The Bear: How to Overcome Fear & Anxiety

“He or she who is willing to be the most uncomfortable is not only the bravest but rises the fastest.”
– Brené Brown

On my recent family vacation to Jackson Hole, we went hiking around a remote lake in the Tetons. Near mile nine of a 12-mile hike, we came face to face with a mama bear and her cubs. We had been warned about bears on this trail and were prepared with bear spray. Despite this, and the loud noises we were making to help scare off any bears, here we were face to face with a pretty scary situation.

Needless to say, this is not what we were hoping for. We ran into the exact opposite of what we had planned for and it was the worst of our fears. It wasn’t just any bear – it was a mama bear. Mama bears have been known to chase down and attack hikers if surprised with their cubs, which we had. As we stood 40 feet away, it was a standstill as the bear and my family stared each other down. This situation was certainly not ideal hiking conditions.

Immediately, we turned around and slowly began backing down our trail away from the bear and cubs. Quick movements could set off the mama bear and so far she was letting us leave. After about half a mile, we stopped to consider whether we wanted to continue heading back or literally face our fears and press forward. We decided to move forward and go directly through the area where we had encountered mama bear. Well, as you know, we made it through without getting mauled or eaten. It was exhilarating to say the least.

After our safe return, I kept thinking about how this is a great metaphor for fear in life. You will always encounter a bear on your path and it will always be your choice in how you react. Go forward or go backwards – it’s up to you.

As you make that decision, consider the two points below to help you face your fear, focus on what you want and improve your character.

  1. Ask yourself what do I want to focus on? Fear, anxiety, whatever you want to call it, are only your mind’s attempt to get you to focus. Most of the time we use fear or anxiety as our excuse to not give it our all. We sit trapped and naval gazing instead of looking directly and focusing on our goals. Many times we let the fear of not achieving goals deter us from setting them in the first place. So the next time you find yourself sitting around thinking about worst case scenarios or what you don’t want to happen, thank past situations and remind yourself: (a) What you know now you don’t want (b) Start now and get busy with your good intentions. Change those intentions to inspired actions.

For example, in our bear story, we were going to take every action possible to finish our hike safely. After giving it some thought, we knew we wanted to back around that lake to finish, we knew finishing it would feel great, and we knew we could if we walked past the fear in our way.

  1. Embrace getting uncomfortable. Today it is incredibly easy to distract yourself from getting the important work done. We let urgency get in the way of being and doing the things we know will make a huge difference. Facing the “blind spots” in your character and actively seeking out opportunities to grow are the hallmarks of great leaders throughout the ages. If you are unclear about what you need to be working on personally or professionally, check out Harrison Assessments and follow the advice of the sages throughout time and attempt to “know thyself…”

Once you have that information, then set forth on a course and take action towards correcting your deficiencies – we all have them.

  • If you are unsure of where they lie, get out a pen and paper and write down the biggest problems in your life. All problems are “self-imposed” and contain the seeds of the solutions to the very problems themselves.
  • Write down what character traits you would need to get to a solution, this is helpful in showing you where you can improve and what may have caused the problem in the first place.
  • Get a trusted advisor, friend or mentor to help you with this as it is fairly difficult to self-assess. If you don’t have a respected mentor that will be honest with you, then dump that mentor and get one that will help you honestly assess what is going on and what you can do to improve. If you are shocked and/or pissed and it makes you uncomfortable, then you have a good mentor.

Finally, face your fears for what they are, nothing more than a call to focus. Take those fears and learn what you can improve on, then set yourself down that path of improvement. Doing this will yield amazing benefits for you and all those around you.

PS – If you have some time, you may want to listen to this podcast from Brené Brown, on vulnerability and how to rise up and kick ass.

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