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Overcoming your fears

When you’re new at something, you think everyone has that thing all figured out already.  It’s a mindset that puts you on your back foot, in retreat mode, when the thing you actually want to do is move forward.

I’ve figured out a way to get myself beyond this, to some results.

Health, and intimidation

A little under a year ago I set a fitness goal for myself – I want to have visible abs.  Realistically, I want to put myself in the best shape of my life.  Desk jobs killed any sense of decent shape I had, and I’ve been bummed about it.

But I’m a nerd.  This should not be surprising to you if you’ve come here, as I mostly talk about technical audio and programming.

I’m not 100% sure how it is for teens today, but when I grew up there were (mostly) nerds and jocks.  If you were a nerd, you tended to lack athleticism and you emotionally/mentally made up for this by being smart or artistic.

I say all of that to explain that the gym is a foreign place that I’m mostly afraid of.  I understand enough about fitness to know that rooms full of machines and treadmills are not intimidating.  But show me the free weight room and I feel like an ant among giants.

But this week I decided that was going to change.

Step 1: Make a commitment to face your fear

I’ve done enough gym work now (my wife and I have had a membership for a few months) that I know what my scrawny arms can lift in regards to dumbbells.  The big scary free weight room with real athletes in it has 4 racks of dumbbells – so I had a place to go.

I decided that I at least needed to walk in, and if nothing else do my “normal” routine (which had gotten near the end of the normal human dumbbell racks) in the room I felt intimidated by.

Step 2: Make a plan to face a trivial amount, ice-breaker level of your fear

So this week, that’s what I did.  I carried my scrawny self into the room I see with such fear because I see myself as unlike everyone else there (lie #1) and I did the lifting I know how to do – right or wrong.

Guess what, I survived!

Step 3: Celebrate the hell out of your small victory

Afterwards I felt great for both working out and facing my fear.  I treated myself to a nice dinner, celebrated, and made plans to go back in 2 days.

I just accomplished the return trip.  Let me tell you what I learned.

Non-trivial observations

As I said before, when we walk into a new situation we assume everyone else has it figured out.

Observation One:

On my return trip to the big scary free weight room, I once again followed Step 2 and had a plan.  This time my plan was focused on me trying to use bar weights I’d never used before, as well as doing lifts I already knew how to do.

A funny thing happened as I did my normal lifts with focus and confidence.  Other people started giving me the looks of fear I normally give others.  Those looks that say “you seem to know what you’re doing here, ugh, I wish I were you!”  Quick confirmation that yes, I’m just like every other semi-in-shape confused guy going to the gym.

Observation Two:

In my head I’ve blown “the weight room” into some impossible mountain to climb.  Something a mere mortal such as myself cannot utilize effectively.

On my first trip in, the goal was to get in the room and lift something, anything.  It didn’t have to be heavy or good.  After a while, I felt less uncomfortable in the room.  Still uncomfortable, but less.

Using small wins like this is a huge deal.  As a beginner, we tend to underestimate small wins and instead stare at the results we desire with fear and jealousy.  Truth is, those results will take word and time to get to.

Observation Three:

On my return trip the room was more empty.  I took the opportunity to try unfamiliar equipment and gave myself the leeway to act as a beginner, sometimes lifting with no weight on a bar.

At one point, I felt people would look at me and laugh in their minds at a guy lifting with no weight.  Realistically, nobody cared.  Everyone starts somewhere, and if nothing else it gets me used to the movement without hurting myself.

Letting yourself look dumb, and be a beginner is an invaluable trait.  As kids we were willing to try anything and didn’t care if we looked stupid or failed in the process.  As you get older the only way to grow is to let yourself be like this again, social anxiety be damned.

And repeat

So I’ve found a formula that works for me:

  • Start with something laughably small.  My goal was to walk into a room and stay there.
  • Realize that everyone starts somewhere, and you’re actually just like most people.
  • Allow yourself to be a beginner, or below average, and fail.  When you fail, you learn and get better.
  • Even if you don’t fail, it’s okay to start with something less difficult.
  • If you keep going, you’ll eventually learn and get to the difficult part you want to get to.

That last point is the big trick from here on out.  With any fear you conquer, you have to keep working at it.

In my case, I need to keep going to the weight room and using new weights and equipment I haven’t used before.  I need to keep lifting and stay until it feels like second nature – and it eventually will be!

This is a process you can learn and use to attack your other fears as well.  Find something that’s scary, start with a piece so small it’s laughable to be intimidated by, and get to work!  Good luck!


Copyright 2016-2017, Adam T. Croft, all rights reserved.