In one of my favorite movies, Chasing Mavericks, Jay and Frosty are diving in the water practicing holding their breath ( Jay needs to get to four minutes to even consider surfing the Mavericks) and as the are about to come up for air, a great white shark swims above them. Jay panics. When they get to the boat, Frosty asks Jay what happened.
Jay: What do you mean? I just saw a 15-foot shark.
Frosty: I’m sure it scared the piss out of you, but that wasn’t what I asked. Why’d you panic?
Jay: Just fear, I guess.
Frosty: All right, well, one thing you got to know, fear and panic are two separate emotions. Fear is healthy, panic is deadly. Because when this place is firing, and I’m talking about 30 to 40 foot waves, it’s all about fear. But you panic out there, like you just did, you die.
Jay: Well, if you’re scared to death, how do you not panic?
Frosty: By identifying the fear and what it is you’re afraid of. Not just out there, but in life.
The first time I watched that I stopped it, rewound it, and watched it over and over again. Then I sat there looking out the window in my own “aha” moment.
My “aha” is that fear and panic are two different emotions. It’s ok to be afraid, it’s how you handle your fear that determines the outcome. Boys growing up are told that fear is weakness, and not to show fear.
My boys will hear a different message from me.
Then I re-read that and think, that’s a nice thought, but how are you going to do that?
One of the things I’ve started to use with my boys is a phrase from another Disney movie, “You only need 20 seconds of insane courage.” I got that out of We bought a Zoo. I don’t know how many times I’ve said that to myself, and with my boys. You’d be amazed and what you can do with 20 seconds of insane courage.
20 seconds of insane courage. That may be all it takes to approach that girl, ask for that raise, stop a bully, or who knows what that could get you through.
Another way to help conquer the panic is to practice situational awareness. This is something I try to practice and be intentional about. To be fully aware of your surroundings, to play through different scenarios in your head. That way when something happens, you already know how you are going to react. There is no hesitation in the moment, you just react because your mind and muscles already know what you planned to do. Baseball players are a prime example. “One out, man on first, turning two!” The shortstop will yell out. You watch before a play, the way they talk to each other. They know where they are throwing the ball before it even hits their glove.
Another example I love is in the movie, A Perfect Getaway. I couldn’t tell you much about the movie, but I do remember this scene. Two guys are in the jungle of Kauai talking about looking for goats when Cliff comments that he hasn’t seen any goats:
Nick: I don’t expect you would, Cliff. Your situational awareness kind of sucks. That’s not a knock. You’re a screenwriter. I’m a Jedi. That’s just different paths we chose.
Cliff: Just so I know whether or not to be offended, define “situational awareness.”
Nick: What’s the first thing you do when you step onto a plane? Maybe you have a sip of that fine champagne? You do fly in first class, right?
Cliff: I put away my shit, like everyone else.
Nick: Well, when I board a plane, making my way back to the cheap seats, I clock every door. I pace off the distance between those exits and my seat. That plane loses power on takeoff, I can make egress in the dark, totally blind. If the aisle crowds up, I’m going to climb over the back of 36D, guy with that shiny-ass toupee, make the over-the-wing exit. And I know the handle swings down, not up. And I know the door swings in, not out. And I know all that inside of 30 seconds, before they even pop the cork for you up there in Hollywood class.
I remember watching that and thinking, wow. Think what you could overcome and survive if you had that kind of awareness. That removes the need for the fight or flight response. You know what you’re going to do, you know how you’re going to react.
My brother just got back from a tactical handgun class, and said the instructor touched on this. He said, “When you’re on guard, you have to have a plan to kill everyone you meet. I’ve already killed all of you twelve times in my head.” As wrong as that sounds, it is necessary in his line of work.
While thats not wholly appropriate to teach my young sons yet, I can start to develop that in them. To be aware of their surroundings, and to plan how they will react in certain situations. Man, if I can help instill that in them they will have such a head start in how they react to fear.
Another way I have started to take on fear with my sons is talking about the movie, The Good Dinosaur. After hearing tales about Butch the t-rex taking on a crocodile, and feeling that he has finally conquered his fears, Arlo proclaims himself as done being scared:
Butch: Who said I’m not scared?
Arlo: But you took on a croc!
Butch: And I was scared doing it. If you ain’t scared of a croc biting you on the face, you ain’t alive. Listen, kid, you can’t get rid of fear. It’s like Mother Nature, you can’t beat her or outrun her, but you can get through it. You can find out what you’re made of.
In an earlier scene Arlo’s father tells him, “Sometimes you gotta get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.”
I tell my boys when I’m afraid. That surprised my oldest. “But you’re big Dad, you can’t be afraid.” Cue the movie quotes: “Dad’s can be afraid, it’s how you handle your fear that makes you brave.” Slowly I feel like I am helping them in their fear. Just the other day my second oldest was afraid to go down a huge slide, but scared to let go. I told him he only needed to be brave for 5 seconds. 5 seconds of insane courage and he would have so much fun. He did it.
I have read many other takes on fear, and realized that my newest fears have been experienced in anxiety. That is actually what prompted me to write tonight. It is Sunday night, and every Sunday night I get anxious about the day and week to come. These overwhelming thoughts about the projects I have to do, and then even more consuming doubts and self criticism that run wild if I let them. I am a small business owner and have all the ups and downs of an entrepreneur, most prominent on Sunday nights. When I allow myself to continue to wallow in these thoughts it keeps me up. I have found that the only way I can overcome these attacks, is to pray. Did you know that the phrase “Do not be afraid” or similar verbiage, is found in the bible 365 times. To trust in God may be the easiest, and the hardest thing to do. We have a Father in Heaven who loves to come through for us. Almost every Sunday night, I pray for him to stop the attack, and he always wins.
- Know the difference between fear and panic, find your breaking point and test it constantly.
- 20 Seconds of insane courage is often all you need.
- Practice situational awareness. Know your surroundings and think through different scenarios in your head. Plan how you will react. Tim Ferris uses this to conquer fear. Identity the worst case scenario, make a plan to conquer/overcome it. This takes all the anxiety and worry out of it, because you already know how you will fix it, and if that fear doesn’t materialize, then it’s not as bad as it could have been.
- Trust that you have a Father in Heaven who wants to come through for you.
- Find the beauty on the other side of fear.