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Facing Your Fear: A Step-by-Step Guide

How smaller steps can set you up for a big leap

What does fear feel like?

The last time I felt fear’s grip was on a trip to Mexico. I was attending a retreat with my performance coach Hina Khan. Four days designed to remove limiting beliefs. I put painful memories to rest, reframed negative thoughts and felt a renewed belief my wildest dreams are coming true — and quickly.

On the final day, the group spent an afternoon at a cenote; a large sinkhole formed in limestone.

There were two ways to enter: a wooden staircase or a cliff, about 20 feet high.

A lifelong crippling fear of heights made my decision for me: I took the stairs and cheered my fellow community members as they jumped from the cliff into the pool.

Then I heard a voice inside me say: “Know what would make this experience perfect? If you jump too.”

In our work we talk about not overcoming fear, but putting fear in its place. Hina tells us “what you resist persists”.

A lifetime of fighting my fear only strengthened its grip. I’ve never lived above the 8th floor. I feel high-rises move if I’m above the 15th floor. And if I’m on a balcony, I feel as if it will collapse or I’ll be sucked over the edge by an invisible force. A completely irrational fear that kept me from literally reaching new heights was trying to do it again. This time, I had a plan.

“Are you ready to jump now?” asked one of our cenote guide.

“Yep,” I said, barely able to convince myself I walked to the highest point.

I felt the pull in my heart first. Then my stomach. I tried tip­toeing closer to the edge and felt the invisible pull at my wrists. Then my feet felt cemented in place. No part of my brain could fathom jumping from this ledge. Even after I watched countless others leap with by and land safely. My brain would not go there.

In our work, we talk about how what you resist persists. Fighting the fear would only make it stronger. I needed to negotiate new terms.

The cenote had three levels to jump from. So I walked back to the start.

“Can I jump from here?” I asked the guide.

“Yes,” he said uncertainly. “Just make sure you avoid these rocks.”

Sure enough, the lowest launch pad was also near a shallow section marked by jagged limestone rocks.

The irony was not lost on me — the lowest point was also the most dangerous.

I jumped into the water and survived.

I jumped from the next highest level and survived that one too.

As I set my sights on the highest platform, I prepared to face my fear again.

Only this time it was gone.

I reached the top and jumped right in without hesitation.

We’re taught to believe when you’re reaching for a goal, you need to jump from the highest point feet first. And only the strong will power through fears and doubts. But fear does not give up easily.

Instead of fighting, I negotiated.

My fear didn’t want to deal with the highest point. No problem. We tried a lower point and survived (save for scraping my calf on limestone).

I know we’ll have to talk again. And now I know it’s open to suggestions.

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