Let’s talk about a life and death scenario. You’re a badass Navy SEAL, kitted out to the teeth, jumping off a helicopter, at night, low over water into a choppy sea. You’re going to have to assemble a raft, paddle to your landing zone and then initiate a risky mission governed by a multitude of factors outside your control.
How do you not freeze right the moment you jump out that helicopter door?
Now, most people here will fall back on recounting SEAL mythology gleaned from a hundred action movies or mention things like “duty”, “adrenaline” and “born risk-takers” and everything said within this context will be wrong. Completely wrong!
Change scenario. You’re a 30-year-old goofball, scared of heights. You find yourself dangling from a craggy rock, 2,000 feet high, with nothing to save you but the strength in your hands and the agility in your feet. How do you not freeze and fall?
Before you even begin to answer that recognize that there is a direct link between the two scenarios. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things, in entirely different contexts and for completely different reasons, end up finding the same neurobiochemical paths to excellence.
Alex Honnold (for those who recognized the description of the person in the second scenario) is the world’s pre-eminent Free Solo Climber. And he’s afraid of heights.
Free Solo Climbers climb up seemingly sheer walls, using only the strength of their hands and feet and shunning the use of all equipment, including safety nets and or ropes. A fall, usually, ends up in death.
Given the magnitude of risk faced in either scenario how is it that seemingly ordinary people can do such extraordinary things so easily? The answer is easier than you think and it lies in the preparation and training that lead up to either of the described scenarios. While each person ends up finding their own path to the place where they can overcome their fears, still their doubts and perform at their peak, the formula that is applied every time is the same:
- Acknowledge the fear that paralyzes you
- Create incremental steps that allow you to challenge it
- Use each challenge to control and overcome it
- Continue to gradually escalate the magnitude of the challenge
- Feel in control of your situation, comfortable in the elements that constitute it
The culmination of the approach is that the dangerous and the unfamiliar suddenly become comfortable. In essence this is a gradual, guided and highly effective recalibration of a person’s “comfort zone”. When you’re in that situation where everything appears to be hanging by a thread, you control next to nothing and the tiniest error could cost you your life, being comfortable with it all allows the brain to function in an entirely different way which, bizarrely enough, seems to guarantee success.
What makes Alex Honnold tick and Navy SEALs function and what we can learn from it is just one of the subjects discussed in The Sniper Mind, currently on special offer at Amazon.
What the science tells us is that when one person can do it, irrespective of just how they managed to get to the position to do it, we all can and we can each find different ways to get there. What most of us usually lack, are three things:
- The belief that we can do something
- The training that enables us to do it
- The mental fortitude to see it through
Here’s the rub: each of these things, which we have been led to believe should come naturally, actually have to be worked on in a structured, incremental way. When that happens, amazing things follow.
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