Last week I had to confront a fear of mine. Not a life-long fear, just something I’ve never done before. I had to have a minor surgery. I’ve had oral surgery before which, frankly, was far worse. But this time I had to have a small cyst removed from my head (behind my right ear). I don’t know about you, but I’m not keen on having someone take a sharp knife and start slicing at my head. I’m generally not inclined to sit still and let them. Still, I’ve wanted to have this cyst removed for several years, but it wasn’t hurting me. It was just annoying to have this lump behind my ear, especially whenever I went for a haircut.
Have you noticed that the longer you put something off, the stronger and more psychotic the fears of that thing become? Like I said, this was a minor surgery, but by the time the date of my surgery drew near, I was starting to wonder things like:
- What if the doctor sneezes while he’s injecting the local anesthetic and accidentally shoves the needle into my brain? Worse, what if he does that with the scalpel?
- What if they just forget the anesthetic?
- What if I cry, pass out, or wet my pants? I’m 41 for crying out loud! I can’t do that! I’ll be laughed out of the doctor’s office!
About the time I started wondering if I’d wet my pants, I realized I was getting a little irrational and the calm voice of reason in my head said, “Get a grip, Scott. You’ve had worse cuts on accident before. You’ll be fine.” So, I started thinking of how I’ve confronted fears in the past. And, here’s what I came up with:
- Name your fear. It does no good if you can’t identify your fear. I saw Jaws at 5 years old and to this day, I have to go through this process of confronting my fear of sharks every time I get in the ocean.
- Think rationally. 92% of what we worry about never happens (so I’ve heard). That sounds great unless you start thinking that gives you a 1 in 10 chance of being eaten by Bruce the shark. So, you may have to find more specific rational reasons to let go of your fear. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I figure I have a much greater chance of being killed or maimed in a car crash than of being eaten by a shark and I drive every day. If that doesn’t work, think manly. Thinking manly isn’t always the brightest way, but it can work. Basically, it means muster your courage. For example, if I want to think manly, I remind myself that being attacked by a shark would be a cool story if I survived and, if not… Well, there are worse ways to go.
- Pray. In all seriousness, I have a big God. HUGE. He created the shark. He can keep it from snacking on me (and my family). He can keep the doctor from sneezing and accidentally turning me into Vincent Van Gogh. And, it never hurts to ask.
- Find inspiration anywhere you can. In the waiting room at the doctor’s office, I saw a little boy, probably 5 or 6 years old, waiting to get the cast off of his arm. I’ve never broken my arm. I broke my collar bone when I was little (and maybe my toe while playing Gertie ball – basically 2-man barefoot soccer in a dorm hallway with a lopsided playground ball), but I’ve never been in a cast. Watching him I thought, That little boy is braver than I am. So, I figured I could muster up the courage to get through a little cyst removal.
- Confront your fear. The easiest way to conquer a fear is to face it head on. Fear feeds on itself. Confrontation kills it. I’ve seen this, time and again, watching kids at summer camp on the climbing wall. The wall looks like King Kong – until they start climbing. Suddenly, it doesn’t look as big. It looks a whole lot more manageable from the top of the 40-foot beast. Of course, then you have to turn around and repel down from the top, which can be frightening, in itself. Thankfully, you don’t really have any other way to get down, so you face another fear and conquer it (it helps not to have any way out of facing your fear) immediately (remember, don’t give your fear time to gain strength).
It may be this last one that is the most important key to conquering fear. Fear really becomes a fierce, giant, three-headed monster if you let it. If you determine to face it head on, your determination keeps it at a manageable size.
“It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride; and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
So, what giant-sized fear do you need to face head on? What’s stopping you from confronting and conquering your fear?