those plateaus."
The key to getting past these feelings is to face the fear. With the eight-year-old, I had her stand next to the elevator for ten minutes until the fear went away. Then she had one foot inside of the elevator. After about an hour, she was laying on the floor of the elevator, telling me how bored she was. We stood up to the fear until it had disappeared.
You may have experienced this the first time you jumped on a box or climbed a rope. The fear goes away after we expose ourselves to it.
Face Your Fears in Social Situations
Many people suffer from some type of performance anxiety. No matter where you are on the spectrum, facing your fear will work. Design the same strategy as we did with the girl who was afraid of the elevator. Instead of standing near the elevator, go to the gym and talk to people. Instead of riding the elevator, put yourself into new learning situations at the gym. Practice these skills at increasingly difficult levels until you have mastered them.
Make sure you also practice in extreme situations. Someone with fear of asking a girl out on a date needs extreme situations to make the everyday situation easier. Here are two common fears people have in social situations and how you can get past them:
- Fear of Looking Foolish – If you are afraid of looking foolish, the solution is to practice looking foolish. After practicing, your fear will be diminished as you realize you can survive. Wear a crazy hat (I have a crazy Pokémon hat I wear). Sing karaoke to difficult songs. Accidentally spill some water on your crotch area and walk around in a public place. After doing these extreme tasks, nothing will seem difficult. I felt afraid the first time I learned double unders, but the more I put myself up to the challenge of looking foolish, the less I cared about it.
- Fear of Presenting in Front of Others – Attend meetings and present information in front of groups. If you have a particular fear when presenting, practice it. I had some who had a fear of sweating drink lots of water, work out, and make sweat angels at the gym. After going to this extreme, his workplace presentations were easy. If it feels bad, do it. Practicing movements in front of others can help you avoid choking when it comes time for competition.
Face Your Fears in Relationships
Courage comes in many different forms. For some people, talking to people at the gym can be difficult. Brene Brown talks about how making yourself vulnerable can be one of the most courageous acts we do. If you find yourself closing off to others, you can follow the same principles above to put yourself in more ‘danger.’ Watch Brene’s TED talk to learn more.
Face Your Fears in the Gym
Most readers of this website are probably willing to push to their limits. I see a guy at the gym who always builds up to the same heavy squat weight. His form is terrible, and my knees hurt watching him. Maybe for him, courage in the gym is not to push his limits. Maybe courage in the gym is to face his fear of not looking macho, drop the weight, and practice squats with proper form.
StrongFirst Team Leader Nikki Shlosser started a #onegoodrep campaign against the norm of poor reps. The goal of the campaign is to teach that doing one good rep with less weight is more courageous than doing heavy reps with bad form.
What Are You Going to Do?
Most people use fear to guide them away from danger. But much of what we fear is not actually dangerous. I try to train people to go against those false alarms and do the opposite. If it feels bad, do it. Push through those plateaus.
What have you been avoiding because of fear, be it in the gym or in life? The new year is a great time to set up new challenges. Let me know what your challenge is going to be in the comments.