Blog · Aug 25, 2015

Fear is not a Stop Sign – Overcoming Fears

Your brain stops you from overcoming fears.

Harriet Beveridge, co-author of ‘Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?” shares how she used the book’s strategies to make a splash at the Edinburgh Fringe with her Stand Up Comedy show this year. In this post she looks at how, if we want to achieve our goals, we often have to feel the fear and do it anyway.

In the book, ‘Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?’ Ben confesses that he was often physically sick with nerves before a race. His kind and supportive crewmates would take the mick out of him and ask him if he was pregnant…


Overcoming your inner caveman

How many times have you had that feeling of dread in your stomach? The desire to run away and hide? How often has it stopped you from doing something you wanted to do? The sad truth is that, although we may be wandering around with smartphones and microfleeces and all matter of 21st century wizardry, we are still living in pretty much the same design of body as our caveman ancestors did, thousands of years ago. That feeling of fear was very useful when our ancestors needed to run away from a woolly mammoth, but our brains today aren’t very good at noticing the difference between a physical danger and a perceived, psychological threat.

For example, I have just finished a week of comedy shows at Edinburgh, and about to embark on another. So far no-one in the audience has stabbed me, no-one has punched me when I’ve handed them a flyer in the street, none of the reviewers have turned up with a gun, and I am making the bold guess that we’ll be free from physical violence next week too.  But every blummin day my body is using the same unpleasant warning mechanisms it would if I were facing a woolly mammoth about to kill me.


Dealing with the dread

My kind, well-meaning body is merely saying ‘Are you prepared? Because this might be dangerous’. If I interpreted this as a ‘STOP!’ I wouldn’t be here. It is a life-long ambition to be playing at the Fringe and how sad would that be? To confuse an, ‘Are you prepared?’ with ‘Don’t do this!’

But how do we deal with than unpleasant dread so that we can move forward and make our goals a reality? I want to remember 50 minutes worth of jokes and deliver them cheerfully, not vomit on my audience or run off stage in terror. I’m finding four things are helping to deal with my caveman urges:

  • I need to chat with the ‘caveman’ part of my brain to reassure it that I am controlling the controllables. I have checked the microphone, I have distributed the flyers, I have written the gags – I have taken all sensible precautions against ‘woolly mammoths’.
  • I need to actively choose what to focus on, rather than let my caveman mind wander. I am lucky to be here, how chuffed will I be when I’ve done this? Focus on overcoming fears and remember how fit I will be at the end of this (oh my God, how big are Edinburgh’s hills when you spend a day flyering!!??)
  • I need to do some physical things to deal with all the ‘run away chemicals’ caveman is pumping into me: steady breathing, listening to calm music, gentle walking, and so on.
  • Remember that fear isn’t a stop sign, it’s just a gateway. Imagine getting to security in an airport and turning back because you’ve reached a checkpoint? That would be nuts! If you’ve got your tickets and you know where you want to go then, even if you feel the fear: DO IT ANYWAY…
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