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Fear Naming

Posted by Patrick McCrann on Jul 2, 2010 2:43:31 PM

Moebius life
Creative Commons License photo credit: anguila40 / Alejandro Groenewold Very busy . Sorry

As many of you know by now, I recently had a serious bicycle accident that left me with a fractured pelvis and clavicle (learn more). This article is part of a series of reflections prompted by the experiences I have had in processing, dealing with, and recuperating from the accident. I have emerged a changed person, and hope that by sharing some of my insights I can help others.

Endurance sports, like any other large-scale personal undertaking, have multiple layers of purpose.  Athletes train to new levels of personal excellence to build strength, develop fitness and to  overcome their fears.

  • The drive to be our best is, at the same time, an effort to avoid failure.
  • For everyone who trains hard to get better, there are those who train out of fear of becoming unfit, or overweight.
  • For everyone who races for a personal best, there are those who race for approval from their training partners, friends, or family.
  • For everyone who upgrades their equipment, there are those desperately seeking an advantage that hard work and training alone can’t deliver.

Yet while we celebrate the accomplishments of milestones reached, there is little to no dialogue about the oppositional factors that drive us towards our accomplishments.

Discussing & The Racing Effect

I recently created a post inside Endurance Nation entitled “What is your (Secret) Fear?” To my surprise, more than 30 folks have responded in less than a few days — and over a weekend!
The answers ranged from the simple (going fast down hill!) to the more profound (being mindful of my safety because I am a mother/father) to the soul searching (out to conquer a demon from a previous DNF, etc.).

The funny thing is, most of us are head down training so hard we doing realize the power of these forces until we start to taper. In that last 14 days to your race, with more time on your hands and little training to do, your mind starts to wander.

  • You begin to doubt your training, wishing you could have done more.
  • You look at your gear and wish that you had upgraded.
  • You talk to your competitors and realize they are lighter, faster, stronger than last year.

Everything Is Fine
All of this is, of course, entirely natural.

A large part of striving for a big goal means taking risks. Leaving our comfort zones is part of this process. While your journey started with smaller changes like getting out of bed early to train, there are much larger forces at work here.

You might have been a little queasy riding down that busy highway, now you know that’s a visceral representation of your fear. You are on high alert riding on a busy road, fingers on the brakes and close to the shoulder. You think twice about sudden movements and plan a few steps ahead.

In other words, these little signals are a large part of what keep you safe.

But the macro-level fears, such as fear of failure, are often so big as to be intangible. This means we are largely unaware of them, even as they influence large parts of what we do.

A fear of failure could lead us to:

  • Not training with a faster group for fear of getting dropped.
  • Not trying to push ourselves when the going gets tough.
  • Not trying something new as you have’t mastered it yet.

While I don’t have an action plan or success story for you hear, I do think it’s really important that each of us take the time to start a dialogue that really engages our fears.  You can do this solo or with your spouse or your friends. It needs to be a safe space so you can say anything. It might take you several tries to get deep enough to see what’s really in those dark corners…so bring a flashlight and wear clothes you can get dirty!

Moving Forward
It’s one thing to say I want to be a good father for example, that sounds nice and vague and safe. But when you talk about the fear of  losing your children, well, that’s something you can feel. That’s something you can act on. And it’s something that will literally change your actions.

My bicycle accident forced me to face a lot of fears in quick order. My thoughts went to my family and my long-term health. I had to deal with being alone in a hospital in a new town (thanks friends!). I had grapple with my own self-image of being fit and active. I think that I have come out the other side a better person for this journey, and I think you can experience the same benefits without needing a crash to force the change.

If you want to share your fears, feel free to do so anonymously in the comments below.

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