Falling Up: How I Conquered my Fear of Heights (And How You Can Too)
It was time to stop being afraid. It was time to stop missing opportunities, or avoiding situations that I knew would trigger my fear. I was done with that heart-pounding, stomach-clenching fear. Or at least I hoped I would be.
My motivation was a proposed hike down into the Grand Canyon, that spectacular, awe-inspiring, Natural Wonder of the World that I would miss out on if I couldn’t master my fear.
So I cobbled together a plan and put it into action. It got me to my goal and, I hope, will get you to your goal too.
The Plan, Part 1
Fear of heights is about the fear of getting too close and falling, the fear of stumbling and pitching over the edge, the fear, ultimately, of dying. Which is not at all unreasonable! Our primitive brain always seeks self-preservation, so I realized I had to find a way to reassure my brain that I was safe from falling.
My first solution was using props; things that would reassure and/or trick my brain into feeling safe(r). I chose a set of hiking poles. Think about it– A pole in each hand gives you four feet on the ground, not just two! The reassuring “thunk, thunk” of the poles hitting the path really did make me feel more grounded, more safe.
The Plan, Part 2
If you’ve ever stood on the ground and watched a giant roller coaster (which I did a lot because I was too afraid to ride), you’ve noticed that half the riders are waving their arms, grinning like madmen and yelling happily, while the other half are screaming in abject terror. Why does the exact same situation provoke entirely opposite responses in different people? Can we somehow choose which way we respond to certain situations? And can we turn our terror-response into the delighted-response, and learn to respond to heights with exhilaration instead of fear?
To reprogram my brain without an expensive therapist, I turned to my favorite mind control technique, the Mantra– my Mantra. I hoped that if I could pre-condition my brain for the desired response, and keep snapping it back there by regular repetition, I could effectively change my reaction to the situation.
“Joyful…. Grateful…. Exhilarated!” The Mantra I created put a SMILE on my face (it’s harder to feel terrified when you’re smiling); it reminded me to be THANKFUL; and it prompted me to flip my switch from terror to exhilaration.
The Plan, Part 3
When you’re already anxious, surprises aren’t a good thing. Like when you round a corner on the path and the world seemingly drops away over the sheer edge of a cliff! I reasoned that familiarity would be my friend, so I used YouTube to watch every video I could find of the actual trail I would be hiking. (You can find videos of everything on YouTube.)
After multiple views of the really scary bits, I knew the twists and turns of the trail and where I’d find the “surprises.” And sure enough, when I came face to face with one of those sheer drops on the Bright Angel trail, I was ecstatic that I’d actually made it to the spot that seemed so terrifying in my living room. “Here I am, where I thought I’d never be!”
And you can be there too. You don’t need therapy, hypnosis or drugs. You just need to grab hold of your mind, and trick it into submission with:
2. A Mantra;
3. And a little bit of research.
Enjoy the journey! And don’t be afraid to look down.