After working for 20 years as a performance psychologist and cultural coach, helping people find better and happier ways to work and play, I have come to the conclusion that we are all driven by fear. . All of us. It is a question of degree. I spent most of my time in the locker rooms and meeting rooms, by the runway, by the pool and by the field, and in my daily conversations, the same themes came up over and over : shame, insufficiency, loneliness, dissatisfaction and fear.
We now find ourselves in a time when fear has become our new currency. Throughout the pandemic, there has been a constant dripping of fear, a sense of catastrophic possibility. There is a deep feeling that something has changed, and we do not yet know what it means. Humans don’t like ambiguity very much, and we especially don’t like a free fall in the future. Much of the fear makes sense. Is it safe to go to a restaurant or pub again? Is it less likely that we will catch it now that we are more careful about going out? Will the “new normal” always look like this?
Fear, by design, is an alert system that alerts us and requires attention. It is a necessary neurobiological response to a stimulus that says, “Watch out, prepare to assess and act”. When we watch the news, listen to a breaking segment about the crisis at our doorstep, we prepare to respond. We are wired with fear. But even with the very real fears of a pandemic, we don’t need it as much as we feel it. So how do we manage it?
The first step is to notice ourselves, to pay attention to our thought processes. Many of us fall into a repetitive pattern of thinking that is largely negative. If you stop to study your thoughts for an hour, you’ll be shocked at how many of them are looping, exhausting, and critical. The more we let go of awareness and let ourselves be carried away by this incessant wave of thought, the more room we give for fear. One of the most useful things we can do is learn to check our emotional and physical responses. If you are tense from the lockdown and money arguments, exhausted and zoomed out, stop and think, listen to the loop of thoughts in your head, and acknowledge them.
Once you are more aware of these patterns, a useful approach is to approach these irrational thoughts with logic – a technique that freediver William Trubridge has perfected over the years. Freediving is an extreme and experimental sport because it is about pushing the physical body to its limits. It is also a good example to exploit the mind and discover what it is capable of. A freediver must descend in one breath to the deepest and darkest depths that he can tolerate physiologically and psychologically before turning to make the dangerous ascent to the surface.
The state of mind that underlies Trubridge’s non-human aquatic exploits is the absolute opposite of fear. It is the ability to truly live every moment. I call it mental freedom.
In May 2016, Trubridge plunged 122m into the ocean in the Bahamas, a dive of four minutes and 24 seconds.
For most of us, the mere thought of being so deep in the sea would be more than terrifying. Some top divers lost their lives. But Trubridge says that is not what worries him. “In freediving itself, there are very few things that scare me,” he says. “I see the risk as a calculated risk which is quite minimal in cases where we are training with adequate safety or in competition.”
Like Trubridge, you can choose to think of everything that’s going on in terms of opportunity, not risk. We only have limited attention; use it deliberately. He is coldly rational about the risks and the safety measures. “People often ask me, what would you do if something was going on deep down? If you were alone there? What if something is wrong? When I consider this, I cannot suggest scenarios which are not foreseen and which have a degree of probability. Although obviously weird things can happen.
It remains resolutely logical. “In apnea, the water is the same on the surface as it is at depth. The only other variable is yourself. You are completely in control. You can anticipate the risks that you are aware of. People think what I’m doing is a death wish or a suicide bomber, but on the contrary, it’s the exact opposite.
Trubridge relies on a rationalization technique called “nerves are not real,” which he developed after realizing that his nemesis is not a fear of diving, but a fear of failure. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two.
He said: “When I felt the feeling of floating that announces this anxiety, I did not hesitate, but rather I looked for a concrete source in the present moment, and when I did not find it, c ‘was further confirmation that nerves are not real. Gradually, rather than being at the mercy of these nerves, I was able to keep them in control and push them aside with a superficial thought, “The nerves are not real.” ”
Trubridge also had a second rationalization technique, called “the other extreme”. Instead of trying to minimize his fear of failure and embarrassment, he intensified it. He imagined that people would die if he didn’t succeed. “Compared to these kinds of issues, the fear of just being embarrassed is laughable. ”
He did not allow himself to be drawn into a catastrophic thought. Rather, he says, “I hold the idea just long enough to put into perspective how frivolous this circus-style record attempt really is; how stupid I was to let something so trivial affect my emotional state.
While Trubridge’s approach is designed to deal with the fear of the moment – rather than the long-term anxieties of living with the pandemic – there are still lessons to be learned. He recognizes that most of what we fear is a projection of what could happen in the future, not something that happens to us at the moment, and most importantly, it may never happen at all.
Three ways to fight fear
1. Everything is now Trubridge says that in his sport – as in life – it’s easy to get caught up in “what if?” think, where your mind can take you into an unwanted drama. You are not your thoughts, and many of your fear-filled thoughts are just trash that you usually recycle. It is impossible to do this if you are only in the present moment. Trubridge does this by repeating a mantra. “The idea is that you have these words with powerful connotations so that they can very quickly put you in the state you need,” he says. The one he often uses: “Now that’s it. ”
2. Judge a little less Many of us become defensive when we are stressed and fearful. Not only is there a rupture that threatens our stability, but we are conditioned throughout life to never lose control and to invest massively in doing things our way. When it doesn’t, one of the ways people use to regain a sense of control and power is to take a stand and stick to it. To maintain our position of “righteous,” we judge and shame others as being wrong. Sometimes when you judge, fear takes control.
3. Conserve your energy We routinely waste emotional energy on fear, shame, negativity, and doubt. This is especially likely when we are faced with changes that we did not want. Remember that the thoughts you give preference to when fear and anxiety arise will play a big role in dictating your emotional experiences. Don’t add perfectionism to your Covid-19 to-do list.
Fear Less: How To Win at Life Without Losing Yourself by Dr Pippa Grange (Vermilion, £ 16.99) is available from July 23 on guardianbookshop.com at £ 14.78