Just a few months ago, Felix Baumgartner broke the sound barrier by skydiving from 24 miles above the earth.
In addition to being the first to break that barrier in just a pressure suit, he broke three other world records: the highest manned balloon flight, highest altitude jump, and the fastest free fall.
Bloomberg Businessweek recently asked Baumgartner how he manages fear. The key, he says, isn’t to ignore it. “A healthy amount of apprehension” helps keep him safe.
The problem is when it becomes your sole focus.
As he was training for the jump, Baumgartner went through a period where he hated and feared the suit he had to wear. It was incredibly rigid, created “sensory deprivation,” and prevented him from using his usual techniques, which triggered constant fear of all the obstacles he had to overcome. He shared the process that broke him out of that fear:
“What I needed was to get out of the endless loop of negative thinking. Our psychologists taught me some simple techniques. Sometimes in training they’d ask me a question totally unrelated to the mission, maybe a question that didn’t even make sense, just to break the cycle of negative thoughts in my head. Then I could come back to see the situation more objectively.
Another technique was to actively look for the positives. At 24 miles above earth, where my blood would boil without protection, the benefits of that suit were going to far outweigh its drawbacks. Eventually the suit came to represent not potential problems but the technological solution that would keep me alive.”
The problem of your blood boiling without protection isn’t something we can all relate to, but Baumgartner outlines three keys to overcoming fear anyone can apply:
- Get informed by and about your fear, instead of paralysed by it
- Ask other people for help, rather than internalizing everything
- Be patient with yourself
Fear usually isn’t completely irrational. But our responses can be. The key is to take a step back, deal with the things you can, and take your time.
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