Getting to know and question your fears – Part 2

Know and face your fears – in Part 2 of Peter’s post we see him facing his fears and learn whether or not he was able to realise his dream of standing on top of a mountain for his birthday.  If you missed Part 1 you can read it here.  

The next afternoon I kept my promise to myself and set off back across the bridge.  Walking across a bridge and back may not seem like a huge goal but it stood large in my mind that afternoon.  I walked to the bridge knowing that I would be afraid but wanting to understand the drivers of my fear rather than just overcome it enough to climb.  It was also a chance to recognise the psychological and physiological reactions I would go through as my fear surfaced so that I could better manage them the next time it occurred.

I was aware of my fear this time, which gave me the chance to go through the 5 steps of learning about my fear.

  1. Experience it
  2. Get to know it
  3. Begin to understand it
  4. Start to accept it, and
  5. Decide whether it is useful to keep around.

The point here is not just to get rid of the fear, though that may occur over time, but rather to get to know all about it.  The final step of deciding whether to keep it around is a very powerful step.  In this decision we either truly own the fear as a part of ourselves and see the benefits it brings, or acknowledge that it is not a part of us and therefore can move away from it without a sense of loss.


How does knowing your fears help you to enjoy your life more? 

I believe that sometimes the difference between enjoying and enduring is our level of preparation and our attitude.  I always prefer to enjoy life rather than just enduring it and by getting to know my fear I had the opportunity to help myself enjoy life even more. Right or wrong, my fears have helped me become the person I am and will shape my future self. By getting to know them intimately and accepting or discarding them I can improve my ability to live my life my preferred way.  I may accept them as a part of my past or as a part of my future but I can’t accept them or free them until I know all about them.

What followed with my bridge experiment was an hour or so of experiencing fear.  Feeling my fear rise to the surface, not trying to control it but rather allow it to be present and run its normal course so I could learn about it.  My biggest battle was trying not to “logic the hell out of it” but rather to experience it and learn from it.  I deliberately stood over gaps in the bridge and looked down and allowed trams to pass me to experience the movement and noise.  I approached the railings looking up and then quickly looked down over the side to increase the effect.  All of this left me in a constant state of fear and shakiness and left me feeling a little weak but also content that I had done what I needed to do.

Here is what I learned about my fear

  1. I have a fear of heights brought on, funnily enough, by being high up on things.
  2. My triggers are being over a large drop, being able to see through a solid structure and movement in the structure I’m on.
  3. The physical manifestations of my fear are increased heart rate, light headedness, tingly legs to mid-thigh, weak legs and a loss of balance.
  4. The mental manifestation of my fear is the belief that the structure is about to fall and the desire to run.  I get irritable and quiet as I deal with the fear.  I need things to be simple, my focus narrows to immediate issues (I certainly don’t make long-term plans or engage in complex conversations at this stage).

Regardless of the reason for the birth of this fear I think it actually makes sense to me.  As a climber, a number of the dangers I face come in the form of falling off something, through something or being hit by something.  Falling from a rock climb or down an ice covered slope are common dangers found in climbing.  When I travel over glaciers or through crevasse fields if I can see through the snow I’m walking on (called an ice bridge) this is a sign that the snow is not very strong and I’m in danger of falling into a crevasse.  Movement in the snow and ice while climbing indicates an avalanche.

The other thing I realised is that how I respond to my fear triggers is very much decided by what I am doing at the time.  While walking across the bridge in ideal conditions and safety, my response was to be very scared and want to run.  There was no real danger but my fear response was quite strong.  When presented with these dangers when I’m climbing my response is very different.  At that stage I am focussed on my safety and the safety of my climbing partners.  Think, act, overcome, get safe!  Since I accept that danger is an inherent part of climbing, I evaluate it and then make a decision on which way to progress or go back.  In this case where there is actual danger I am not generally scared but rather focussed on getting safe and continuing to climb.


Will you defeat your fear or is it useful in your life?

In this case, having experienced my fear in a safe place, getting to know it a little more and then understanding how I react to it in different circumstance, I decided it is actually a fairly useful fear to have around.  Over time I will control my reactions to it when I am safe but I don’t want to get rid of it entirely.  At its most basic this fear keeps me safe.  It also has the added bonus of giving me an adrenaline rush when I am doing things like rock climbing, bungy jumping and skydiving and so it plays a part in me enjoying my life as well.  Having undertaken my bridge experiment I believe that I am on my way to being able to step out of my well worn fear response  and be better prepared next time I find myself unexpectedly up high.


So did I get to summit on my Birthday?


Summit of mountain
At the Summit – I made it. Thanks to Jon Sanz Guide for the photo.

Happily enough, a few days later my increased self-awareness and an exceptional local guide all came together to help me summit Mt Mulhacen.  We did so in unseasonal snow, and extreme cold and blizzard conditions on the summit.  My guide took me off the beaten track and showed me things on the mountain that I wouldn’t have had a chance to see if I went on the usual course.  In summiting that day I fulfilled a long held dream of standing on top of a summit on my birthday – something that has me smiling still – and learning about my fear played a major part in reaching the summit.

