The Hero & The Coward

“I’ll walk right into hell

To face my beast within,

To live my life a coward

Would mean to live in sin”

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THROUGHOUT MY CHILDHOOD and adolescence, I was persistently overwhelmed by feelings of fear. I avoided anything that challenged me or caused me to step out of my comfort zone because I was ignorant of my body’s natural response to unfamiliar situations. I feared change, rejection, being alone, intimacy, making wrong choices, public speaking, failure, even success; the list goes on. Most of all I WAS AFRAID OF CONFRONTATION.

 

These feelings were so intense, I was at times paralysed by them, unable to think or act. My fear led to depression and apathy, and I consistently underachieved in many areas of life. I even allowed people to push me around both mentally and physically. I remember asking my peers on numerous occasions, “don’t you ever get scared”? “NO!” they always replied. How could this be? WAS I THE ONLY ONE WHO FELT THIS WAY?

 

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These feelings were still with me when I reached adulthood and, I believe, were a contributing factor in the breakdown of my physical and mental health. As a young man, with a young man’s ego, I MUST ADMIT TO BEING VERY ASHAMED OF HOW I FELT. Having concluded I was the only person who lived with such intense feelings of weakness, I labelled myself a coward, a failure even. PERHAPS I WAS A SHEEP IN A WORLD OF LIONS?

 

Several years ago, I decided to talk to a friend about how I was feeling. She recommended a book she thought would benefit me to read. The book was about ‘Fear’ and ‘how to turn fear into confidence and action’. I was somewhat sceptical, but I had nothing to lose so I began reading. PERHAPS ALL MY FEARS MIGHT MAGICALLY DISAPPEAR with my new-found knowledge? Or maybe I would become fearless, even indestructible, in the face of adversity?

 

Needless to say, I did not become fearless. And if I thought this book, or any other book, was going to make these feeling go away, I was mistaken. Instead, I received an education that was of far greater value. I learned several truths which granted me the power to TURN FEAR INTO MY GREATEST ALLY. In his aptly named book, FEAR: THE FRIEND OF EXCEPTIONAL PEOPLE, Geoff Thompson states “the world is your oyster, it is only you who holds yourself back”.

 

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And so, my journey began. I was about to embark upon an adventure where I would find myself in extreme situations and go far beyond what I once thought possible.

 

Before I continue, it would be wise to differentiate between the two different types of fear. The first is instinctual and healthy fear, alerting us to real danger that could cause harm or threaten our existence. The second is destructive and imprisoning fear which affects our ability to grow and work towards our dreams. This type of fear is often the result of conditioning and poor education. It is, of course, the second I refer to in this entry.

 

I learned much from the book my friend recommended, and I have learned much from many books on the same subject since. I have expanded my knowledge through seminars and documentaries and I have learned from experience. However, the 5 TRUTHS ABOUT FEAR was my starting point and I always return to them when I find myself moving back towards the dark cloud of negativity and self-doubt. THESE TRUTHS GAVE ME PERSPECTIVE AND CHANGED THE COURSE OF MY LIFE, and I WISH TO SHARE THEM WITH YOU…

 

  1. THE FEAR WILL NEVER GO AWAY AS LONG AS YOU CONTINUE TO GROW

 

Paradoxically, this realisation provided much needed comfort because I now understood MY GOAL WAS NOT TO RID MYSELF OF FEAR, IT WAS TO ACCEPT IT AS A NECESSARY PART OF LIFE, and I was going to have to change my relationship with it so I no longer lived under its oppression. I had been stagnant for years, waiting for my fears to vanish so I could begin my life. I no longer had to work so hard to free myself of these feelings, because it was not possible. INSTEAD OF TRYING TO RESIST THESE FEELINGS, I WAS GOING TO WELCOME THEM AND VIEW THEM AS OPPORTUNITIES TO GROW. But where to begin?

 

  1. THE ONLY WAY TO GET RID OF THE FEAR OF DOING SOMETHING IS TO DO IT

 

Dr David Mickel once said “IF YOU’RE AFRAID OF DROWNING FIND WATER AND JUMP IN!” I would begin by finding water. Fear will always be present in new and unfamiliar situations, but it is possible to overcome fear of a certain situation – by confronting it. In the words of Helen Keller “THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH”. I was going to look at each of my fears individually, then tackle them one at a time. Each time I conquered something that scared me, my comfort zone would expand and I would grow larger. I WAS GOING TO HAVE FUN WITH THIS. So, like the cowardly lion in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, I began my journey on my very own metaphoric yellow brick road. The only difference being, I was no longer searching for courage. Instead, I was going to ‘FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY’. No confrontation no desensitisation. No pain no growth.

 

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  1. THE ONLY WAY TO FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOURSELF IS TO DO IT

 

As a personal trainer, people frequently tell me they are going to come along to one of my Boot Camps when they feel better about themselves or they will start my classes when they are ready. I call this tomorrow thinking. I too thought this way for many years. But in truth, there is no tomorrow. THE DOING IT COMES BEFORE THE FEELING BETTER. If you sit at home waiting to feel better, you will be waiting a long time, an eternity perhaps.

