See Your Fear Threshold. Then Move It!

[4-Min Read + Video + Tips] This week, I faced a situation that pushed me to cross my fear threshold. It was a powerful reminder of the best way to handle fear.

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See Your Fear Threshold. Then Move It!

This week, I faced a situation that pushed me to cross my fear threshold. It was a powerful reminder of the best way to handle fear.

Video Introduction to See Your Fear Threshold, Then Move It

Phoenix, our three-year-old colt, is currently yarded near the house, taking a holiday from the rest of the herd. He is in the grips of early stallion puberty. Some alone time is character-building for him, plus it avoids issues with the mares.

I take Phoenix for a walk/jog most mornings after my own exercise session. Around 7:30 am, I go for a bike ride or run, and when I return, I take Phoenix out. He strides next to me, snorting at the air and twisting his head to take in all that’s happening around him.

Each time we head out, I also give him a lesson. We might practice stopping with a voice command, squaring his feet, or walking backward. It’s a mix of play and education.

With his young mind, there are days when doing a lesson is almost impossible. He gets distracted by the tiniest things. On other days, he is full of his stallion bravado, and keeping him under control is an achievement in itself.

His mood swings are, in part, the reason I tripped across my fear threshold.

Your comfort zone has an edge.

If you have pushed your physical limits at the gym or in the garden, you’ll know the concept of a pain threshold. When you wake up the next day, aches and soreness make their presence felt. As you stretch the sore muscles, you’ll reach a point where relief turns into sharp pain.

Your fear threshold works the same way.

Everything you do, from the mundane to the adventurous, has risk attached. The degree of risk you perceive generates the fear you associate with a specific action.

The degree of fear that you feel changes depending on context.

Many people fear riding horses, so let’s use that example.

Often, at a country show, you’ll find a horse ride. Hand over $10, and your kid can straddle a quiet, old Shetland pony and walk around in circles. Most people would see that as a low-risk activity, and their fear of it would also be low.

Now let’s switch that old Shetland for a three-year-old colt, like Phoenix, who is green. The fear factor would skyrocket.

Both activities are “riding a horse”. But the fear factor changes because of knowledge, beliefs and context.

Think of the fear factor on a scale of 0 to 100. Riding the Shetland might be 2, riding Phoenix the colt might be 90.

At the bottom end of that scale, say 0 to 10, you’ll feel comfortable doing that task. Then, at some point along the scale, as the dynamics of the activity change, you will hit your fear threshold. You will feel the early signs of anxiety, worry or that prickling feeling under your skin.

Seeing my fear threshold

Sean and I use dinner to catch up on what’s been happening during the day. Last week, I mentioned that I had to cut Phoenix’s session short because I didn’t have enough time.

“Why don’t you lead him off your mountain bike, then you can do both at once?” Sean suggested.

I felt my stomach knot.

“Really?” I said. “Wouldn’t he pull me over? What if the lead got tangled?”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew I had reached my fear threshold.

The thought of leading Phoenix while riding my mountain bike activated my fight-flight response. My mind had gone straight to finding reasons not to do it and diverted the conversation to another topic.

Then, a few days later, I damaged a tendon in my ankle while running, and it forced me to confront my fear.

Moving my fear threshold

Phoenix’s exercise sessions were getting cut short because of my injured ankle. I could only hobble along so far before I reached my pain threshold.

I felt guilty every time I walked past my mountain bike. I store my bike in a stable beside Phoenix’s yard. I pass it every time I take him out for exercise. I knew he would enjoy going for a run, but I had a long list of excuses not to do it.

After a couple of days of the guilt twangs, I decided to take action.

I have a well-practised process for confronting my fear, which goes against the grain of popular approaches.

Instead of stepping outside my comfort zone, I expand it.

If something is outside my comfort zone, I bring it in.

Expanding my comfort zone requires me to move my fear threshold. I do that by making uncomfortable tasks feel comfortable.

#1 – I made a firm decision that I wanted to lead Phoenix off the bike.

#2 – I then pulled up an image in my mind’s eye of what that would look like.

#3 – Watching it like a movie, I let all my worst-fear scenarios play out.

I watched the lead tangled in my wheel and me hitting the ground hard. In another scene, a bird or a kangaroo spooked Phoenix, and he yanked away, causing injury to him and me.

These scenarios were real possibilities. They were genuine risks. So then, I moved on to the next step.

#4 – I switched my focus from fearing the risk to managing it.

I worked out ways to ensure I could release the lead quickly.

I decided to position Phoenix so that lead entanglement would be unlikely.

I planned how to keep a safe distance between the horse and the bike.

I felt relaxed, safe, and present when I moved forward to do the activity. I stepped through the process slowly, double-checking that I was executing as per my plan.

The result. Well, you can see for yourself 👇

Discover more about your bold mind every Monday

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