Do you have a goal that one of your fears is keeping you from fulfilling? 

What would knowing your fears allow you to do?  

Now is the time to discover something new about yourself and enjoy the new opportunities it brings.     

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.



7 Steps to Celebrating your Successes

Here’s some great tips on how to celebrate your success – from Peter McFadyen.  It’s coming up to that time where we want to look at what worked and what didn’t work for us in 2018 and celebrate what we achieved.  

A tip given to me constantly through leadership training over the years has been the importance of celebrating success. This allows you the opportunity to pause, to recognise what you have achieved and to feel good about it. It focusses you on what capabilities and opportunities have contributed to your success, whether or not you are still on target to reach your ultimate goal and provides motivation to keep heading down the path you are on. In a team environment it can build a combined passion and commitment for the work to come, while in an individual sense it can build resolve and purpose and allow you space to take stock of where you are in your journey.

Given we are on the edge of a new year, it’s a great time to have a look at our successes and celebrate them.

The steps to do this are fairly straight forward:

1) Take stock of where you are now.
2) Look honestly at where you began.
3) Capture what the key development stages were.
4) Note what capabilities and opportunities contributed to your success.
5) See what benefits you have received by doing the work you have done.
6) Check to see if you are still on the right path and how it looks into the future.
7) Commit this stage of your journey to some sort of stored form so that you can celebrate it again later and use it to help with future development.

Over the years as I have worked to grow and be aware of who I am I have often turned to poetry as a way of undertaking stage seven of that process. Poetry allows me to capture my thoughts succinctly and honestly. I find that this format allows me a space where, though I may be confronted by the truth I choose to face, it is written in such a way that I am able to take in on board and enjoy the journey it describes.

I had the good fortune, many years ago, to come across a poem by Portia Nelson entitled “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters.” This is undoubtedly one of the most powerful poems I have ever read and I encourage you to read it as it sums up the journey of self-awareness and development in very few words. I love its simplicity, its directness and, in my case, its applicability to my approach to life at the time I read it and since that time. The following poem is unashamedly based on Portia’s work and it allowed me the opportunity to reflect on the changes I had seen in myself and to celebrate that success. It is called “I look in the mirror.”

mirror and sky

I look in the Mirror

I look in the mirror

I look in the mirror and what do I see?
Am I happy with who’s looking back at me?
I decide yes, my look is okay,
I have no issues, not me, no way!
I take ego into the world today.

I look in the mirror and what do I see?
Am I happy with who’s looking back at me?
I decide no, something’s not right,
My hair won’t sit straight and my clothes are too tight!
I take discomfort into the world today.

I look in the mirror and what to I see?
Am I happy with who’s looking back at me?
I’m really not sure for when looking at me,
Old wrongs and past hurts often cloud what I see.
I take pain into the world today.

I look in the mirror and what do I see?
Am I happy with who’s looking back at me?
I think of the future and not my reflection,
My vision is clouded by my introspection.
I take uncertainty into the world today.

I look in the mirror and what do I see?
Am I happy with who’s looking back at me?
I live more in the present, and find bit by bit,
The kind of reflection into which I can fit.
I take peace in to the world today.

I look in the mirror and what do I see?
Am I happy with who’s looking back at me?
My reflection now shows the values I live,
I can now see a person I’m prepared to forgive.
I take kindness into the world today.

I look in the mirror and what do I see?
Am I happy with who’s looking back at me?
I am!
I see me!
I take acceptance into the world today.

I no longer need the mirror!

Have you celebrated your success recently or are you working so hard at achieving that you have not taken the time? Now is a great time to acknowledge what you have already accomplished, to check in with where you are headed and to re-commit to your journey.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

Getting to know, and question, your fears – Part 1

Have you taken the time to get to know your fears? 

All of us have fears.  Some are evolutionary fears, like the fear of the dark and looming objects. We see horror movies making the most of these fears through selective lighting and “jump scares.” Some fears are more personal fears brought on by an experience, often early in life, that then stay with us submerged in our hearts and minds.  These fears can be fears inherited from our family history or shared experience.  Some of these fears seem to be logical fears (the fear of snakes for instance) and some seem less logical (the fear of butterflies). Regardless of how we gained them, these fears are a part of us and can be triggered without warning.  What follows then is usually a trip down a well prepared response path including physical, mental and emotional reactions

As we progress down the path of living mindfully it becomes important to question all of our unthinking reactions and our fears often fall into this category.  Often our fear exists in the background waiting for a trigger and in those cases it can spring upon us quite suddenly and with great intensity.  Before we know it we have reacted without thought and then our mood, our day and possibly the days of those around us have been affected. Yet often we don’t know why we react and simply accept our fears as an ever present part of our lives.


Know your fears

Can your fears be a positive presence in your life? 

One of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves is to get to know our various fears and understand our “pre-programmed” reaction to them.  In this case we can view our fears as an opportunity to get to know ourselves better rather than something that is negative and to be avoided.  It can lead not only to self-exploration but also discussions with family to discover the long lost reasons for reacting a certain way or avoiding certain circumstances.  This then presents an opportunity to be free of ingrained behaviours or at least to be more understanding of ourselves when we do react in a certain way.   

