Feel the fear, make a plan, and do it anyway
If the only constant in this world truly is change, it appears the new constant is constant change. For those of us who like a little stability, enjoy their routines and find comfort in the familiar, this constant constancy can become tiring. Especially if we’re always, at some level, fighting it out of fear.
I’m thinking a lot about fear of change right now because I’m at the start of a new chapter — partly by choice and partly by circumstance — and I recognise I am one of those people who likes to be seen embracing change, even while I secretly hate it. When change is thrust upon you, it can often feel like easier to curl up in a ball and hope the whole thing passes over, but I’ve witnessed that approach often enough to know the end result is always the same: no one is coming to save you.
How do you defeat fear, harness regret, and make a plan?
One thing I’ve recognised about myself is that I really dislike reflecting on the chances I chose not to take. This fear of regret is as powerful as the fear of failure, except it usually doesn’t show up until much later — too late, in fact, to be of any use in the moment. So I’ve learned to bring it forward, into the decision-making process, where I weigh the risks of failure against the consequence of not doing something. Usually, it helps me overcome inertia. But it doesn’t mitigate the fear. For that, you need a plan.
I’ve taken this theoretical wrestle out of my brain and into the real world, in an ongoing physical experiment in the limitations of fear vs the power of regret: I’m learning to ride a dirt bike.
It’s something I’ve always thought I wanted to do but was always too scared to really try. And for good reason: dirtbikes are very efficient machines for getting you hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing. In my case, I definitely don’t*.
What are you afraid of?
Whether it’s a new career, starting your own company or pursuing your passion project for real, not knowing where to start is often enough to mean we never do. And there it is: lack of knowledge, the literal ‘fear of the unknown’, is for most of us, the most powerful handbrake we apply to ourselves.
It’s also something we should be able to fix. We should be able to work at it. We should be able to make progress. At the very least, we should be able to JFGI**.
And that’s what I’m doing with dirt biking. I’m using my future-regret to spur me into action and following a very methodical plan to overcome, step-by-step, my fear of failing (into a tree, at significant pace). Here’s what’s in my fear-busting toolkit:
Get the right gear
Before you force yourself out of your comfort zone, buy yourself some comfortable shoes. In my case: armour-reinforced knee-high enduro boots. If you’re staring out on something, take a look at the people who are already doing it, see what they use in terms of equipment or technology or support and make some sensible choices about how much of that you can afford. It’s like travel insurance: if you can’t afford it, you probably shouldn’t have bought the airfare in the first place. But also like travel insurance, it’s a real confidence-booster knowing you’re covered for the worst of it.
Get some instruction
The experts make it look easy. Champions are often described as being ‘a natural’. Wrong. Even Goats will tell you it ain’t necessarily so. Everyone has to learn somewhere. No-one is born knowing how to prepare an invoice. Or to incorporate a company. Or to ask to be hired. Luckily, you are also not born into a time where you are the very first person in the world who has to figure these things out. Find a teacher (at a University or on YouTube, or from somewhere in between), do the course, practice the skill. It’s that easy. And that difficult.
Turn up constantly
Make it habitual. Try not to hold yourself to a standard of excellence from the get-go, but do hold yourself to a standard of attendance. Sooner or later, a rhythm emerges. The thing that required concentration yesterday will become muscle memory tomorrow, but only with repetition. I’ve built myself a pre-ride ritual to stop me from freaking myself out. It’s almost automatic, buckling up my boots, checking tyre pressures, lubing the chain, setting the petcock, pulling the choke and hitting the starter button. By walking through the steps, my body takes my mind to the start of the challenge, almost tricking it to be ready. Or at least ready enough.
Get some new friends
I’ve found some people who are even more beginner riders than me, which is a nice reminder that I have made progress. But I’ve also found a couple of experienced riders willing to let me tag along and help when I get stuck. The pressure to ‘keep up’ can be daunting but, as long as it doesn’t turn into actual competitive pressure, also forces you to push a little harder and attempt challenges you might otherwise find and excuse to avoid.
Whether it’s an online group, an industry association or a well-run co-working space (spoiler alert: not all of them are), spending time amongst your potential peers can always be a learning experience.
It’s still gonna be scary
You get all the gear, take the lessons, do the prep, give yourself a pep talk and still you’re quietly freaking out — every single time. At least at the outset. I know people who are great public speakers who still get a little jittery as they pace the wings, waiting for their intro. The best of them learn to recognise those jitters as energy waiting to be deployed. They’ve learned to be comforted by the fact their body knows it’s showtime. It also helps them tune in to what’s important, keeps them alert and scanning for issues. These people are rarely surprised by setbacks.
While I like surprise, novelty, entertainment and stimulation as much as the next carbon-based biped. I don’t think I’m ever going to be someone who genuinely likes and invites significant change. Honestly, I think few people are. If you want to stay relevant to the creative economy, however, an ability to adapt and thrive is going to be one of the most valuable tools in your kit. Just remember to take it with you when you hit the trails.
* You can see exactly how little I know about dirtbikes by following my rides on insta @barrieseppings
**JFGI – Just Fucking Google ItBack