Yes, my biggest fear is crocodiles. And I don’t discriminate. I equally hate alligators.
And you may laugh, but how many other man-eating beasts are equally as vicious by land and water? Exactly.
Now this may seem irrational, since I’ve never lived within 5 states of either of them, but try explaining that to me before last week.
My terror of them developed in the one place where any normal fear develops in a child: Disney World.
Yes, the happiest place on Earth became a breeding ground for my childhood nightmares.
Do you remember the Peter Pan ride? When you’re flying over the sea past Captain Hook’s ship and there’s the crocodile in the water, smiling as your airborne boat passes overhead?
This is how you may remember it.
This is how I remembered it.
So last week in Costa Rica when the lovely couple we’ve been hanging out with asked my best friend Laura and I to ride down the Tarcoles River filled with THOUSANDS of them, you can imagine my reaction:
Especially, as Laura responded ‘hell yeah! we’ll definitely do it.’ Jerk.
While I’ve been avoiding crocodiles and alligators for the last 25 years, I’ve recently embraced this whole ‘push through your fears and trust yourself despite how totally uncomfortable and terrified you feel’ thing, so I thought maybe this was it — my divine opportunity to bravely face the scaly bastards head on and try desperately not to get eaten.
And without my long-winded, overly dramatic rendition of how it went down — long story, short — I did it.
I got within 2 feet of most terrifying thing I can possibly imagine other than a crocodile with wings or a key to my house.
And did it without losing a limb. Or crapping my pants. Or having too gigantic of a panic attack.
But my very real fear of crocodiles is no different than your very real fear of spiders or finally dumping that loser or traveling solo or asking for help or rejection or [insert thing that terrifies you here].
Fears keep us stuck, anxious, sad, afraid and living life like a C average, when we certainly know we were built for an A.
And as I contemplated this whole crocodile encounter, I kept remembering a quote I heard once:
Fear and faith ask us to do the same thing: believe in something that we aren’t sure exists.
The stories of getting eaten, falling overboard, a crocodile learning to walk on water — all stories that had become just as real as the stories I could’ve been telling myself of the exact opposite.
But we get caught up in the messy web of the unknown, discomfort, anxious feelings, self-doubt.
So this is how I went about facing my biggest fear [although, as a solo-entrepreneur, I now face lots of them -- rejection, anyone??] and how you can plug your fear [public speaking, heights, changing careers, asking for what you need, forgiving so-and-so, butterflies <---- really people, butterflies?!] into the same courageous equation.
First thing’s first: Learn a tad more about your fear.
Translation: Despite the spotty wifi connection, I frantically Googled ‘crocodile tour safety standards in Costa Rica’, ‘how high can a crocodile jump’, ‘deaths by crocodile attack each year’ and ‘can crocodiles sense fear’ the night before our river ride. Not to mention, ear-banging the tour guide about safety, history of past tours, likelihood that a crocodile could jump on the boat and eat me, and if they were especially hungry on Fridays.
Because the better you can understand what you fear and why you fear it [the root cause], the less anxious you’ll feel. Knowledge is powerful and comforting and helps you feel better prepared to approach that thing you’re fearing most, you know, like, ahem, butterflies…
But a quick chat with the tour guide also prepared me for what to expect on the river — multiple crocodiles that swarm, a 24 footer that lurked just below the surface and a chance that our boat may rock slightly, which does NOT indicate that it’s sinking, so when all that stuff happened, I didn’t ‘lose my cool’.
Then, ease yourself in.
Visualize the fear down to the smallest detail and imagine the outcome being positive and you showcasing immense bravery. Because when you face your fear, you’ll feel like you’ve already ‘been there, done that’; drudging up those visualized emotions, thoughts and courageous feelings.
Also, take fear baby steps. I looked over the edge of a bridge at the crocodiles for a good 20 minutes before I formally agreed to go on the boat. It gave me time to process the experience, check in with my anxious feelings and say a few thousand prayers.
And try and relax.
Breathe, meditate, and acknowledge what feelings are coming up. Honor them, then let them pass through you and refocus on a positive experience.
And sometimes it’s tough to tweak our thoughts, so instead, change your body’s physical response to your sweeping fear by consciously trying to relax the muscles of your body, which can trick your mind into thinking, ‘well ya know what? I’m physically feeling pretty darn relaxed right now, so maybe I am.”
Rally the troops.
For an extra dose of courage and accountability, get the support of your friends, family or a damn good coach that seems to exhibit the right amount of tough love.
My best friend kept up the encouragement as I stood firmly planted in the middle of the boat, insisting that if a crocodile hopped in that he’d eat everyone on the perimeter first.
Make it impossible not to follow-through.
I paid for the tour in advance of even seeing the boat [which I imagined as a 6 foot inner-tube]; hopping in the car for the 2-hour trek to the river at 6AM before my rational mind fully awoke. That meant backing out of the tour would leave me out $50 and stranded on the side of the river to inevitably be eaten by a crocodile anyway.
Money and time and energy can be great incentives if you’re not too keen on wasting them.
Finally, just accept it.
Like I accepted that this guy would probably be eaten in front of me.
But really, you can’t control life — prepare for it, certainly — but not control it. So after you visualize, research, breathe and rally support, allow yourself to surrender to the fear.
Because often the story in our head is worse than any reality and pushing through the scary stuff can take us to brave and beautiful places we never imagined — like the floor of a crocodile tour boat in the fetal position.