The instinctive response to uncertainty, and fear is to AVOID it, retreating back from this 'edge'. But we can overcome this urge, choosing instead to APPROACH (with caution), to look more closely at what it is we are afraid of, and establish more control over the feelings associated. For over the edge lie possibilities not seen from a safe position further back...
In my blogs I put forward ideas from Adventure Psychology to help people figure a way to thrive in uncertain times, and make sense of the crazy world. By adopting an Adventure Mindset (I'll gradually reveal how) you can approach the challenges of life with an adaptable resolve, and embrace the chaos knowing full well that it's a wild ride so you might as well enjoy it!
“Edges can be of great psychological impetus to ‘push back’ on and thereby develop resilience, and a ‘mastery’ of one’s own fears, overcoming reticence to push forward in life – especially into the unknown, or into situations that are risky, or requirement strong commitment."
Approaching fear...and taking control at the edge of the unknown
When wandering off the path, sooner or later you could find yourself at an impasse. The path stops, abruptly. It’s the point where the ground drops away: the cliff edge, or where the river plunges over the side as a mighty waterfall into a churning pool far below.
We’ve all seen the films. Arnie, or Sly, or whomever the latest action hero is, takes a step back, a deep breath and charges over the edge…plummeting into the turbulent waters and emerging triumphant, unscathed. Or clattering through the branches of a tree eventually coming to rest, alive. But with a nasty laceration that needs self-stitching...
As the hero in your own narrative how do you view the cliff edge? Is it something to shrink back from (avoid) or a place where in fact your senses heighten, the exposure thrills and stimulates and you feel compelled to get even closer (approach)?
As someone who ‘hangs about’ quite literally with people who specialise in jumping off perilous edges (BASE jumpers), I have a thing or two to say about what this represents psychologically, and how one might approach edges to positive ends from an #adventuremindset perspective.
Many people experience a strong visceral reaction to being near to drops. It’s totally natural, and healthy! Indeed, it might surprise to know that many people who spend their time in close proximity to vertical drops also profess that same fear. BASE jumpers tell me often that this is the case! The relief comes after committing to getting away from the edge, albeit in a forward direction not in retreat!
Edges can be of great psychological impetus to ‘push back’ on and thereby develop resilience, and a ‘mastery’ of one’s own fears, overcoming reticence to push forward in life – especially into the unknown, or into situations that are risky, or requirement strong commitment.
What is it that we fear at the edge?
A feeling of not being in control (and therefore at the whims of forces that might push one over that edge)?
Certainly, being in the vicinity of a place where a faltering step could have severe consequences does place one at risk, and that will of course weigh on the mind, amplify one’s sensitivity and potentially hamper decision making. But remember we can mitigate risk and take precautionary steps to ensure that we do not suddenly slip from the path and career into the beyond.
To address the second point, we can put certain strictures in place to increase control over the situation. We take greater care, act with deliberation and caution. Most importantly we pay attention to our surroundings and accommodate this when navigating our path. The environment therefore helps us do this as it makes the hazards explicit. It’s always a good practice when progressing forth in life to take stock of one’s surroundings – has something changed?, am I where I think I am and should be?, is there anything else out there that I should notice and which can hinder my progress, or indeed facilitate it (an opportunity)? This is often something we fail to do, but being at the cliff edge it’s quite easy! Indeed you may be unable to do anything but pay attention to your surroundings!!
In order to assert more control over your fears you need to give them the respect they would apparently deserve. Instead of shying away from them and going out of your way to avoid encountering their source, sometimes you can approach them and calmly observe them in their preferred habitat.
Approaching the edge of a cliff, you can take certain measures that establish control over the situation. Wearing a parachute might be overkill (unless you fully intend to use it) but tying a rope around your waist (and a tree) can help immensely! Some knowledge about how to protect yourself in this predicament is worth its weight in gold!
I grew up with a fear of heights, inherited from childhood trauma when presented with a big drop at an early age. Nevertheless, I came to be driven to seek out drops, exposure, and to willfully place myself in positions where I could review what it is/was about such situations that bothered me so much.
I also made sure to ‘learn the ropes’, and of course spend a good deal of time dangling off precipitous edges whilst observing those ‘loonies’ (so-called, but not accurate) who leap off these edges with their parachutes!
I still have that reservation (avoid-impulse) each time I approach an edge, tie myself on and lower myself gingerly.
As with many things in life that you anticipate, once committed ‘over the edge’ one wonders ‘what was all the fuss about’ and comes to enjoy being in a lofty perch.
Similarly, I watch my BASE-jumping associates approach the edge nervously and go through their own rituals and practices that help them overcome this human tendency to ‘avoid’ doing this sort of thing. Then I ‘see’ something akin to a moment of composure as the rumination, mental rehearsal, reticence fades away and is replaced by a forward drive that activates an ‘approach’ mindset. Action takes precedence over thinking and skills built over many years come to the fore.
Fear of falling is quite possibly a false, illusory notion. When all is said and done, what is more exhilarating, life-affirming than falling – we love this as youngsters, being thrown into the air by a doting parent (and hopefully caught, with cries of “AGAIN! AGAIN!”). More likely, it’s the fear of impact with a hard surface, and the fear of that unknown which precedes the occurrence itself. Again, as with seeking out edges, and attempting to mitigate against a loss of control, likewise the specialist in falling (BASE jumpers, cliff divers, sky divers and so on) will seek out the context in which one can revel in doing so. It’s the preceding point of deciding to commit which likely causes all the stress!
As we build our #adventuremindset by wandering off the beaten track and beginning to see how it all maps out, let us incorporate into the mix this desire to seek out the things that stimulate fear. We can learn to enjoy being in their presence whilst mitigating some of the uncertainty, and that lack of control which at the end of the day is really what we are afraid of. Then, as we become more comfortable in their presence we can begin to push ourselves closer to (and eventually over) the edge, where life-affirming things can happen!
See you at the bottom!