Make a splash and confront your fears
I spent a day in a swimming pool recently. Sounds benign, you might be thinking, but this was no ordinary swimming pool. Some consulting work I’m doing this year requires me to travel over water in a helicopter: challenging at my age but there was better to come. For the privilege of travelling like this it is necessary to attend a training program in how to survive should the chopper crash. Well, excuse me, but they don’t make you do this if you are flying in an ordinary aircraft: is there something they’re not telling me?
So, off I trot to Sale in Victoria to bob around in the pool all day learning all manner of things. Not least of all was learning about myself. The pièce de résistance of the day was being strapped into a helicopter body, submerged under water and then asked to get out. Tricky enough when upright but then they turn the thing upside down, just to make your day. And I had to do this twice, once wearing a very bulky cold water immersion suit especially designed to make sure you got stuck in the chopper and drowned. But you’d be warm while gasping your last. People have asked me how it was and the almost automatic response is “confronting”.
One of my other phobias, apart from drowning when training not to drown, is heights. So, the smiling and clearly sadistic trainers had me jumping from a high board into a pool with a life jacket on and then hoisted me up in a sling in a simulated helicopter rescue. There were moments when I just needed to shout out that I wanted to quit and go home. But somehow I didn’t.
And, you know, when I finished the day and walked out, having confronted and overcome some significant fears, I was ready for anything. On our way to New Zealand I even mentioned to my ever-suffering better half that I was ready for a bungy jump. Luckily she managed to talk me out of it after falling about laughing for half an hour and then telling me to act my age. She convinced me that my eyes might pop out or, more likely, my hips, which would be an unfortunate side effect of proving something to myself. So I demurred.
It is true, though, isn’t it, that overcoming something that is frightening has an amazing effect on how you feel about yourself and the world around you? It wasn’t so much that I had survived (although that was a definite bonus) or gone through the procedure. It was more about having overcome my fear and the fact I had not given into it.
What worked for me was changing the chatter in my head that was all fearful to more positive self-talk about how it was okay to be fearful, that my anxiety would not kill me, that I could do it. Even better was my determination to concentrate on the procedures I’d been taught to escape or jump safely, and get them right the first time. The penalty otherwise was that I’d have to do it again: now that was an incentive to change focus from fear to action.
As Nike and, more recently, Bettina Arndt said: Just do it.
Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist.