How The Fearless Faces Fear
Have you watched the National Geographic Documentary called Free Solo yet? If not, you should. It’s about this dude named Alex Honnold who did the unthinkable.
He climbed a 3000-foot rock wall in Yosemite called El Capitan at 31 years of age. Not only that, he did it without any ropes, harnesses, or a net. What does that mean? It means that if he made a simple error or slipped on his footing during the climb, he would most likely fall to his death. It’s one of the most extremely insane, audacious feats in human history. In fact, some people call it “one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever.” And on a side note, it took him 3 hours, 56 minutes and to this day he is the ONLY climber to free solo El Capitan.
So, if I had a chance to interview Alex, my first question would be: How did you overcome fear in the face of such danger? How did you accomplish this without trembling and how did you keep pushing forward?
I want to know if he’s some kind of superhuman who is not affected by fear…or if there’s some type of secret that unlocks the human brain to do the impossible.
Watch this video – he actually does reveal his secret…
If you didn’t watch the video yet, I’ll summarize how he overcame the fear of this climb.
Alex said this…”3000 feet of climbing represents thousands of distinct hand and foot movements, many of the moves I knew through sheer repetition. I climbed El Cap 50 times over the previous decade with a rope. But also I would spend the day from the summit with 1000 feet of rope, finding the sequence secure and repeatable and I had to memorize them. I had to make sure that they were so deeply ingrained within me that there was no possibility of error.”
He did it so many times, it became like taking a walk in the park. And just to confirm, the last time I took a walk in the park, it was pretty chill.
On the flip side, I just listened to an interview of Alex on Adam Grant’s podcast and the most surprising thing I heard Alex say was how incredibly terrified he was of public speaking. In fact, Adam recalls seeing Alex backstage getting ready to speak at the TED Talk sitting there, shaking and sweating…so afraid to go up on the TED stage. He said “it’s not surprising that when you have to do something at a very high level that you’re not good at, it’s truly terrifying. That’s how I essentially felt going into TED. Here’s a collection of several thousand of the most important people in the world, all sitting there watching me do something that I’m not good at.”
It reminds me of the Jerry Seinfeld joke about how people fear public speaking even more than death – at a funeral, most people would rather be in the coffin than the one making the speech.
But think about it: what made the free solo climb different from the TED Talk?
All that time and effort to ingrain the sequence… over and over again, until there was no possibility of error. The most dangerous feat became EASY, while the unpracticed speech felt impossible.
So the question is, is there a fear you need to overcome? I know there’s part of us that would rather not think about it, procrastinate, and then shake and sweat when the time comes where we finally get the experience over with. But there is an alternative: do the reps. Stop avoiding it, start small, and practice practice practice practice practice.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
And I promise, whatever it is, it’ll be a lot less scary the 1000th time you do it.