 

When I began experimenting with this concept, I joined a local amateur dramatics group. Given how low my self-confidence was at the time, this was possibly the toughest thing I had ever done. Fear is relative you see. I have since conquered bigger opponents and completed greater quests, but nothing required more courage than it did to make that first step. It was winter and I will never forget the dark, lonely walk to my first rehearsal. I remember thinking I could easily just turn back and tell my friends the rehearsal was cancelled, or they did not have space for me. After all, no one would have known it was a lie – except me, and MY DAYS OF LIVING THIS WAY WERE OVER. FEAR WAS NO LONGER A SIGNAL FOR ME TO RETREAT, IT WAS NOW MY CATALYST TO GREATER THINGS.

 

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  1. NOT ONLY WILL YOU EXPERIENCE FEAR ON UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY, SO WILL EVERYONE ELSE

 

The realisation I WAS NOT THE ONLY PERSON FEELING THIS WAY was a welcome one. Of course, I would not like to see anyone crippled by fear the way I was, but knowing FEAR IS PERFECTLY NATURAL brought me great solace. With hindsight, I can see now MY PEERS WERE LYING. They too were afraid, because TO BE HUMAN IS TO BE AFRAID. I can also see now I was NOT weak for feeling this way. But why did they lie about being scared? Perhaps because we are taught fear equates to weakness? “Admitting your fears is the first and foremost step in overcoming them” Geoff Thompson.

 

“The coward and the hero both feel the same feelings, the only difference between the two is that the hero handles the feelings and the coward does not” – Cus D’amato.  

 

  1. LIVING WITH FEAR IS MORE PAINFUL THAN CONFRONTING FEAR

 

No matter how scary facing my fears was going to be, it surely could not be worse than feeling helpless all the time.  At least I would no longer be imprisoned by these feelings. And if I was stuck with fear, then it was going to have to come along with me. There was room. In fact, I didn’t mind it watching while I did all the things it once convinced me I could not do. I WOULD BECOME COMFORTABLE WITH DISCOMFORT. I would put myself in situations where I was at risk of experiencing all the things I was afraid of. If I was going to be alone, rejected, a failure, a success or in a situation where I had to adapt to change or confrontation, I WOULD HANDLE IT.

 

I did just that and I continue to do it. Guess what? I still experience fear every day. In fact, I continue to go in search of situations that provide challenge and cause me discomfort, because that is where the growth lies. A necessary evil if we are to become the fullest expression of ourselves and achieve our potential.

 

“We can’t escape fear, we can only transform it into a companion that accompanies us on all our exciting adventures” Susan Jeffers

 

By following these 5 simple truths, I have travelled alone to the far corners of the world. I have acted on stage, skydived from 11000 ft and I have confronted many of the things that held me prisoner for many years. I now run my own personal training business where I am constantly required to talk in front of groups of people. I have been rejected, embraced change, made mistakes, experienced discomfort and I have grown in ways I never thought possible. I never did go all the way to Oz to find my courage. I didn’t have to, turns out I had it in me all along.

 

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I know now, I AM A LION NOT A SHEEP. Do lions experience fear? I’d bet my life on it!

 

NEVER GIVE UP AND NEVER STOP BELIEVING IN YOURSELF.

 

Alan

(March 2017)

 

References

  • Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  • Fear: The Friend of Exceptional People – Geoff Thompson
  • The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  • Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor E. Frankl
  • The Secret – Rhonda Byrne
  • The Elephant and The Twig – Geoff Thompson

 

 

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Lemonade

Who’s for lemonade?

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SOMETIMES WHEN MY PAIN LEVELS ARE HIGH, I allow the grip of self-pity to tighten and I think of the (perceived) negatives in my life. I start to feel hard done by and I find myself focusing on what I DO NOT have.

I ruminate on how illness changed the course of my life and prevented me following a certain path (just one path that wasn’t pre-set anyway) and I see the world through the eyes of lack and limitation…

If only I hadn’t been robbed of my health these past two decades I would be more financially secure and would own my own property, I’d be able to work out more, develop my physique and train to become a high level martial artist as I had once dreamed about…I’d certainly be less dependent on others for my survival and I’d be well enough to start a family…the list goes on!

Then I gives myself a right good slap like they do in the old movies (sometimes a bit of tough love is necessary isn’t it!?) and I remind myself what I DO have; a brother who loves me, great friends, the good fortune to live in a beautiful safe part of the world, a job I love and a roof over my head.

Life has a habit of presenting us with circumstances out with our control. And it is entirely up to us how we respond to the hardship and adversity. We can either become bitter because it’s unfair and things haven’t worked out as we had hoped, or we can choose to create a life of meaning with the hand we have been dealt.

