Over the last few years I have read mostly business, productivity and agile-related books that have helped me at work. This year, I have made it a priority to try to read more and to read more widely, from a variety of genres.
Last night I finished reading The Fear Bubble by former Special Boat Service (SBS) operator Ant Middleton.
In between chapters describing his ascent of Mount Everest (in Tibetan, Chomolungma) where he went searching for fear, for that edge where he knew he was pushing himself to the limit, Middleton explains the approach to dealing with fear that he found helped get him through his four years in the British special forces.
He calls method for harnessing fear ‘the fear bubble’. Being inside this fear bubble is exhausting, it is draining. So, Middleton broke things down into smaller chunks. He imagined only the areas where he was under a direct threat to be within these fear bubbles. Everything else was outside. There he was safe. There was no need to feel afraid, no need for that extra burst of adrenaline, no need for his pulse to be racing.
Once he had imagined the fear bubble, he would prepare to enter it, he would step inside, feel his body respond with a shot of adrenaline—the fight or flight response—he’d carry out what he needed to do, and as soon as the area was clear he would imagine the bubble burst. He was now safe again.
“That visualisation changed everything. Fear was no longer a vague, fuzzy concept with the power to utterly overwhelm me like an endless store. Fear was a place. And fear was a time. That place was not here. And that time was not now. It was over there. I could see it. Shimmering and glinting and throbbing and grinding […] all I had to do was step into it.” (p.44)
That became his approach to dealing with these moments of fear: moving from bubble to bubble. In, act, out, feel a wave of pleasure, pop!, repeat.
Sometimes he’s step into the bubble but fear would overtake him. His feet would be glued to the spot. He couldn’t move forward. Time to step back out of the bubble. Take a moment and try again, sometimes two or three times.
“When you manage to harness the power of your own fear and go looking for bubbles to pop, amazing things begin to happen.” (p.53)
Middleton describes life as being like living in a corridor that’s lined with doors to new possibilities. Each door, he says, is frightening to open, and so most people choose to step back from them and do not open these opportunities for us to grow.
“Whenever we muster the courage to step through them, we emerge into a new and better corridor, one that’s lined with even more doors that are even scarier to open. Becoming the person we want to be, with the life we’ve always dreamed of living, is simply a matter of developing the courage to open more doors.” (p.56)
Funnily enough, this is the third book this week that I have read that has spoken about the importance of awareness and living in the moment.
He speaks about the importance of being brutally honest with yourself about your weakness. Sit in front of a mirror, he says, and look at yourself. Be honest about your weaknesses. It is that honesty and awareness that will enable you to work on these things and grow. It is that awareness that allows you to push yourself so that you know your limits.
Middleton also addresses our human tendency of feeling victimised when things go badly and offers an approach to deal with it.
First acknowledge the negative event that has happened. Feel the pain, don’t resist or deny it. Be brutally honest about your situation and your part in it.
Second, process it. Understand what the problem is and what it is not. Don’t catastrophise it. Understand why it happened. And own it. Take responsibility for your response, even if it wasn’t your fault that it happened. We cannot control other people but we can control our response.
Third, move on healthily with a positive mindset. Don’t look back. No bitterness or vengefulness or hate. Move forward.
I like Middleton’s fear bubble technique. I wish I had known this before, it could have got me through many situations.
I have come close to forming a similar technique in the past without quite reaching it. There have been moments when I have felt fear even when I have been in a place of absolute safety.
“Why do I fear afraid now?” I’ve asked myself. “It makes no sense. I am safe here.”
Occasionally, I have managed to internalise the calm outwith the situation. Many times I haven’t. If I’d had this technique of imagining the fear bubble surrounding the event or task, that would have really helped.
Since being introduced to this technique a few weeks ago, I have been trying to use it in my daily life. So far, I’m finding it effective.
And easy to remember: Kick open the door! Loot the room! Charity!
Oh, hang on! No! That’s the rules of the board game Munchkin.
Imagine the fear bubble. Step into the bubble. Act. Feel the satisfaction of having achieved your goal. Step out of the bubble and watch it pop!
It’s the same steps as building good habits: cue, routine, reward.
I’m going to keep on using this technique and see where it leads me. Now, where’s the next bubble to pop?