I have a real fear of tunnels, particularly dark tunnels. I have a theory that it comes from being a larger child and being frightened of getting stuck in obstacles in school PE lessons. I get anxious going down into the very low stations on the underground in London, and on the occasions where we have taken the kids to caves or anything like that, I have to put on my big girl pants and pretend it doesn’t bother me, so I don’t impress my irrational fears onto them.
Anyway, last year a few friends and I decided to undertake a Tough Mudder. So we rocked up at the course in search of the coveted orange headband, after weeks of strength and fitness training, but nothing prepared me for facing the obstacle they called ‘Boa Constrictor’.
Boa Constrictor is a very dark tunnel, just a little bit wider than me (or so it seemed), and probably more than three times my length, at about a 45 degree angle down into water. You go down the tunnel, crawling on your belly, into the water, then you carry on dragging yourself on your belly under barbed wire, through shallow water, and then up another similar tunnel at the other side.
I got to the head of the obstacle and I froze. There I was paralysed, completely unable to put my head in that dark space. I tried and backed out a few times, then just stood there looking at it. In my heart of hearts, the rational side of me was telling me it was totally safe, and that I wasn’t going to get stuck, because I could see lots of people getting through the obstacle, but the irrational side of my brain was not having it, at all. All my friends who hadn’t realised that I had been paralysed with fear had just dived in and carried on. I was alone and scared. I must have looked it too, because a very kind marshal asked me if I was OK. I said I wanted to give this obstacle a miss, my whole body shaking. He told me I would probably regret it later, if I didn’t do it, and if I used the tunnel nearest to him, he would keep talking to me the whole way through.
I am a great believer in regretting what you did do, rather than what you didn’t so before I could think about it any more, and give any more power to that irrational side of my brain, I took a deep breath and said ‘Yep OK’, and dived in, listening only to that marshals voice, focusing on the rational thoughts of how I wouldn’t get stuck and how they would be able to get me out if need be. In no time at all I was at the midsection and lifting my head out of the water and into the light. The lovely marshal checked on me, and I really was fine. So fine in fact that I didn’t need his coaching to get me out the other side, I knew I could do it. I felt total exhilaration. I couldn’t believe I was doing it and I was smiling. I faced my fear and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be after all, I just had to be brave and go for it.
What are you scared of?
We all have lots of irrational fears, whether it’s spiders, snakes, birds or enclosed spaces, or it might be something completely bizarre like marshmallows or beans. But the only way to conquer our fears is to face them.
Now, the point I am getting round to here is for you to address what scares you about changing your habits?
We know that so many people are resistant to changing their habits. But why? Is it fear of the unknown? Is it a worry that you might feel mildly uncomfortable? Are you scared that you might feel hungry? Or you might not be able to eat the foods you really love eating? Are you scared that you might have to drink a bit less alcohol? Are you scared that you will perhaps feel a little uncomfortable? Are you scared that you will fail? If your goal is a physical one, are you scared of getting a bit out of breath? Of sweating? Of being laughed at because you are trying hard?
Facing your fears head on is the only way to combat them. When we face our fears we cause three things to happen in our minds and bodies, that prevents us from feeling fear for the same or other fearful situations in the future.
- Confronting your fear empowers you! Seems pretty obvious really I suppose, but every time you face your fear, you gain power and take away power from what ever it is that you are scared of. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment, that further breeds confidence and self-belief. It gives you the power and strength to believe that whilst whatever it is you are doing is uncomfortable, you can put up with it, it isn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be.
- Facing your fear helps you master it! From a behaviour perspective, when you repeatedly confront your fear you are learning a new skill. You are teaching your body and mind a new way to be, which over time as the neural pathways are reinforced with each repetition, it gets easier and easier. When you start to master something, your chances of failure are dramatically reduced.
- Facing your fear desensitises you to fear generally! Exposure to your fears, means you get used to that feeling of fear and you learn how to deal with it. Over time, you become more able to deal with any fearful situations, because you have been there before, and successfully navigated through it.
So, if doing something that might be a little bit scary or uncomfortable actually means you get to a place where you have wanted to be for a long time, then I hope you can now see that there is no reason not to at least give it a damn good try.
I can assure you that the hunger will pass, you will find foods that you love eating long term – you might even find that you start to prefer these after a while. I can also assure you that drinking a bit less alcohol won’t do you any harm whatsoever, you are capable of enjoying yourself and drinking a bit less, and your bank balance will thank you as well as your waistline. I can 100% guarantee that you will gain the respect and admiration of others for putting the effort in and chasing your dreams. And you will most certainly make yourself feel proud.
If you have been putting off doing something, that you know is the right thing to do, but it just feels like it might be a bit too hard, give it a go, and then another go, and then another go.
Do it until it no longer feels uncomfortable or scary, and then carry on. That is when the magic happens!