You’re Not As Scared As You Think You Are

My friend Amy has never wanted to go skydiving. Not once.

She’s not your typical risk-taking type. She’s more likely to be the one holding coats and purses at Six Flags than the one waiting in line for the Tower of Terror. But a few years ago several of her friends were going, and she was on this kick where she was trying to take more chances, and the tickets just happened to be on sale that day—

scared
Photo Credit: Morgan Sherwood, Creative Commons

So she decided she was going to give it a try. My practical, pragmatic, feet-are-better-left-on-the-ground friend Amy was going to jump out of a plane.

What happened next is almost laughable (especially since I’m not who was jumping out of the plane).

The anxiety started to ramp up while she was still on the ground. You have to get all suited up—with a helmet and one of those little jumpsuits and who knows what else—and then you have to wait in line for your turn to go up in the plane.

So you just have all this time to think.

Think about what could possibly happen to you if the chute doesn’t open. Think about how terrifying its going to be. Think about what you should have said to your friends and family in case you don’t make it out alive.

Amy said her breath started to shorten, and she actually felt a little sick.

The instructors tried to calm her, but it wasn’t much use. Even watching groups of people come back to the base, safe and sound, didn’t do much to allay her concerns. Her heart was racing and she was watching the sky praying it would suddenly start to rain so she could go home and get into bed.

Once she was up in the plane, the feeling only got worse.

Adrenaline was pumping through her veins, and the plane was tiny and wavering back and forth, which made her feel even more sick to her stomach. She told us later she wondered what would happen if she barfed on the instructor on the way down, but even as she sat there panicking, she told herself: “Well, I’m up here. I guess there’s no turning back now.”

From the time the plane took off, to the time she jumped, was probably only 45 minutes. But it was the longest 45 minutes of her life.

It felt like hours. Days. Years.

But then the craziest things happened. Amy jumped.

And what happens in the story next shouldn’t surprise you, but it surprised me a little, knowing her. From the minute her feet left the airplane, all of the anxiety and terror she had once felt subsided. It was pure, unadulterated joy. This is Amy we’re talking about—my sensible, down-to-earth, “I’ll-hold-your-coats-while-you-go-on-the-ride” friend.

It was smooth-sailing the whole way down.

From my perspective, this story could be about anything.

It could be about Skydiving—or it could be about starting a business, having a baby, getting married, quitting your job, moving overseas, discovering your child has a learning disability, resolving a conflict, repairing a relationship, breaking up with a girlfriend/boyfriend—and still, the outcome would still be the same.

The ramp-up to each of these things is always so much more terrifying than the event itself.

In fact, maybe we aren’t scared of the event at all. Maybe we’re just scared of being scared of the event. And then, once we have a chance to face our fear like my friend Amy did, and we overcome it, we realize we are actually so much more brave than we ever knew.

There’s actually a term for this.

I discovered it while I was reading Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath, in which he discusses what one psychologist calls “affective forecasting.” Affective forecasting is our tendency to predict ahead of time how we are going to feel about a particular situation.

Unfortunately, according to Gladwell and his research, we do a terrible job of predicting our future feelings about things.

We tend to underestimate how much we will enjoy things, overestimate how difficult things will be, and when it comes to fear, we’re far more scared of feeling scared than we are of any given circumstance.

When, as it turns out, all we need to do to get to joy is exactly what Amy did—let our feet leave the floor, and jump.

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Allison Fallon

I write books. I help people write books. I believe a regular practice of writing can change your life.

22 thoughts on “You’re Not As Scared As You Think You Are”

  1. It must be a mid-life sort of thing since (on a smaller scale) my wife decided she wanted to try bungee jumping. A carnival sort of setup had a trampoline/bungee-cord activity and she went for it. She loved it! Now she’s trying to find a trapline (have I got that right…a ride where you roll down a rope hanging onto a wheel and dangling over space)!

  2. I agree Allison. That is a good word. I am terrified of sharks and grizzly bears. So much so that it has kept me from experiencing the pleasure of swimming in the ocean or a quiet walk alone in the woods or mountains for fear I would encounter such a beast. The truth is, as I was meditating on this fear, I realized that I was not really afraid of these creatures but the encounter of one of them. I was fearful of experiencing the anxiety, and terror that comes from the vulnerability of being out of control. So in my stupidity, I have robbed myself from the experiences of life and instead chose to live out my fears over and over in my mind every time I thought about what could happen. I feared experiencing loss or being out of control and yet that is what I feel every time I chose to meditate with an undisciplined thought life. I HAVE experienced encountering a grizzly bear. I HAVE experienced encountering a shark (the fin would be enough for me). I experience those encounters every time I take the bait and meditate on this fear. So what is the worst thing that could happen? I could actually feel what I have already felt only I wouldn’t be a prisoner held captive from encountering life. I miss out on the thrill of embracing the waves, or taking in the quiet solitude of being out in the wild with my Creator. Truth is, we are only given the grace for the moment. We cannot borrow grace from the future. God tells us His grace is sufficient for us and that grace will be there when we need it and not before. So in reality, I am choosing to experience the worst fear possible without His grace. Pretty stupid when you think about it. Might as well enjoy life and IF the encounter arises, know that I am not alone and that His grace will meet me in that moment. Now if I can take my own advice and give up the ridiculous and undisciplined meditations and “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” I can stop being a prisoner in my own life. If it doesn’t pass His test of a worthy thought, then trash it and jump in the water.
    Blessings
    Rebecca

  3. Good for Amy – skydiving was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Glad she overcame her natural nerves and had the thrill. I was a little nervous until it came time to exit the plane, at which time fear finally set in (hint: don’t look down). Fortunately I didn’t have much time to think about it! Highly recommend it.

  4. Affective forecasting… That is EXACTLY what I do for everything. It is what keeps me from making decisions, and sticking to decisions when I do make them (if I make them!). I guess I just need to jump… Is anyone ever completely sure about their decisions before making them?? I guess we have to weigh what we will gain from it against what we have to let go of to do it.

  5. Rebecca, I liked what you said about taking every thought captive.
    My family lived in bush-Alaska for a number of years and my mom went through something very similar.
    On a practical note: take a dog with you when you hike. They will smell the bear, alert you of the danger and bears hate the sound of barking.
    It’s good to face our fears with preparation .
    God bless you .

  6. Story. Of. My. Life.

    I have an almost paralyzing fear of some things. No, it’s really an ACTUALLY paralyzing fear.

    How silly this is. I know it’s silly. Still, it’s hard.

    Thank you for writing this.

  7. I believe the urge and the motivation to do the activity is more challenging than the actual activity. You get the courage to do the activity then you’re more than likely going to like the outcome that you get. 9 times out of 10 you will enjoy it!

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