Have you ever had someone tell you about their irrational fear?
Doesn’t it just seem strange that they can see something as terrifying, yet you just sit there wondering how on earth they could be so scared of it?
I mean it just seems completely irrational that someone could be afraid sharks, public speaking, or even something harmless like stink bugs. Yet, they voluntarily drive around town with death machines that could kill them at any moment and don’t even give it a second thought.
For me, the fear of flying is one those strange fears that I just can’t comprehend or relate with.
As a matter of fact, I recently had a first experience at seeing this fear in action.
I was on a relatively short 3-hour flight. I managed to snag myself one of those “luxurious” window seats that seemed to actually have less legroom than everyone else.
Since this wasn’t my first time partaking in such a wonderful experience, I wasn’t too concerned and had mentally prepared myself for such an occurrence.
However, the young woman sitting next to me looked like she was on her way to the electric chair. Her fate was sealed and this plane was guaranteed to not make it. The moment the plane began to take off, she tensed up and immediately clenched her friend’s hand, surely causing her to lose all circulation. Meanwhile, I sat there calmly looking on, trying to portray stoic confidence in an attempt to reassure this poor woman.
Yet, despite my undying confidence in the ability of the pilot and this plane — this paranoid Romanian woman sat there crossing her chest with every passing moment of negative thoughts that filled her head.
And as I looked on, I couldn’t help but wonder — how could she be so scared while I’m as cool as a cucumber?
Then, a somewhat profound, albeit, not a groundbreaking thought, passed through my head.
The reason she was so scared and I was so calm, primarily came down to how many times we had both experienced this event.
I personally have flown a lot. Not to the point that I’m a frequent flyer, but if I were to venture a guess, I have probably flown on a plane over 100 times. With a good chunk of those being long-haul overseas flights.
Relative to this woman beside me, I had a substantially large amount of flying experience over her.
But I wasn’t always this way. On my first flight, I was only an 11-year-old kid and I’m sure I looked just as scared. And much like this woman did, I looked around nervously, wondering how everyone could be calm with so much potential for devastation.
But then something happened.
We landed. And we were safe. And it wasn’t so bad.
Then a little while later, I went on another flight. I was nervous at first, but managed to get through it.
We took off, flew for a while, and landed.
The same process happened the next time, and the next, and the next, and for the subsequent 123 flights I’ve been on. The exact same thing keeps happening.
And yes maybe there is a little turbulence along the way, which caused me to panic for a moment. But somehow, the plane keeps on landing.
So what exactly was this epiphany I had?
Our fear is mainly caused by our lack of experience.
For me, flying is no longer a fear because I have done it hundreds of times. I also know that thousands of people around the world fly every day and very very very rarely does anything go wrong. To be afraid is simply irrational.
And it’s not that I am a fearless person. I still get nervous, anxious, and fearful about certain experiences.
Sometimes I get really nervous about meeting a person that I really admire or respect. Or in sports, I get irrationally fearful of screwing up when the game rests on my shoulders.
The important thing here is not to be frustrated with your fear. Instead, we need to address it head on.
Run towards the fear, instead of away from it.
We’ve all been through an experience that we thought was going to be terrifying, but when it’s all said and done, it was never actually as bad as we imagined.
As we approach intimidating things, this simple mantra often will keep you moving forward: Define the worst case, accept it, and do it.
I realize this may not be the best attitude when your plane is about to take off. But for many other irrational fear situations, it’s an ideal state of mind.
The main point I’m trying to make here is quite simple.
If you can take a step back and look at this fear from an objective standpoint, you will realize that it’s only intimidating because we haven’t experienced it yet.
This applies to new social situations, traveling to new countries, high stakes business deals, and the final moments of a big game.
And here’s the harsh reality:
Fear is a part of our natural human instincts — and for good reason. Without fear, we would probably have died a long time ago.
However, the more we choose to face our irrational fears head on, the more we will become accustomed to them. And ultimately we’ll begin to realize that the end result was never as bad as we could have imagined. Our life wasn’t really on the line, and our fear was ultimately unwarranted.
I’ve referenced Seneca the last couple articles, so I might as well keep the streak alive.
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality” – Seneca
So take comfort in knowing these three truths:
- you are not alone in being afraid
- the fear will weigh less on you over time
- even if you screw up you will learn from your experience and be better next time
So if you are trying to better yourself and fear is holding you back from doing something you need to do. Know that it’s okay to be afraid. But recognize that the reason you are most likely scared is because you know the importance of the action you are about to take. The fear is a sign of an opportunity, not a threat.
Choose to become friends with fear, and soon enough you’ll realize that it was never your enemy, but just your lack of experience trying to tell you that you’re not ready…