“You must understand fear so you can manipulate it. Fear is like fire. You can make it work for you: it can warm you in winter, cook you’re food when you’re hungry, give you light when you are in the dark, and produce energy. Let it go out of control and it can hurt you, even kill you… Fear is a friend of exceptional people.” ~Cus D’Amato said of fear.
In the next few weeks, I will be developing several Fear Exercises to help you conquer your surfing fears for my new eBook. This is the first but not the only Fear Exercise that will be applicable to other areas of your life. Name, Tame and Conquer can be used by you, your spouse, your friends and your children (even toddlers). Give your fears a name, dress them up with details and then smash the sh*@ out of them like a big, no longer scary piñata. Try this out for surfing and anything else you shroud in free and feel free to let me know how you go in the comments.
Want to be Fearless the Next Time a Big Swell Comes To Town?
Every surfer knows the feeling… You look out to the horizon and see a monstrous set looming down on you. You paddle as fast as you humanly can toward the safety zone, but you are too late. The gigantic wave is bearing down on you and you know you will not escape its impact. You can feel your fight-or-flight reflex kicking in – heart rate increases, vision narrows, judgment gets thrown out the window.
Maybe you are a surfer who is afraid of sharks or your board bashing you in your head or gnarly wipeouts? No matter how your aquatic worst-case scenario unfolds, nearly all surfers (except for the really, really crazy ones – think Flea) encounter fear in the water at some point. But as you can see from checking out pictures of Paige Alms at Jaws or Mark Healey in Teahupo’o, some people appear to have a higher threshold for fear. While there is some evidence that certain people are more genetically disposed to be risk takers, the majority of these big wave surfers’ bravado comes from years of physical and mental preparation.
So what makes certain surfers so fearless? If you look all the way back from ancient philosophers to modern business moguls, you’ll find a practice for dealing with fear that basically amounts to describing and understanding your fears and then figuring out how to deal with each one. I’ve broken it down in Fear Exercise #1 for you to use as you need.
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
That huge wave from the paragraph above washes over you, rag dolls your body in every direction before driving you deep down into the ocean. When it finally lets you up, you swim for the surface and nearly let the water into your mouth before you shoot out into the fresh air gasping. And then, it hits you, “that wasn’t that bad,” you say to yourself with a smile, “bring it on.”
The reality is that the anticipation of pain is often actually worse than the event itself. We get so worked up over bad things that haven’t happened yet that we are paralyzed, unable to take action to save ourselves or drastically improve our lives.
Fear Exercise #1: Know Fear – Name, Tame, and Conquer
Give Your Fear a Name
If you wish to conquer your fears, don’t try to suppress your fears. Get to know and understand your fears by explicitly describing them.
Defining what scares you most allows you to (1) actively prepare to tackle each fear, (2) let the things you cannot control go.
So take time to list out every worst-case, nightmare scenario that could possibly happen while you’re out surfing… Check out my list below… You might list the usual suspects: Panic, drowning, wipeouts, hold downs, etc. Or you might have more elaborate personal fears to deal with. Make your list.
Accept the Things You Cannot Change
“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.” – His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.
Now go through your list of fears from above and cross off the things you have no control over. If there is nothing you could do to prevent or remedy that scenario, then let it go.
Prepare for the Things You Cannot Allow to Happen (ie don’t lose your head)
Surfing, by its very nature, can be do or die. Once you’ve removed the uncontrollable’s, you can focus on best preparing yourself for all kinds of conditions and worst case scenarios. Research shows that one of the best antidotes your amygdala’s fight or flight response is ACTION. So be proactive when crafting a comprehensive plan of action to tackle what you are afraid of by being very detailed. The infographic below shows my example Fear List and courses of action for a couple of fears. The scripts for dealing with things like wipeouts or hold downs are short here because of space but should be much more elaborate and show the steps you will take to overcome the fear.
Let’s consider, for example, you are struggling with a bad wipeout you had a certain wave, let’s call it “Deadwomans.” Since this experience, you feel your confidence in the water, especially at waves like Deadwomans, is much lower. You check the surf report, see a decent sized swell, and make excuses to yourself and friends to avoid going surfing. But even on small days, you avoid surfing Deadwomans, even though it used to be your favorite spot. You avoid it like the plague, but, you know what? If you want to overcome that wipeout and the subsequent paralyzing fear, you’re going to have surf Deadwomans again.
So wipeouts and going surfing at Deadwomans is right on top of your Fear List.
What do you do next?
Conquer that fear with a positive plan of action.
First, you need to start training to boost your confidence and skills in the water. More surfing is a sure way to improve, but you can also do things like improving your strength and cardiovascular fitness through swimming, breathing techniques, and high-intensity training. Getting your body ready is half the battle.
Next, we conquer the toughest part… The Mind.
Second, you need to create a methodology to rewire your mind to stop the association that Deadwomans = wipeout = bad. There are a few ways to do this which will be discussed in detail in my upcoming Fear Exercises but here’s a brief rundown. You can replace the fear memories by surfing Deadwomans on a smaller, more user-friendly day and creating new positive memories to rewrite the old ones. You can also create anchors around the positive memories that will help you pull them up anytime you are confronted with fear. Another great technique is to use visualization to put yourself back out at Deadwomans, but this time, shredding the waves and enjoying yourself.
In the end, you must go back to Deadwomans. You must “name” and face your fears to tame them. Practice what you fear in painstaking detail, both in your mind and in real life and you will be prepared to conquer what the ocean and life throw at you.
Name It To Tame It Works for Kids Too
If you are a parent you should know that this technique works very well to help young children work out things that are causing them distress. Letting your kid tell the story of scary or traumatizing events allows them to understand why they are feeling a certain way and ascertain a method of dealing with it.
This Process is Not Limited to Surfing
The concepts behind this process are far reaching to all areas of your life where you have fear. To see, check out Tim Ferriss’ Ted Talk on Fear Setting that inspired this post.
Want to quit a job? Start your own business? Take a trip? Can’t figure out what’s holding you back or too afraid to just do it?
List out all your fears surrounding a decision and you’ll quickly see how each thing you are afraid of is either preventable, reversible or unimportant. Don’t let your mind fester with uncertainty and anxiety because of ignorance. Know your fears, practice them and you’ll have the keys to unlock your dreams – surfing or otherwise.
For more information on Fear and Surfing be sure to read The Fear Project.