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3 ways to face your fears

Facing fear - skier

The story

I am going skiing tomorrow. I have never been before, and I am generally afraid of physical risk. I've been this way since I fell over and broke my front teeth at the age of seven.

Slippery surfaces have plagued me ever since – you're very unlikely to find me ice skating or rambling over wet rocks up a river. For me, activities like that hold anxiety, not joy.

On the other hand, I will try anything once and love challenging myself. A contradictory trait I know – hence the trip with 10 other first-time skiers (we thought we'd share the 'learning as adults' experience).

Rather than being excited, I have spent far more time than I would have liked being concerned about it, as well as taking out comprehensive medical insurance. So as the trip draws nearer, time to put some positive psychology and resilience techniques into action and face the slopes with a happy face.

The thinking

Despite the possible negative connotations, positive psychology has quite a lot to say about facing your fears and anxieties. It falls under broad research areas of resilience and post-traumatic growth. So here are 3 ways I am helping myself face the challenge head-on.

1. What's the worst that could happen?

Just like the Dr Pepper adverts, one technique (from Resilience expert Karen Reivich) suggests that we actually force ourselves to think of the worst possible outcome of our anxieties, and then objectively judge the likelihood of that happening. I might trip over, fall forward and roll (cartoon style) into a ball of snow and off the edge of a cliff, taking my best friends and partner with me so they all suffer the same, painful fate. Skiing is a little dangerous, but it's not that dangerous. Statistically I'm safer on the slopes than on the drive to the airport. Applying this to the workplace, how likely is it that asking for a pay rise will result in us being fired, never working again and ending up on the street? Not very.

2. What's in my control?

Often anxieties come from fretting about things we actually have no control over. For me, I won't be able to help it if someone skis into me, or hits me with a snowball. I will be able to focus on really listening to the ski instructor, my own focus, knee bending and ducking abilities. This comes from a technique from Stephen Covey. Really useful when situations send us into reactive (aka 'panic') mode.

3. Focus on the benefits.

In any risky situation there will be some positive outcomes, even if we don't fully succeed (what enjoyable activities are completely risk-free?). So, with a balanced expectation that I will neither come to an early demise nor end up entering the Winter Olympics, I can pick out some very likely benefits from my week away. For example: learning something new (no matter how small, I'll learn something about skiing, even if it's just how to fall correctly!), spending quality time with friends, going to a new country, plenty of exercise, gorgeous views, a sense of achievement for facing my fear – the list goes on. If we really force ourselves to think about them, the list of benefits usually does outweigh any potential costs – otherwise it wouldn't be so tempting an activity. Whatever you're concerned about; give the benefits brainstorming a go, just for 5 minutes. You may surprise yourself.

Facing fears builds resilience

Writing this has made me feel much more positive and excited, hopefully reading it has done the same for you and helped with your worries (about skiing or otherwise!). Please share your other 'face your fears' tactics here, or let us know how you get on with any of the above.

I'm off to pack, see you in a week.

Building resilience


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