Explorers Connect

The fear of fear. Our greatest challenge?

Adventure RevolutionJames Hipkiss

We are all terrified of fear. Is this our biggest challenge? Fear is one of the most natural human emotions. You might argue it is our most important survival instinct. Yet the problem most of us have is that, when it comes to fear, we are terrified of it. While it affects us all in different ways, and will be triggered by different things, it is the fear of fear is the biggest barrier to progress in any extreme sport.

If you are reading this post, you probably remember the first time you got the fear. We have all been there, consumed by fear, beaten off a climb, dropping out of a drop in or whatever else. Body like a lead weight, mind malfunctioning, any illusions of style or technique safely out the window. It is all you can do to scrabble desperately to the end, or retreat to safety. For me it first struck cliff climbing in Cornwall, on the hardest trad route I had done to date, but well within my physical capabilities. Back on safe ground I couldn't help but look back with frustration at being beaten, and being a competitive sole, a touch of humiliation how did he not get overcome by that?

I am sure this if familiar for a lot of us. The question is, what is next? For many that first dose of fear is enough to convince them, consciously or not, to retreat to the safety of a relative comfort zone. The fear of fear has won. Pushing your limits becomes a forgotten dream. I, like a lot of others, resolved to overcome it. I convinced myself it was because I was not properly in the zone, or because I hadn't trained enough to be totally confident in that situation. These are all partly true. So I worked on them, ready to return fitter and stronger, both physically and mentally. Still sound familiar? Yet somewhere, deep in the back of your mind, the seeds of doubt have been set.

You may not realise it at the time (I didn't), but you are now up against the biggest test you will face. A fear of fear is constantly building inside you. Will fear consume you again, or will you be able to push through - recognise it, embrace it, and use it to your advantage? It is over the next few months that the real battle is won or lost. Let fear get the upper hand again anytime soon, and it probably wont be long before you too are settling back more consistently into your comfort zone, the fear of fear ever heavy on your tense shoulders. The few who get through this period, finding themselves able to maintain pure concentration and embrace the element of fear that comes with the territory will have unlocked the door.

They will be the ones you see performing at a level most of us, having let a fear of fear hold us back, can only dream of. I, in case you hadn't guessed, have so far found the fear of fear an impossible hurdle to overcome when it comes to climbing. I've had to watch in envy as my climbing partners go to places that are way beyond what my mind will let me do. Yet stick me on skis and I will give anything a go. Explain that?

Alex is founder of Much Better Adventures, the place to find local, independent and ethical adventure companies, guides and instructors around the world."