“You’re so brave”. “You’re fearless”. On Instagram people think I am scared of nothing.
From a distance, what I do seems dangerous and/or brave. I balance on rocks. Sometimes on one arm. I do flips on concrete. I do handstands on everything. I’m “fearless”.
But up close, what my InstaFriends don’t see is how long it takes me to get there. How certain I need to be in order to do the thing. How confident I need to be such that if it goes wrong I know my escape route.
I am scared of everything.
I learned a back handspring when I was 6. When I was 7 I stopped halfway through the skill and landed on my head. I don’t remember pain but after that moment I was terrified of going backwards. I had a complete mental block. For about 2 or 3 years. I had no idea how to make my body do what I had previously been able to do so easily.
My coach took me through all the progressions. I was still scared.
I spent about 2 years trying to overcome the fear. I repeated the movement patterns hundreds of times until I trusted that my body knew how to do it. Trusting that my body knew how to make me land on my hands and then on my feet.
Dani Almeyda (Original Strength genius) explains fear beautifully, “Whether its fear of what others will think, fear of trying something new, fear of simplicity, or straight up fear of failure or pain, fear is a threat to us... a thread of doubt placed into our minds.”
And it is this doubt that blocked me from jumping backwards. Would I make it to my feet?
We have all experienced moments where we do not trust that our bodies can do what we want to do. Will my arms stay straight when I kick to handstand? If I jump will I make it to the other side?
So how do you build that trust in yourself? As I said earlier, I am scared of everything. But I have had a lot of practice in learning how to trust myself.
Here are 5 tips for building trust in yourself and overcoming fear
Build confidence that you are physically capable of doing the skill
When I ask handstand students “what are you scared of?”, they tell me they are scared of moving away from the wall. But they are not scared of kicking up, finding balance and then stepping down in control. So, I ask them to be more specific. “I am scared of falling over”, “I am scared of falling on my back”, “I’m scared of falling on a kitten”. Of course they are.
The first step away from the wall is not balancing away from the wall. The first step away from the wall is learning how to fall.
Once my students are confident that they can bail and make it to their feet that fear usually disappears.
I say usually because sometimes that is not enough. Knowing logically that you are capable and actually trusting yourself are not always the same thing. When I was 7 I knew that physically I was able to do a back handspring. I just couldn’t make myself do it.
Train your brain and nervous system to let go
Dani talks about how fear can inhibit change in behavior and even organ function. It messes up the way your body moves and works.
She helps people by teaching them how to press reset and get into a parasympathetic state. According to Dani simple movements such as diaphragmatic breathing, rocking, and contralateral movements have a way of relaxing the brain and the body and providing some clarity. Once the individual’s brain and nervous system lets go and resets, the fears will be overcome.
This reminded me of something I used to do as a teenager in gymnastics. I would hide out at the bottom of the high bar pit (a 6ft hole in the ground), look at the ceiling and just breathe. Two minutes of breathing was usually enough to calm me down to the point where my body and brain were able to perform the movement that I was frightened of.
3-2-1 Fuck This Shit
Throughout my gymnastics career I had many mental blocks. Aerials on the beam, blind change on the bar and craziest of all was jumping onto a springboard. My brain would try to overthink the movement and I would be stuck. Over time I learned that the only way to get past them was to focus on one small thing. Sometimes it was the first step of the movement. Sometimes it was a weird ritual with my toes before I ran at the vault. But I wouldn’t be thinking about the entire skill. I was focusing on one thing and trusting that my body knew how to execute the skill.
At the Women’s Movement Collaborative event Julie Angel (author and Parkour coach) kept telling people to stop thinking. At some point you just need to go for it. The phrase, “3-2-1 Fuck This Shit” became a group catch phrase as we all stepped outside our comfort zones jumping from one bench to another.
Learn lots of new movements
When my niece was 3 I taught her a handstand. And by “taught” I mean that I did a handstand and she copied me. She had not learned how to bail but she wasn’t scared. Each time she would fall in a different direction and each time her body would figure out how to get to her feet.
She was not crazy or dangerous. She had spent her entire life learning new movements. She was very aware of what she was capable of and trusted that she would figure it out if she fell.
At some point in our lives we stop learning new movement skills. And we stop doing many of the ones that we previously learned.
When we learn a new skill, we learn new positions and patterns. We get a better awareness of how to move our body in different ways. But we also get a better understanding of what our bodies are capable of.
The more ways that you learn to move the more knowledge you have of what you are actually capable of.
In the early stages of the handstand journey an interesting phenomenon often occurs. Unrelated movements will subside the fear of being upside down. Rolling around on the floor, crawling and jumping down from high places. None of these things are typical handstand progressions. However, confidence with different movements helps people realise that they can do more things. Things that they did not think they were capable of. All of a sudden getting upside down, or turning and doing a cartwheel no longer seem so terrifying.
Get outside your comfort zone
Fear lets you know that a skill is within your realm of possibility. When there is a movement that makes you nervous it means that it is something that deep down you know you are capable of.
You need to take a small step outside of your comfort zone in order to overcome this fear. At the WMC event Sarah Scozzaro (badass ultra runner and coach) talked about getting outside your comfort zone. Sarah runs 100 mile races, which is more than I have run my entire life combined. She knows what mental toughness and being uncomfortable is. She knows that’s where you need to be if you want to progress.
A little bit of nervous energy or fear let’s you know you are in the right place. Learn how to control your fear. Like endurance racing learning a handstand is a mental game. Don’t focus on the negative things such as falling and/or squishing a kitten. Focus on the positive: my arms are strong enough, I have practiced my bail, I know how to kick up.
Then just go.
3-2-1 Fuck This Shit.