Managing Fear To Unlock Your Creativity
Having taught and trained in martial arts for over 18 years, I am constantly asked questions like, “Do you think you could kick someone’s ass if they tried to assault you?” or told things like, “You must not be afraid of anyone.”
The truth? Of course I feel fear! Of course, someone could hurt me if they really wanted to. What martial arts taught me was not how to stop being afraid, nor how to be invincible. It taught me how to simply accept, and work through my fear in order to fight. This skill is also not something I learned once and will forever have at a moment’s notice. It started with flinching, and has moved through its ups and downs, as has my life.
Flinching meant I was impulsively reacting—letting my fear burn my energy—rather than thinking, trusting my instincts, relying on my training and making a conscious choice about how I wanted to respond in an effective way. When I became reactive and afraid, at times this worked temporarily. More often, it was completely ineffective. I trained and I trained and I trained. At some point, and I am not even sure when that moment was, I stopped blinking. I stopped panicking. I stopped thinking. I was no longer afraid of being afraid. Time slowed down and it felt as if I could see every move from a mile away. I did not plan my moves. I let my body and instincts guide me. Then there were the times when I blocked a punch before my brain even knew what I had done. I learned how to enter flow state.
More fascinating to me than my ability to work at that speed and mental state on the mats and in the ring, was how it impacted my day to day life: My relationships, my routines, my work ethic, and my entire perspective on life. The relationship we have with ourselves permeates our relationships with everything else. Everything. When someone gave me attitude, it seemed to roll off of me like butter. It was much easier to see other’s negative comments as burden’s they carried and not take them personally as it was not about me and I would not make it such. Challenges felt like challenges, but did not impact my attitude towards people and worldview, in general. I saw people with more clarity, and I could empathize with others more easily. I felt strong and confident. I was excited and curious to try new things and that occasional twinge we feel—that fear of failure—did not stop me from moving forward towards newer, bigger goals.
Then, I stopped training. You know, life happened. College, a few moves, job changes, graduate school and a couple of injuries resulted in my taking a break from the daily grind of hitting the mats. What were the results? I felt the sensation of "dizziness" for the first time in my life. Literally. Having trained since childhood, this sensation was entirely unfamiliar to me, and that was just one of the first of many physiological aspects of not training that I noticed.
The dizziness permeated into other parts of my life- confusion and lack of direction, poor boundaries with others, making decisions, conflict resolution, identity... I was dizzy, alright, in every sense of the word. I also started "flinching" again. The moment someone was on top of me (smothering my face...common in jiu-jitsu), I panicked. When I felt smothered in other arenas in my life-with friends, family, etc. I became reactive, in training and with friends, family members, strangers and in making daily choices. I did not trust my judgment. I did not trust my ability to handle a situation. Everything got harder.
In order to get back on track, was my first job to train harder? To get stronger? To get faster? No. My first job was ACCEPTANCE. I needed to accept that it is okay to feel fear; to get comfortable with that sensation, again.
My coach, when I first started boxing, did not let me throw a punch for two months—TWO months! He knew what I needed; to take hits, accept the hits, and stop being afraid of the hits. I had to extinguish that fear of being hurt, my fear of losing, my fear of being embarrassed, my fear of being vulnerable...What did my training look like? 100% defense and looking square at the glove as it approached my cheekbone. I took hits—to the face, to the gut, leg checks, throws, take downs, chokes… What was my job? To remain calm and clear headed. To breathe. To keep my heart-rate down. For at least a month, I thought, "This is bullshit. I came here to learn to fight."
However, over time, guess what was happening? Those hits hurt less. I was deflecting more of them. I could see them coming from a mile away. I lost my fear of getting hit. I began CHOOSING which hits I would take and which hits I would block or avoid. I regained choice. I knew what I could now handle. THAT is where power is located. Power is in our CHOICES.
When I began incorporating strikes again—throwing my own punches and kicks…you know what I discovered? It was not only so much more purposeful but, often, unnecessary! I no longer had to work so hard. I was calm. I was no longer defensive; I was proactive. I was no longer aggressive. I could just be. I could accept their actions without, necessarily, having to be reactive to them. I would choose what hits to accept, which to deflect, and I could chose the exact place I wanted to land that roundhouse kick, as opposed to my previous style of throwing an array of fancy strikes and simply hoping one of them would land. Instead of reacting, I was thinking about my next move. I was strategizing, focused, and working towards an end goal.
This is life. When we are focused on preventing pain, we are not opening our minds up to creativity, exploration, curiosity and strategy.
Practice taking challenges, fears, struggles, rejection and pain...feeling it, experiencing it, learning from it and remembering what it feels like. Then, next time it comes your way you can say, "Oh, hi, I know you. I can handle you. Excuse me, I have other things to focus on..."
Speaking of...time to hit the mats!