Fear is temporary. Regret is forever.
They say that you regret the things you don’t do rather than the things you do. In 2011 I did a tour around the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Amongst the many touristy things that I did, I had the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is a block of stone built into the walls of Blarney Castle. It is situated high up in the battlements of the castle; and tradition has it that if you kiss the stone you will be gifted with the gift of the gab.
I stood in line for almost two hours with all the other tourists making my way slowly up the castle and around the periphery of the roof to have my turn at kissing the stone. To kiss the stone one must lay on one’s back with one’s head hanging over the edge of the landing to kiss the outside wall of the castle – one is almost hanging upside down kissing the stone backwards. Although there is carefully placed safety bars to prevent falling, the immense height and obvious drop from the landing were impossible to ignore. So as I approached the stone, I allowed my fear of heights to get the better of me and I chickened out. Once you’ve opted out there is no changing your mind unless you are prepared to queue again for another couple of hours. The moment I moved on, I immediately regretted it.
It’s odd, up until that day when I found myself at Blarney Castle, I had had no interest in kissing the stone; I didn’t even know what it was; I was merely following my tour group. It is certainly not the type of thing that I would place as a bucket list item. But, the fact that I let a fear get the better of me has sat poorly with me all this time; and so inevitably kissing the Blarney Stone is very much a bucket list item for me – one day I will return to Ireland and kiss that damn stone.
I could probably name countless examples of where I took the safe decision to appease a fear. My innumerable fears have led me to lead a safe life but also an unexhilarating life. From the lesser serious things like avoiding heights; not going to the beach due to fear of showing my body; not participating in water activities because I’m not a strong swimmer; to more serious matters like not standing up for myself because I feared not being worthy; or going against the grain trying something new for fear of failure; or asking for help when in need, for fear of rejection. Without fail, every time I let fear dictate my actions, it was followed by regret.
Fear is a funny thing. My rational mind can logically argue the irrationality of the fear; but sadly the part of the brain that deals with logic is not the same part that feels the fear. So logic isn’t really the best way to deal with fear. As you would have read from previous posts I have over the past few years started facing more and more of my fears; and I believe that in doing so I have started living a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
I guess with fear, over-thinking it, is sometimes one’s worst enemy. Sometimes you need to just go with the flow. It helps when there are others who are facing the same fear and you can stand together and rely on each other but many times you are forced to face your fears alone. My past strategy to face fear has been to ask “What’s the worst that could happen?” Sometimes this works when the irrationality of my fear has masked the logic that the worst that could happen won’t kill me. But it can also backfire – sometimes the worst that could happen really could kill you – and I don’t only mean physically, but sometimes even emotionally.
I have since learnt that fighting an emotion with logic is never really the answer. You fight fear with a counter-emotion. Now, I’m not saying that logic and rational thinking does not have its place; it is very important in terms of keeping you safe once you’ve decided to face your fear; but it is the counter-emotion that will give you the courage.
How do I do this? Instead of asking myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” I ask myself “What would it mean if I succeed; how would I feel if it works out?” By focusing on the strong positive feelings that success would bring – well, not focusing on the feelings; but actually imagining feeling the feelings – I am able to weigh up the reward against the fear. More often than not, the reward wins. I can then apply logic to prepare and mitigate risk; but it is the promised reward that helps me make the leap of faith.
Recently, while at a festival, I was faced with the recreational activity of blobbing. This is where an individual lies on the end of a massive air mattress floating on a dam, and is catapulted high in to the air. The person is launched by two or three other people jumping from a high scaffolding onto the opposite end of the mattress. I had no interest in blobbing; in fact when I saw the mattress I was intimidated and knew that I would never, ever blob. It spoke to three fears: fear of heights, uneasiness in water and relinquishing control. A little later, while floating on the dam on my lilo, I heard the organisers give the safety briefing followed by a demonstration before opening the blobbing. As I watched the demonstration; and saw how high the person catapulted into the air; I imagined how incredibly exhilarating it must be to be launched that high – almost like flying. At that moment I thought of the blarney stone; and I knew I would regret not doing this. I kept that feeling of imagined excitement of flight with me while I patiently waited in the queue for my turn. I was well aware of the potential risks – I could break a bone; be concussed; hell, I could drown. Logically I knew these risks were slim; but fear is not logical; so I had to focus on the feelings of success. It helped to be supported by two friends; and when it was my turn I both co-launched another person before immediately being launched myself.
The result: I broke three ribs; and my time in the air was so quick that it didn’t really feel like flying; but despite that, those adrenaline-charged seconds were many times more exhilarating than I could have imagined; and the sense of accomplishment and pride was intoxicating. Yes, the reward absolutely outweighed the risk.
Would I do it again? In a heart-beat.
I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.