As the saying goes, ‘if life gives you lemons…make lemonade!’

I don’t know about you, but when my time is up I want to look back on my life and say “you know what, I made a difference”. I want to be able to say I did the best I could despite my circumstances.

I may never have or be the things above. But this does not mean I cannot become the best version of myself. It simply means I must find another path to access my unlimited potential and use the adversity to learn and grow in ways I never thought possible.

So, what’s the point in all this?

I have a question for you (actually I have two)…

WHAT HAS LIFE GIVEN YOU? And what do you intend to do about it?

Whatever your circumstances, you CAN be the person you want to be and every passing moment is a new opportunity to become that person.

Alan

April 2016

Beliefs

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OKAY, SO TODAY I’D LIKE TO TALK ABOUT WORDS & ATTRACTION!!

As a man who spent many years living within the limitations of negativity and depression, I was not aware of the language I used and the impact it was having on my life. My thoughts were negative, the words I used were negative and guess what?? My subsequent experiences were also negative.

How is this relevant to health and exercise? Let me explain…I often hear the word can’t when I begin working with clients. A common example that comes to mind is “I can’t do push ups”.

First, I ask “have you tried?” You’d be surprised how many times simply challenging this belief leads to a perfectly executed push up! Many people have been reaffirming to themselves for so long that they ‘can’t’, it has become their reality and their truth.

Second, sometimes the person does not currently have the strength to perform a push up. The first piece of advice I offer is to change this mind set and the language they use. How about substituting “I can’t do push ups” for “I am developing my upper body strength so that I can do push ups”. Change the language, set some goals, then take action and watch what happens!!

My point is, the language you are using is impacting on your life. If you truly believe you can’t, you are right!! If you believe you can, you are also right.

This self-fulling prophecy is called the ‘law of attraction’. Is this a load of mumbo jumbo?? Science proves it is as real as the law of gravity or that of Newton’s Laws.

Positive thinking alone will not make your dreams come true. It must be coupled with action and intention. Start by observing the language you are using now and change the words and statements that utter limitation for words and statements of power and strength, and take action…then see what happens.

I’m off to cook myself a delicious nutritious dinner. Several years ago, I would have told you “I can’t cook”….turns out I’m pretty good!!

Alan

September 2015

Assumptions

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TODAY I WOULD LIKE TO TALK ABOUT ASSUMPTIONS…

First, let me ask you a question: What do you see when you look at the picture attached to this post? A fit and healthy man? Surely a confident man? You’ve got to be confident to show off your physique, right?

To survive in the world, we are required to make assumptions. Making assumptions can keep us safe and protect us from harm. For example, imagine you are trekking in the Australian outback and a snake crosses your path. You are unsure whether the snake is venomous or not. I’m sure you’d agree it would be wise to take a step back and assume it is!

But what if you are making assumptions that are keeping you stuck in life and preventing you from moving forward? What if these assumptions are inhibiting you from becoming the person you want to be?

As a personal trainer, I meet lots of interesting people from many different walks of life. And the most common challenge I face in helping people reach their goals is changing old belief systems (remember my post about beliefs last month?) and challenging assumptions – most commonly assumptions about themselves and other people.

I often hear phrases such as “your classes’ sound fun, but I wouldn’t be able to do it” or “everyone will be fitter than me”. Another common one is “I wish I could do it”. One I’m not even sure I understand is “I’ll come along once I’m fitter and feel better about myself”.

Does any of this resonate with you? In the above statements, assumptions are made about their own shortcomings and ‘weaknesses’ (I really don’t like that word!) and other people’s strengths. I call this the ‘us and them’ thinking. I call it this because I too thought this way for many years. It prevented me from partaking in life and trying new things because I ‘assumed’ everyone was fitter, smarter, nicer, more attractive and more likeable than me.

So back to the shameless selfie taken in my bathroom last week. You’d be forgiven for making any of the assumptions in the first paragraph. After all, there was a time when I would most likely have made the same assumptions – if it wasn’t me in the picture.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, let me tell you a bit about the man in the picture. I have lived with chronic pain in my body for nearly 20 years. 10 years ago, I lived on state benefits and seldom left my home. Sometimes I was bedridden for several days at a time. I suffered from depression and anxiety, and a lack of inactivity had resulted in muscle wastage in my legs. 6 years ago, I was making so many unhelpful assumptions in life I had an emotional melt down.

As I write this, I still experience pain daily and I still struggle with self-confidence.

Now answer honestly: when you looked at the picture, was your assumption correct?

Posting this picture was somewhat risky – I’ve never done anything like this before. But I felt it was necessary to make my point. And my point is this: We are human beings – all facing our daily battles. There is no ‘them and us’. Perhaps it’s time to substitute assumptions for experience and become the person you want to be today?

It’s time to let the excuses run out. Who knows where it might lead? I certainly have no regrets…

We’re all in this together

Alan

October 2015