When last I wrote about the cycle of fear, I had discussed fear and it’s follow up, anxiousness. While fear meant to protect us from dangerous behavior, once gotten past, you would settle into anxiousness. Anxiousness differed from fear in that once we had moved beyond fear by rationalizing out the true dangers and having decided we could proceed without dying, we settled into the fact that we were prepared to go through with our decision. Anxiousness kept us aware of the process. At this level, we could now try to identify our safety nets and attempt to move toward our ultimate action.
For me, this cycle is experienced every time I decide to speak publically. The fear originally came from believing I couldn’t step in front of a large crowd and successfully get through the material without freezing. Early on I had come to grips with my fear and agreed to face the crowd. When I accept a speaking engagement these days, I am able to skip through the fear step rather quickly just based on past experience. After all, I haven’t ever died up there. At least not yet. But every time, I still deal with the anxiousness as I consider the material and my worthiness and ability to interpret it and deliver it to the audience.
The next step in this cycle is then nervousness. Nervousness is the result of being so close to the event that there is no turning back. You have worked through anxiousness by realizing that you do know how to do or present what you are about to do. You have prepared yourself mentally and physically. You have reasonably ruled out the biggest dangers and you are now entering a state of nervousness where your anxiety has been muted or at least turned down to a tolerable level. You are ready to proceed and are actually wanting this to get going so that it can eventually be over.
For my best example of this phase, I will describe my experience as I jumped out of a perfectly good plane. Yes, I had the parachute. When I first considered taking a parachute jump, I definitely started at fear. I was about to climb to three thousand feet where once out on the wing of this small plane, I would, in the words of my instructor, simply step back and enjoy the fall. As I went through my one half hour of training, I began to get past fear. Others had done this and survived. I would be tethered to the plane so my chute would open automatically and he would be with me as I jumped, just in case I had to open my emergency chute. Other than everything, what could go wrong? I did work through the fear phase of the cycle and eventually quiet it down enough that I was willing to suit up and climb aboard the plane. Now came the next phase, anxiousness. My level of anxiousness climbed right along with the plane and peaked at that moment when I was told to step out onto the wing. “Move feet” was all I could think of and somehow they did. And there I was, on the wing with the wind trying its hardest to rip me loose and throw me spiraling to the ground far below. Suddenly, I was no longer anxious. There was NO GOING BACK. As the trainer waited to give me the drop sign, I realized I was simply nervous. I actually screamed into the wind to let me jump.
I will admit that it is an extremely thin line that separates anxiousness and nervousness but it’s there. At anxiousness, there is a sense that you can still back out and possible even save face in the process. But once you cross that line, it’s just nerves now. You stepped on stage, you buckled into the terrifying roller coaster, you stepped off the edge or in my case you wanted to step off the wing. Between the wind and the engine roar, it just seemed like anything would be better than standing there hanging on for dear life.
I apologize for leaving you out on the wing, but this story will have to wait until I can finish the next part of the cycle; excitement. Stay tuned but in the meantime try to enjoy this sense of nervousness as you wait.