Face Your Fears

December 10, 2016

What is it that keeps people from living their lives and pursuing their dreams? What is the element that causes so much anxiety and feelings of failure in people all over the world? By the title of this column you have probably figured out that it is fear. Fear can be an ugly word that holds connotations of the worst that life has to offer. But what is it that we really fear? Pain. We all want to avoid pain in our lives. We want to feel good and skip the bad altogether, so we avoid pain by throwing different situations into the fear pile. Whether we group it as fear of physical injury, humiliation, loss of money, or loss of time, the truth is that we are just trying to avoid pain. We are afraid to do certain things because the results of those actions will be very painful to us. So how can we get past this fear? The first step in achievement of any goal is honesty. This is true in martial arts or learning to play the piano. Before we start on the journey of self-improvement, and during that journey, it is vital that we occasionally take the time for introspection and self-analysis. This means taking a good long look in the mirror to take note of where you really are right now, and determine how you are going to get to where you want to go. For example, let’s say that you are taking martial arts, and you decided that you want to be a complete martial artist. You took the time to check your progress in the different areas of conflict, and you determined that your greatest weakness was in groundfighting. You aren’t totally helpless, as you know a few techniques on the ground, but you have seen enough no holds barred competitions to realize that you have serious limitations in that range. Great. You were honest enough with yourself to find a limitation in your training, and have decided to get some training to improve yourself.Time goes by, and one day you notice that you have not taken any steps toward actually starting your training. This is strange, since you were pretty excited about the thought of becoming a good groundfighter. In truth, you didn’t even take the time to look for a school. As you think about it, you notice that you are still hesitating. What is it that keeps you from making a simple telephone call? It is our constant nemesis, fear! You are avoiding taking action towards your goal because somewhere inside of you, possibly deep within your subconscious, you believe that starting you groundfighting classes will be a painful experience. This is where honesty comes in again. First you must be honest with yourself about your weaknesses, and second you must be honest about the fears associated with overcoming the weakness. If you do not take this step to recognize the fears, you will never be able to take action and move towards your goal. So you stop and think about this logically. What are you afraid of? What could it be? Are you afraid of the new environment? That doesn’t make sense. You find yourself in new environments all the time. Maybe the training is physically painful. It must hurt to have people putting you in locks, and laying on top of you. But your current training involves contact, so it can’t be that. Let’s say that after some soul searching, you decide that it is your ego that is keeping you from starting up. You have been doing martial arts for quite a few years now, and you enjoy the feeling of being one of the top students at your school. Your real fear is that you don’t want to be humiliated. You are afraid that you will look bad in front of all the students at the new school. You are afraid to be a beginner because the other students may laugh at you or make fun of your lack of skill. You don’t like being humiliated, so something within you has kept you from that environment. After more thought, you decide that this is no way to live your life. You do not want your life to be directed by fear, so you decide that you have to so something about the situation. Congratulations. You have just done what very few will do in this life. You took the time to honestly recognize your fears, and decided that you want to overcome that fear. Now comes the hard part. You must take the final step, and face your fear. Identifying and deciding to do away with your fear is easy compared to actually confronting the situation that you are afraid of. This will require courage and commitment. You must commit to going to the class, and have the courage to follow through regardless of how much anxiety you feel in the process. Remember that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act even though you are fearful. Be courageous, face your fears, and an amazing thing will happen. Let’s say that you made the phone call, got the information, and went to that first class. You walked into the small school that was basically a wrestling mat and a phone. You see students in a sweaty, tangled knot of arms, legs, and uniforms. You realize at this point that you really know nothing at all about this groundfighting. It is worse than you thought! Your heart is pounding and you are looking for a way to leave when the instructor approaches you. He greets you with a smile and a handshake and invites you to get changed and try your first class. Even though you have your workout bag in your hand, you hear yourself say that you just came to watch. Boy, that fear has some power! It spoke up for you! The instructor kindly coaxes you to just try, and that you will have fun. It is difficult to say no, so you walk to the bathroom to change. You do so, but very slowly, somehow hoping that you will be late for the class and that you can just sit and observe. You finally emerge from your temporary sanctuary to see that the room has been filled with even more students. What will they think of me? Will I have to spar? Are they all out to get the new guy? You have not started your warm-ups, but the sweat is already trickling down your forehead. Class starts, you do the calisthenics, and immediately begin to feel better. I can do this part, you tell yourself. The instructor goes into a technique, which for you is complicated. Again, you feel the fear that you will look bad because you don’t understand what the instructor wants you to do. He tells the students to pair up, and then brings a student to work with you. The instructor says to start just with the position, and forget the armbar. You work through class, and become lost in the learning process. You do some sparring at the end of class, and even though you were pretty much helpless, your partner gave you some tips and you now understand the game even better. With class over, you feel great that you have learned many things that you never knew about before. You have faced your fears, and feel a great relief with the knowledge that you are now progressing towards your goal, and you are enjoying it! So what took so long to try the class? Fear, right? Yes, but if we look a little deeper, we will have a better insight into the fear process, and will be able to short-circuit it more easily. Remember that what we call fear is the association of a great deal of pain with an action or situation. If you are avoiding something, it is because you are afraid of it, which means that you somehow associate pain with that situation. There are two ways that we associate pain with different situations. One is through a painful experience that we have had in the past in a similar situation, and the second is through imagination. We often imagine the pain without even having experience with the situation, and create a fear that stifles our ability to act. This is a good thing in the proper situation. You should be afraid of jumping off of a tall building, even though you have never done this before. The problem is that we can imagine all sorts of negative scenarios about any situation. If we focus on the negative rather than the positive, we will become slaves to the evil master named fear. After facing your fears, you will probably wonder why you were so afraid in the first place. In the case of the groundfighting school, thousands of people train on the mat every day, so it can’t be that bad. Look at your fear logically, and it will diminish. Face your fears up front and personal, and they will shrink substantially. Be honest with yourself. Recognize your weak points, and identify your fears. Have the courage to face those fears, and you will be unstoppable. Remember that most fears are just negative visualization, and that changing that vision to a positive one may be all you need to take steps towards living the life you have always dreamed of living!

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