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Why it’s important to commit to doing something that scares you

Gaining perspective and increasing resilience by diving in

Wanaka Skydive Archives 2013 — Raj Hayer


I was never scared of heights, or the edge of cliffs, or walking across the Capilano suspension bridge. However, after surviving two major surgeries I felt a bit too cautious and a bit too concerned with sustaining my health and pursuing my career. Consequently, after my second surgery, from 26 to 36 years old, I buckled down and stayed true to my career path and staying out of trouble — or rather — from taking risks.


Then my back went out.


I was hunched over and could not stand up straight. For the first time in my life, I had a health issue that was avoidable. All the caution and my diligent focus on my career had led me to physically damage my body by sitting at a desk every single day. Once my back was straight again, the disc had returned back to normal and I turned 37, I decided that it was time to make some changes. I entered a year of travel and living from a backpack.


There were certain activities I had waited too long to do, so I created my list — skydiving, Bungy jumping, helicopter rides, ziplining, rock climbing, and more, and set about blowing my savings.


Spoiler alert: Of course what I learned at the end of the journey was that what I achieved on my travels could be attained every single day in the everyday things that scare us— presenting in front of people, opening yourself up for love, showing vulnerability, speaking another language — the challenges we all face every single day can create the same perspective and resilience and should be a habit cultivated throughout our “regular” lives.


I started at Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge in New Zealand.



AJ Hackett Bungy, Kawarau Bridge Archives 2013 — Raj Hayer


This is the birthplace of the Bungy jump. You walk out onto the suspension bridge and they tie your feet so tightly you shuffle to the edge of the bridge looking down into a gorge.


There was one point as I launched myself off the bridge where I thought “why on earth did I just jump off a perfectly well designed and reliable bridge?” and then you feel the rush of blood in your head, the dunk of cold water and feel so much energy from the rush you dance up the stairs to the bridge wondering if you can do it again!


The rush of overcoming our own fears and diving in is addictive.



Luckily, you can do it again.


I did the next option, The Ledge, twice. Once with a straight dive, and once with a flip and Matrix-style pose. Yeah, I was getting the hang of it. So then, to increase the extremeness, I moved on to the Nevis Bungy, which includes a freefall.

“Welcome to the best thing you’ve ever done. Go full throttle with our 134m Bungy (the highest in New Zealand). Free fall for 8.5 seconds in a blitz of pure fear and adrenaline. Don’t say we didn’t warn you, because this will definitely put the cement in your coffee.”

The platform is suspended above a rocky canyon, and a limited number of people are allowed at a time. Even with three jumps under my belt, I had hesitation at the thought of jumping this one. In their own words…


Yet, this is where I witnessed the most incredible life-changing moment I experienced in all my bungy jumps.


Life-changing. Not for me. But for another girl.


She was a girl of no more than 20 years old. She had made it to the gondola; she was strapped in, and standing on the edge of the gondola. The bungy employees revealed at this moment that their role is not only for our physical safety but is also that of mental health therapists who lead people to life-altering moments.


This girl was sobbing in fear and between the sobs, just repeating, “I can’t, I can’t”. The AJ Hackett lead on the jump stood beside her and said the following:

“Listen, if you don't want to do this, it’s okay.

I can lead you back in right now, untie you and you can go back to land right now. BUT.

If you do this. I promise you I’ve got you. You are safe. I promise you will not get hurt.

If you do this. It will change your life. I promise you that too.”


 

The trust we require to dive in is the trust in ourselves.

Every person on that gondola started to express words of encouragement, “You can do this!” and…she did it.


AJ Hackett Bungy, Nevis Archives 2013 — Raj Hayer


She was sobbing and fell out of the gondola rather than a dove, but when she came back up…she was laughing, crying, sobbing, and incredibly happy. And I thought to myself, that girl is going to remember that moment and dive into every aspect of her life.


In fact, I felt a pang of envy because I had done it already and felt that high, so on to the skydive. Maybe that would give me the thrill again?


