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Beating Your Fears and Self-Imposed Limitations

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I’m afraid of heights.

There.

I said it.

Because I’m afraid of heights, I have purposely avoided situations that add to that fear.  Sure, I’ll fly, I’ll climb the rope at the gym.  But there’s always that little fear that creeps in.

Until October 11, 2018.

About 4 months prior, my wife asked me if I wanted to join her for her second rim to rim hike of the Grand Canyon.  The thought excited me.  21.9 miles in one day.   I would have the opportunity to visit a portion of the country I’ve never seen before.  I would have a training goal in front of me. But, there was this heights thing.  The hike would start on the South Rim in the dark (3:45 am) and descend from 7200’ above sea level.  We would finish at 8200’. Along the way we would be hiking along trails that were only a few feet wide, with no guard rail or fence and sheer drops off the side.

As few hours in, the sun came up and we could see some amazing things.  The Grand Canyon is otherworldly.  It is easily one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.  I was captivated by it.  I walked with my head up, trying to observe every rock, every color.  I watched the sun rise and begin to paint stunning colors over the walls of the Canyon.  I did all this while walking on those narrow trails along those high cliffs.

I wondered to myself many times before we started the hike the how I would handle the heights that we would be hiking to.  I decided the things I listed below would work to get me past my own self-limiting beliefs:

  • Prior to starting the hike, I visualized myself walking these trails, on cliff edges looking out across the Canyon.  I thought of the positive things that I would feel: The Sun, the wind, the smells and the sounds.  I painted a vivid picture of what I wanted the experience to feel like.  On the day of the hike, I was far more absorbed in the experience of the hike than the fear of heights.
  • Training: Practice the movement. Plan the work and work the plan.  Creating “comfort” or at least familiarity with a movement or act automates muscle movement.  Training Hikes that started at 4 miles and went as long as 16 miles.  We wore and used the gear that we would hike with to get used to the weight and experiment with what we needed.
  • Positive Self-Talk. During our training hikes my wife and I talked about what was good about the previous week and what we were looking forward to during the next week.  It set the tone for the conversations that we would have in the Canyon.  It helped to eliminate doubt and reinforce the habit of working through the fear.

On October 11, we put it all into action.

In the early morning darkness at the South Kaibab Trail Head with Coyotes yelping in the distance, we started off.  2 hours of walking and wondering what things would look like when the sun came up.  When light did start to emerge, we were all rewarded with views that surpassed those that I had envisioned as part of my hike prep.  The day was full of great experiences, sights and memories.

Fast forward to 1pm.  Melissa and I were now on our ascent out and reached a point where she said:

“This is where I was concerned about your fear of heights”.

I stopped and looked.

“Yup, that’s a long way down. Awful pretty though”.

A couple of hours later we were at the North Rim Trailhead. Tired, sore but smiling.

 

Did I conquer this fear and self-limiting belief?

Not sure.

I do know that it is true:

Many of the things that we want are on the other side of fear.

To see what I saw, and experience what I did, was worth pushing through my fears.

There are rewards for all of us on the other side of our fears.

 

Sam Lowe is the Owner and Head Coach of CrossFit Aestus