“Do one thing every day that scares you”, Mary Schmich (1997)
A quote which is subject of some discussion as to its origin, but may be accurately attributed to Mary Schmich. Whoever the source, this is often considered a good rule to live life by.
If we do not face our fears and the challenges they present, how far can we develop as individuals? This is equally true in the outdoors as it is in business, or parenting, or life in general.
In the outdoors, fear often represents our vulnerabilities.
Tackling these vulnerabilities doesn’t necessarily remove the fear but it is a step on the way and repeated challenging of our fears is a method of developing confidence. This is one of the secrets to countering fears. It is easy to look at role models in the outdoors and think that they are fearless and in comparing ourselves to successful climbers, mountaineers, fell runners or adventurers may enhance the sense of vulnerability we feel.
The Internet is full of self improvement advice, or “guaranteed” ways to conquer fear. However, these are not always simple solutions, and the first step should be to identify the root of our vulnerability.
As an example, breaking down an apparent fear of heights may reveal that the true fear is that of falling. Basophobia rather than acrophobia. Once the true fear is identified, then appropriate steps can be taken to challenge this.
In the outdoors environment, doing one thing each day which scares you does not necessary entail taking on a major expedition, or a north face route. It may be as simple as starting a hill walk late in the day to ensure you have to spend some of the route in the dark.
There are some areas which are easily within our control to help prepare us to deal with our fears.
If the fear is of being cold, wet or uncomfortable this can be addressed by wearing or carring clothing appropriate to the activity. Carrying extra warm layers and waterproof shells may provide enough comfort to deal with benightment, either by choice or enforced. This does not need to be expensive, state of the art, uber scientific fabrics. Thinking about layers and being able to adjust them easily provides the means to regulate temperature throughout the day. Having confidence that you are going to be comfortable can help prepare mentally to deal with the challenges of the day.
This is not just about having the equipment, but about having confidence in your kit. Climbing equipment sold in the UK carries a CE mark which gives some degree of confidence that it will do what it is designed to do – protect you. Storing and maintaining your equipment properly ensures that it gives good service, and knowing the history of your kit gives that reassurance that you know it will perform. Facing a fear of falling, or a fear of not being able to climb a route you might have retreated from, or just of not being able to climb the next grade all becomes a little easier if you know you have the right gear for the task and that it will do what you ask. Another way to gain confidence in your kit is to test it. Clip a runner and take a short fall on it, then clip a runner and take a longer fall on it. You will soon gain confidence it your kit, which will give you more confidence to tackle your fear.
We have all heard the expression “all the gear and no idea”. There is no point in having a full set of cams, or a pair of G14 crampons if you don’t know how to use them. On a less technical level, having a map and compass in your pocket on every walk is no good to you if you don’t know how to use them. Taking a course or engaging a suitably qualified instructor for a day can be a good way to gain a good operational understanding of your equipment in a comparatively short time. Having the knowledge to navigate, route select, use your technical equipment or being coached to overcome a mental obstacle gives you the most useful tool to overcome your vulnerabilities and take on a new challenge.
That one thing you do each day that scares you does not need to be a major challenge. It may be spending time getting your head around contour lines on your map. It may be committing to booking a trip that you need to develop skills for. It may be planning to become benighted and spending the dark hours on top of a nearby hill. Whatever you choose to do, it will be a new experience from which you will develop and grow. The confidence you build will stand you in good stead for your next challenge. Who knows, one day the thing you take on that scares you may be a North Face route, or a multi day route across an Arctic plateau in winter.
Wherever you choose to do it, and whatever you choose to do, make sure you do it soon. This could be the next big step towards getting more out of your time outdoors.