“Do one thing every day that scares you."
Despite the fact that it’s often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, this sage piece of advice was actually written by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mary Schmich in an essay that went on to form the basis of Wear Sunscreen, a surprise number 1 hit in 1999. The single’s runaway success had nothing to do with its tune – little more than a beat and some dirgey backing vocals – and everything to do with the fact that the advice resonated.
I mean it’s a good idea right? And one that people who are into adventure sports will appreciate more than most. If you’ve ever climbed a route, dropped into a ramp or hit a kicker you’ll know that pushing yourself outside your comfort zone feels good. There’s the sense of achievement, but it’s not just that. If it was only all about novelty, then baking your first cupcake would give you the same buzz as catching your first wave. No, this is a particular feeling that you only get when you’ve done something that scares you a bit. When you’ve faced actual genuine fear and then gone and done it anyway.
"'This is how I’m going to die. Here. Today. Now,' he thought. Cool Runnings, this was not."
Mike Brindley felt it first hand when he went lead climbing for the first time for this month’s issue, braving the sketchy slab of the south coast of Spain. Deputy Editor James Renhard also felt it after courageously (or should that be foolishly?) volunteering to ride down a bobsleigh run in an experimental prototype sled. “This is how I’m going to die. Here. Today. Now," he thought. Cool Runnings, this was not. Yet he made it to the end in one piece, and the elation made the terror worthwhile.
Of course, the more you put yourself in scary situations, the better you get at dealing with them. For this month’s Fear Issue we also spoke to individuals who’ve done things that would be utterly terrifying to mere mortals, but to them seem commonplace. Professional freediver Kimi Werner swims with great white sharks without the protection of a cage. Surfing legend Laird Hamilton has ridden more massive waves than you’ve had hot dinners, risking life and limb on a regular basis.
But although they might seem it on the surface, people like Kimi and Laird are far from fearless. “If you’re [in] a dangerous situation," says Laird, “then you should have a little bit of fear," admitting that he regularly feels scared. Rather than run from it however, he’s learned to appreciate fear and learn from it, using it to inform his decision-making and make him better at what he’s doing.
Because here’s the funny thing about fear. Yes, making it through a scary situation in one piece gives you a feeling of elation; a feeling that (especially when combined with the natural endorphins from exercise) can be very powerful. This is one of the reasons why zombie-themed exercise, like the undead run Associate Editor Lou Boyd tried out this month, is increasingly popular. But when you do sports that scare you, there’s way more going on mentally than just the adrenaline buzz.
BASE Jumper Nathan Jones, who Yashi Banymadhub interviewed for her article on the psychology of fear, compared the feeling of heightened awareness he gets from jumping to meditation, saying he finds it calming.
This assessment is backed up by the latest psychological studies, which suggest that fear can have all sorts of positive knock-on effects on your mental health - including making you more balanced and better able to deal with everyday problems. Action sports, according to sports psychologist Professor Woodman, are like “a training ground for real life". In short, the science backs up Mary Schmich’s advice - scaring yourself is good for you.
So whether you’re a total novice or a seasoned pro, why not get out there and try something that makes you just a little bit afraid in the next few weeks? Drop into a bigger ramp on your BMX; try the new route at your local climbing wall; step up to the black run at the mountain bike trail centre; or because summer is fast approaching, head down to the beach and learn to surf? Just remember whatever you do, always wear sunscreen.
Enjoy the adventure.
- Tristan, Editor-in-Chief
Read our Fear Issue in its entirety here and keep your eyes peeled for the long reads in our Wild Issue, dropping next month.
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