To use myself as an example, one of my enduring fears is my fear of heights.  This fear develops in most children once they begin to move around more on their own.  In my case I believe that this was enhanced by a few early childhood events which has increased my reaction.  Over many years this reaction has become ingrained and I simply accepted it for a long time as a “normal” part of my life.  This fear can cause me discomfort if I find myself suddenly exposed to heights but it can also greatly increase my enjoyment of life by adding an adrenaline rush to my activity or by giving me a sense of accomplishment as I work through the fear to achieve my goals. 

While on holiday recently I was walking across a high multi-use bridge, in order to see the sights on the other side.  In the distance I could see a tram coming towards me and so I moved away from the tracks.  As I crossed away from the tram’s path I happened to look down and realised I could see through the bridge.  At the same time the bridge began to wobble and sway due to the motion of the oncoming tram.  My reaction to this combination of events was to become literally “weak at the knees” as my fear suddenly leapt into being.  I felt light headed, my legs grew tingly and weak, my heart rate accelerated and I found myself fighting against my fear and not enjoying myself as I had been only seconds before.

I was amazed at the strength of my reaction and so took a moment to explore what had happened.  I was faced with the logic that it was a strong, metal bridge, over which travelled the city trams on a regular basis. In another more reactive part of my brain I was trying to deal with the sure knowledge that the bridge was going to collapse and I needed to turn and run as fast as I could.  Needless to say I was very happy to get to the other side of the bridge and on the return journey we walked across a lower level and my fear did not resurface. 


bridge and shoes
Know your fear – mine is heights

What opportunities does your fear give you?

Having crossed back with no issues I reasoned that I had an excellent opportunity to better understand my fear and so hopefully reduce my reaction to it.  This was not just for personal learning and development, but also driven by the fact that I would be climbing the highest peak in Iberia in a week and I really need to prepare myself if I was to be able to complete, and more importantly enjoy, that climb.  Exposure to heights is a process I go through before every climb and normally over a period of months I can become comfortable enough with heights to get onto a mountain, after which my love of climbing comes to the fore and I am fine.  In this case I had only days to overcome my newly awakened fear so that I could undertake the climb – and so the challenge was set. 

The first step to achieving this goal was in answering the following questions.  We can all ask ourselves these questions as we begin to explore our fears and continue down our path of self-knowledge and acceptance:

Do you really know what your fears are?

Do you know why you have them?

Are you prepared to get to know them better?

How could you explore them in a way which still leaves you feeling safe?

What benefits would you receive through knowing your fears?

In part two of this blog next week I’ll take you through the process I undertook to answer these questions and you’ll find out whether or not I was able to come to terms with my fear and reach the summit!  

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

Peter McFadyen

Why you should take yourself on a date

I see you over there. Glancing at me with that ‘I feel sorry for you’ look on your face. Stop it. Don’t feel sorry for me.

I see you staring. Wondering why I’m dining alone. I can almost see the pity on your face.

Even though I actually really love to dine alone, in the past from time to time, I’d still take a book because I cared that other people might think I was a Nigel no friends and didn’t have anyone to eat with.

These days – well, I don’t care. But people still stare at me.

The truth is, sometimes I prefer to eat alone. In fact, its part of my self care routine.  Every Friday (well almost every Friday) I take myself to lunch, by myself, at one of the many cafes near my office. I cherish this time to myself. Sometimes I’ll take a book and have a read, but mostly I just sit and people watch and enjoy my food and just….well….just be.


lunch alone self care
Lunch alone – a form of self care

Not always of course. I’m a people person. I love people. My people. New people.  I love me too, and I’ve learnt over the years to love my own company.

When I travel, I love nothing more than exploring a new city and finding somewhere to have my dinner – alone. Of course, not every night, but some nights. I find it re-energises me.

So stop staring at me like I have two heads. I can see you doing it even though you’re trying to pretend you’re not. Seriously, don’t feel sorry for me – I am in one of my happy places right here, right now, eating my food, sitting in the sun and enjoying my ‘me’ time.


When was the last time you took yourself on a date?

Annually I also take myself away on a silent meditation retreat for 6 days. There are other people there of course, and the thing that keeps me coming back is that no-one can speak to me – for 6 whole days! I can see as I write this that it might sound a little selfish, or crazy.


mediation self care
Self care and self inquiry through silence

Now I love a good chat, probably more than the next person, and I love connecting with people, and I also love this 6 days in silence, where I don’t speak to anyone and no-one speaks to me.

I’m starting to realise that I’m not an either/or person, but rather an ‘and’ person. I love eating with friends and also alone, I enjoy 6 days of silence and I enjoy connecting with people.

It’s all about balance.


When was the last time you took yourself away?

When was the last time you took some time to get to know yourself?

I highly recommend taking yourself on a date once in a while and even, if you’re up for it, taking yourself away from time to time.

And if you get the ‘I feel sorry for you eating/holidaying alone’ look, just smile back knowing that you’re doing what you want to do, spending quality time with yourself, getting to know yourself better and letting yourself just ‘be’ for a while.

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.