Enter Wanaka Skydive, also in New Zealand and with the coolest slogan that deserves ongoing recognition: “Strap yourself to a beautiful stranger.” (Yeah I bought the shirt and the hoody!)




I was on a roll with these jumping activities so why not dive right in? Pun intended. Sixty-second free fall. Strapped to a beautiful stranger as promised.


There was a serious rush from speeding through the sky; it felt like a roller coaster ride. Then, floating above the lakes and mountains. It was stunning. It was really stunning, and I wish there was a way to see that view all the time. Just to see the land from that far above gives such an extreme sense of perspective, how small we each are in the great scheme of things and how much beauty there is.





However, what was really interesting to me was that because the jump was done in tandem — strapped to someone else experienced in jumping — I didn’t feel the same thrill as the Bungy jump.


It was beautiful and worth it and riskier than the Bungy, but the Bungy meant I had to take the initiative, I had to decide to jump myself and then do it.

 

The choice to dive must be our own.


People say it all the time when talking about growth and change, “do something that scares you”, “face your fears”, “try something new.” In every case, they cite that it will help you to self-develop, achieve growth, and accept change. This is all primarily summarized in one — very overused but still relevant — word. Mindset.


You can add any adjective you like, call it open mindset, growth mindset, digital mindset, fear mindset, or global mindset, but in the end, it is all of that and more. It’s about shifting your mindset and owning your life. Doing a minimum of one thing that is new or scares you per month can increase growth, change, openness, and new acceptance.


You can gain perspective. You can increase resilience.


The three lessons that jumped out at me are ones that I see evidence of daily, and I continue to apply them to my life.


1. The rush of overcoming our fears and diving in is addictive.


When we win, really win, i.e. overcome our fears and dive into something, it is a self-perpetuating cycle, and we feel a rush and gain trust in ourselves that is unparalleled. It changes our mindset. We are more open, we believe that anything is possible, and we gain the much-needed perspective that the only thing holding us back is ourselves.


Case in point. A friend just decided to face her own fear and talk about her trauma as a means to empower others to have the strength to persevere. The positive feedback she has received by showing that vulnerability and sharing her story made people accept their own trauma and ask her to continue. She is now encouraged to continue to speak and more publicly, on stage!


2. The trust we require to dive in is the trust in ourselves.


If we face our fears, we gain resilience through adversity. We overcome the mindset that has prevented growth and made us fear change. This means trusting in ourselves and that we are the only barriers to our personal achievements. Everything in life is a choice, and we must trust our own choices.


Case in point. A friend recently hosted an event in German, her second language. She gained perspective, a sense of respect for all those who speak foreign languages every single day, and also increased trust in her ability her accomplishments, and she will definitely host in German again!


3. The choice to dive must be our own.


Accepting that we have the power to make our choices is an incredibly scary prospect. It means we have power over our own lives, over our own happiness and that in itself can be scary for us. However, if we embrace that power every single day and always do our best, we can accomplish even the scariest feats.


Case in point. A friend just quit his job, a well-paying, successful job, because he realized he needs more motivation and wants to try something new, achieve more and give back to others. He is scared and anxious about what this means to his “career”, but he made the choice to aim for more and feels proud and excited at what is possible.


 

Whether it is physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, we can face our fears every single day and learn how to overcome fear, literally changing the chemistry in our brain.


What is fear? Fear is an alarm that alerts us to danger. It exhibits as panic in the present or anxiety in the future, and both are adaptive.


How can we learn to overcome fear?It is an active process that requires retraining the brain, to overcome signals from the amygdala so that you can put threats into a more realistic context.


It can be simply learning new skills and trying something new, or it can be facing the fear bit by bit to retrain the brain to gain a more realistic perspective. Boxing for the first time and gaining strength to reduce fear of attack, practising your language skills on a regular basis to gain confidence, hiking a mountain so that you can gain perspective that the world is a big darn place!


In fact, the mere practice of meditation can force you to confront yourself and your own barriers every single day. And it doesn’t require jumping into a canyon, off a bridge or off a plane!


Find one thing each day, each week, or each month, one thing that is new, one thing that is a little scary or unknown, and dive in.


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