#AskDean is my weekly personal development column, where I answer a question or try to solve a self-improvement problem for members of the Meaningful Movement. If you’ve got a self help question you’re looking to solve, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to help.
Some of my fondest memories as a young kid, were the summers I spent at a water park called Splish Splash, in Long Island, NY. I remember the first time I went; my older cousins wanted me to go on this really tall water slide called "The Cliff Hanger".
I was scared shitless...
Dropping 8-stories in 3 seconds down a water-slide called "The Cliff Hanger" wasn't exactly what I had in mind when we were on our way to the water park.
Needless to say, I gave-in to the peer pressure.
And so, there I was, climbing stair after stair; story after story, trying my best to think of something -- anything -- to help me overcome this fear that seemed to be engulfing my entire body.
By the time we got to the very top of the speed-slide, I'd already seen 6 people--men, women, and children--chicken out.
Sometimes people climbing up the stairs clucked like chickens at the ones who'd decided to take the walk of shame all the way back down to the bottom.
(I probably would've thought that was funny if I wasn't thinking about doing the same thing.)
As I approached the very top of the slide, I was making excuses about how cold and windy it was to cover up the fact that I was now shaking in my swimming trunks.
It was 96 degrees outside.
Once we got up top, I looked over the edge of the rails, all the way down to the bottom of the 8-story slide.
My stomach turned.... now I was really freaking out.
It was like I couldn't help it. My heart was racing. My legs were shaking. And I was trying my best to pretend like none of it was happening.
BUT IT WAS HAPPENING — I was filled with fear and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
So, how’d I overcome the fear and build the confidence to go down that slide once and for all?
I didn’t ...
Let me clarify: I did NOT overcome the fear. But I DID go down that slide.
Even though I was scared out of my mind when I got up to the top of that slide, I mustered up a way to feel the fear and do it anyway.
And yah know what? I did it again and again after that. I was nervous on every run. But I did it anyway.
You know that feeling you get when you look down from the edge of a building that's really, really high? ... You know you're safe, but you feel a little anxious none-the-less. As it turns out, this is a biological response our bodies produce to protect us from harm.
Think about it -- millions of years ago, we didn't have the pleasure of looking down at a city from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
The closest thing we had to that, was a cliff. And back before buildings and skyscrapers -- when we were nothing more than hunters and gatherers -- looking down from somewhere high wasn't usually a good thing...
Back then, if you were up against a cliff, it's usually because you're trying to figure out how to:
a) stay alive, or
b) find food.
And our bodies would respond accordingly; to help us make that happen (to make the kill, or get away from becoming the kill).
BOTTOM LINE: fear is a GOOD thing.
In fact, it's a perfectly natural biological response that's actually there to help us.
Let me give you a couple examples.
In more practical terms...
The most effective way to overcome fear is to cultivate the courage to take action in spite of how afraid you may be.
So feel the fear.
Then do the thing you're afraid of. Something good will almost always come of it.