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March 26, 2013

Overcoming fear

“You’re so brave,” a friend said. “How do you overcome fear?”

all of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue themWe, as humans, have this tendency to build up the unknown into some kind of great big monster out to slay us. We look ahead into the vast expanse of indefinite spread out before us and see it as something too big, too immense for us.

We look at ourselves and see a tiny inconsequential being lost in the enormity of the dream. We’re inadequate against the colossal hurdles we need to leap over to get to that dream.

And so we cower in the corner. We’re scared. We’re inadequate. We’re too small and unworthy of such a dream.

I think otherwise. I think each one of us is perfectly capable of surmounting those fears that paralyze us.

How do I overcome fear? I just start walking.

People tell me all the time that I’m brave for riding a bike to the ends of the world, but I disagree. I don’t think I’m brave at all. I just trust in providence and go.

What I’ve found is that the closer I get to what I feared the most, the more that fear vanishes. It’s like there’s some kind of massive mountain “out there” off in the distance and I’m terrified of climbing it. But when I get closer to it, I start to see that it’s not nearly as scary as I thought, and most often not nearly as big as I thought.

I wish I could say I’m brave. I wish I could look at a thing like riding my bike from one end of the world to the other and not be afraid. But, truth be told, I was terrified.

I was scared of the mountain passes higher than the highest peaks in Colorado. I was scared of the Patagonian winds so strong they would blow me off my bikes. I was scared of the searing heat of Central America and the bitter cold of the high Andes in winter. I was scared. More than scared – I was petrified.

decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it Ride a BIKE the length of the Americas? That was crazy talk. That kind of journey was for real adventurers, not the likes of me. Only big strong men with muscles bulging from their calves could make such a journey. Not an ordinary wife, mother, and schoolteacher.

When I actually took time to dig deep and figure out exactly what I feared, I realized I wasn’t afraid of the mountain passes; I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get over them. I wasn’t afraid of the heat or cold, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. In other words, I was afraid of failure.

Once I had identified my fear, I was able to start working on it. You know what they say:

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.

That’s exactly how it is with fear. Identify your fear and figure out exactly what it is that’s making you uncomfortable. Once you’ve given your fear a name, you can face it and overcome it.

You simply can’t defeat the unknown. Make it known and you’ll be able to stare it down. My basic plan of attack is to identify the fear, figure out exactly what it is about that fear that scares me, then head out anyway. It works.

Seven tips to overcome fear

  1. Identify your fear. Exactly what are you afraid of?
  2. Analyze your fear. Is your fear rational? Will it hurt you? Fear is a good thing if it keeps you safe and prevents you from getting eaten by a wild animal or burned by a fire. Most fears, however, are of things that won’t harm us. Those are the fears we need to banish.
  3. Use gradual desensitization. Start small. Take baby steps to gradually melt the fear away. If your dream is to travel, start traveling in a “safe” way with someone to hold your hand until you’re ready to stand on your own.
  4. Consider what others are doing. If they can do it, why can’t you? What do “they” have that you don’t? Chances are: nothing.
  5. Change the way you think and you change the way you act. You can control your thoughts. Whenever you find yourself dwelling on the things you’re afraid of, change your thoughts to think positive thoughts about the good parts of your dream.
  6. Be on the offensive rather than defensive. The vast majority of those things you fear will never happen. What you imagine is nearly always worse than the truth. Just start walking and face the fear.
  7. Go public about your fear. Somehow there is power in letting it out. Tell everyone how scared you are and, chances are, the fear will dissipate.

It's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves

Nancy Sathre-Vogel, a long-time schoolteacher, decided life was too short to cower in the corner. Together with her husband and children, she climbed on a bike and cycled from Alaska to Argentina – a journey of 17,285 miles through fifteen countries that took nearly three years. Her book, Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World was released last week. You can buy it on her site, www.familyonbikes.org

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