Welcome back Jen McAmis…OMG her stories are so inspiring! I’m ready to go climbing now! Enjoy her stories and I hope you are as inspired by her adventurous spirit as I am!
Recently, I’ve really been throwing myself in working on highlining, or walking on a 1 inch piece of webbing (a slackline) across canyons or other spaces high in the air. However, I cannot actually stand up for the life of me. One day, after a particularly frustrating session on a line, my incredible friend Cam asked me,
“What do you think about when you’re out there?”
I admitted that I was still very much in a place of talking myself through breathing and telling myself exactly which actions were about to happen (“Now you’re going to sit back on your foot.” “Now you’re going to let go with your right hand.” Etc.). His immediate response was,
“So, you’re scared.”
I immediately said, “No, I’m not scared. I can sit comfortably on the line and have practiced falling and getting back on and know that everything is completely safe. I’m not scared, I just keep freezing.” He smiled and said knowingly,
“You’re scared.” It took me a few days to process that conversation, but I realized how right he was.
The more I’ve thought about it and talked to others, the more the important role of fear in adventure sports has become to me. Outside of the physical challenges, fear is one of the biggest factors making these activities what they are. These activities give us the opportunities to feel and work through extreme fear in a safe environment – something we don’t get in many other parts of life.
If we feel fear on our commute, it’s usually because we are in direct danger of a car slamming into us or other element that can cause harm. If we feel unsafe in our home, there is probably a direct cause that we can’t control. It’s different in adventure sports. You have control of (most of) the situations you find yourself in.
You are placing your protection on climbs. You are choosing your route up the mountain – or off of it if you’re BASE jumping or paragliding. YOU are setting the stage for yourself to process fear. If adventure sports are something you feel called to, there are a few ways you can make the process of working through your fear easier for yourself.
Understand how it works
It may sound obvious, but truly understanding the activity you’re about to do is important. Do you know why climbing bolts are safe? Can you read snow enough to know how much avalanche risk exists where you are and why?
Understanding the science behind what you’re doing helps quiet the voice in the back of your mind that is screaming along with your instincts towards self preservation (it is natural to not want to get hurt or die, after all). There is a lot of power in being able to tell your brain to shut up because you are safe for a list of reasons!
Know your body
Not only should you know your body and the ways in which it thrives, but you should also be confident in the ways you can challenge yourself. Scrambling over rocks on a super exposed ridgeline (meaning there’s a long way down on either side) is much easier to handle when you are already confident in your scrambling abilities and only have to work on dealing with the exposure.
Manifest positive outcomes
This is one of the hardest for me. I get caught in my head more often than I can even begin to admit. If you tell yourself you are never going to stand up on a highline and always freeze – you probably will. If you tell yourself that you always fall and sprain your ankle when you go hiking – it will probably happen.
However, if you tell yourself that this time is going to be different and picture yourself succeeding, it’s much more likely that you’ll achieve the success you’re looking for. Mindset is a huge part of the puzzle to channeling your fears into accomplishments.
Fear is real. Fear during risky activities is normal. Fear has it’s place. However, the growth that comes from accepting that fear and working through it in a safe, calculated way can improve one’s life and lead to a greater understanding of oneself than existing solely within one’s comfort zone.
When was the last time you sensed fear?
Jenn is an adventurer, outdoor addict, ACSM certified personal trainer and rescue dog mom living in Tucson, Arizona. She's been in the fitness industry for over 5 years and has recently developed a series of programs focusing on becoming the most fit you possible so that your life can be filled with the adventures you dream of.