The lion tamer's way: A proactive approach to overcoming fears
Ask Alta ski instructor James Ledyard to tell you something that would radically improve your skiing, and he might actually talk to you about lion tamers. You might have a second take: What’s that got to do with skiing?
By the way, as you read this article, you’ll see it’s not just about skiing: You’re reading a metaphor about life.
Well, James would say, there’s something to learn about how lion tamers manage fear. On the one hand, they can’t be “fearless”, otherwise they’d be dead. The lion is a powerful animal, and you simply cannot treat it like a big cat. Fear is appropriate, the kind of fear that can also be described as awe. A deep appreciation of the lion’s awesome power, an understanding that this is something that cannot be trifled with.
But, of course, you cannot be an effective lion tamer if you are overcome by your fears. You need to keep your fears in check, to find a way to function as if you were totally confident. We're not talking here about the kind of pretending that is so fake that the lion will smell your fear. We're talking about the kind of poise that comes from being conscious of the fear and walking through it, deliberately.
Now, James doesn’t know how the lion tamers do it, but he has some suggestions for how skiers can do it. He suggests you pay attention to your body. Not just your body in general, but specific areas. For instance: Are you tensing your toes, as if you were grabbing something with them? Or: Are you feeling your weight against the top front of your boot, as opposed to the back of the boot?
As you pay attention to a specific area of the body, and noticing what’s happening there, and making the appropriate corrections, you are paying attention to something that is actionable. This is in contrast to, for instance, telling yourself that you’re going to monitor your fear and try to not be afraid! Try both, and you’ll quickly see which way works better!
Now, I am going to link this to a question many people ask me during sessions: Why is it that I often interrupt clients, as we talk about things, to ask what’s happening inside? Part of the reason is to redirect your focus. Instead of just functioning in neo-cortex mode, in language mode, you become aware of more of the processes that are happening inside. As you try to pay attention to what’s happening inside, it’s very likely that you notice nothing unusual. Just the same way as the skier would be likely to answer that the body is just fine, just normal! It takes some guided experiences to begin to notice the curled toes, or where the weight is on the boot.
As you do this, you get access to a wider range of understanding of how you function, and how you can affect how you function. And you can deal with an emotion as overpowering as fear in a much more effective way that if you were simply trying to make the fear go away. Because, as you get focused in your internal processes and how you can affect them, you build up power from inside out, taming the wild fear into a powerful energy that you channel for your purposes.