Fear is part of life. But when we allow fear to dictate our options, we lose our quality of life. So we must learn to work through fear.
In my flying trapeze practice, each time I take a new trick or skill out of safety lines, I face a new fear. No matter how many clean repetitions I’ve done in lines, it’s like everything is new. Standing on the platform, I become acutely aware of everything happening around me and inside me. The knot in my chest. The sounds from the ground.
When you take a skill or trick out of lines, the coach on the ground who pulls the lines to keep you safe can no longer save you. Trust shifts from the external to the internal: you must learn to trust yourself.
How We Respond to Fear
In 14 years practicing flying trapeze, I’ve seen in myself and others that we typically respond to this natural fear in one of two ways.
(1) Hold back. It’s a typical reaction for most of us to temper down our swing a little when we take something out of lines. We don’t attack with the same level of force. We try to play it safe.
(2) Rush. We let the adrenaline get the better of us, and get in our head, as we anticipate what will happen several steps down the line. This causes us to lose the present moment, and we rush our movements.
The problem with these reactions is that they often lead to results that are opposite of the results we desire.
The Consequences of Our Reactions
A couple of weeks ago, I took a new skill out of lines for the first time. The skill, a forceout turnaround, involves swinging out and turning around to face back to the board, then swinging over the board.
Mechanically, turning around on the bar requires the flyer to release one hand from the bar and then regrip the bar, while pivoting on the other hand.
The first time I did the skill out of lines, I held back: I instinctively tampered down on the forceout — the part of the swing that helps build height. The problem with holding back in this way — especially in this skill — is that the forceout is what builds height in the swing. After you turn around, you’re swinging toward a platform. If you’re not high enough to swing over it, you’ll crash into it. With each repetition, I work to bring back the full intensity of my forceout.
Last night, I rushed. Clean and easy execution on the flying trapeze requires doing the right thing at the right time. You must work with the natural forces of the swing. When you rush, you throw off the timing. When you throw off the timing, you risk crashing. And that’s exactly what happened.
When Fear Controls, We Crash
After my first swing over the board, I rushed my next movements. The result: as I approached the platform the second time, I didn’t have the height to swing over it, and my swing was finishing. I did my best to protect myself, but I crashed. Shin meet platform.
In the moment, there’s nothing you can do but stay focused. I kept my body tight, and dismounted cleanly. From the ground, it didn’t look too bad. But when I came down out of the net, I was hurting. My shin was throbbing, and I’ll have a nice bruise. But I knew that physically, I would be ok. It wasn’t the worst crash I’ve ever had.
The bigger hit was to my pride and my confidence. I had reached a point where I had this skill nailed. It takes a lot for the coaches to give the green light to take something out of lines. I felt like I had let them down, and let myself down, by crashing. I started to wonder if I should put it back into safety lines, or just quit working on it for the day.
Building the Trust Muscle
As I climbed the ladder on my next turn, I contemplated whether to attempt another turnaround or warm up a trick that I would send to the catcher. I could feel the throbbing in my leg and the bruise to my confidence. I did not want to attempt another turnaround, even though I knew that I needed to do it.
Getting back up after you crash is never easy. Your whole body is screams in resistance. Your mind fills with fear. We are physiologically wired to remember the pains we endured when something went wrong, so that we don’t put ourselves back in harm’s way. This is our built-in survival mechanism.
Fortunately, I have great coaches. My coach on the ground started talking me through a few corrections to focus on in my turnaround. It was clear that there was no discussion to have about what I was doing. He wasn’t worried about my tricks to the catcher; this was where I needed to focus.
You crashed. So what. That’s in the past. Get back up there and do it again. Fix what went wrong.
Exercising the Trust Muscle
When your body and mind are reacting in fear, there is only one antidote: heart.
This is our opportunity to exercise our trust muscle.
I breathed into my heart as I grabbed the bar. I narrowed my focus, and I repeated my mantra: there’s no time to rush.
Breathe. Stay calm. Work with the rhythm of the swing.
I always remind myself to breathe.
Ready. Hep. And I was off the platform.
A much cleaner execution this time. Perfect? Not at all. But no crash this time. A boost to my confidence. Yes. I will be ok.
The lessons I learn on the trapeze rig tend to reflect what’s happening in my life, and this one was exactly what I needed yesterday:
We cannot allow fear to dictate our options. Playing it safe only increases the odds that we will crash.
We must open our heart and swing out with everything we have. This is how we build height and make an impact.
Fly high, and make this week amazing.