OK so this may come as a bit of a surprise, but this week I am proud to say that I have faced one of the most challenging experiences of my life. And let me tell you – most things do not phase me in life and I think you’ll be surprised when I reveal what this fear is.
To put it into context, here’s a list of things that I’ve done, that in comparison have not been anywhere near as terrifying as what I experienced on Monday this week:
- Writing a 17,000 word dissertation at University
- Jumping out of a plane at the grand old age of 19
- Racing up the 4000m high Mount Kinabalu in Borneo for Charity (Ralleigh International)
- Driving 17,000 km around the coast of Australia in a campervan (aged 18 – we didn’t quite manage Broome to Cairns but made the rest of it)
- Building my own jungle camp from scratch in the rainforest in Borneo (also for charity)
- At the age of 24, moving from England to Australia on a wing and a prayer looking for business sponsorship (I had 3 months to find an Advertising Agency to sponsor me – you can read my full experience of this here).
- Starting a marketing agency business from scratch
- Tackling 100 million people at the Kumbh Mela festival in India
If I’d had the chance, I would have happily gone through any one of the above situations in return for avoiding what I had to do on Monday. But there was no escape. I teach others how to overcome their fears and so it was time to take some of my own medicine and face up to my fear once and for all.
Now that I’ve got your attention I’ll reveal what I had to do:
I had to take my driving test.
What? You say? Is that it? Are you kidding? Just your driving test?
Let me explain. I’m a cerebral kind of gal, throw me a 4000 word essay and I’ll sneeze it out in a heartbeat. No problem. Easy.
Driving, however, now this just did not come naturally to me. In any way, shape or form. I really, really struggled to learn how to drive!
Maybe it’s because I am a thinker and when you think too much about how to drive, it just doesn’t work. Either way, let me tell you, it has been a journey – but one you’ll be glad to hear that is over…because I passed! That’s right I passed my test on Monday (which was my birthday too).
Breath out. I am now a fully mobile, driving person. And I’m loving it. The road however (excuse the pun) was long. It took a lot for me to tackle this as a 30-something woman and I thought I’d share with you what I did to coach myself through this fear.
Being out of control
When I first started learning to drive it was terrifying. I mean, it’s a live environment. There is no test area to practice driving – you’re out there among REAL drivers who may do ANYTHING. There is no way to predict what might happen.
And so to begin with, I did what I do with a lot of my coaching clients and that’s – I identified what I was thinking inside my head when it came to driving.
* Were my thoughts positive or negative?
* Did I have any beliefs about driving that might sabotage my experience?
* What specifically was I thinking as I got into the car to start driving?
What I discovered was a fear around control (this is VERY common with many blockages in life). I had this fear about not being able to control the car and this was manifesting in my head as negative thinking. So, without realizing it I was thinking to myself “I’m out of control.” when I was driving.
Now, considering our thoughts create our reality – how do you think this thought pattern affected my driving? Badly right? Of course, if all I think about is how out of control I am then what happens? I drive in an out of control manner. I had to come up with a way to interrupt this thinking.
So – I simply looked for a mantra (or a sentence) that I could repeat to myself inside my head when I was driving – and for me that was ‘I am in control.’ So the next time I would drive, instead of letting my head roam free with these negative thoughts of how out of control I was, I forced myself to repeat the statement:
I am in control I am in control I am in control.
And you know what – it worked! I instantly felt more at ease and in control of the car!
One of the other fears that I had when I first started learning how to drive was public buses. In Australia the buses are really long and rather HUGE. They are so intimidating for a learner driver and they completely take over the road. When a bus would come towards me I have to admit I would actually scream in the car, with my driving instructor next to me. It’s true. I was that terrified.
And so, here was another thing I had to work on. I had to desensitize myself to buses and the way in which I did that was – pretend the buses were in fact pink elephants. Now this might sound a bit off the wall, but that’s the whole point. The more ridiculous you make something appear to be, the harder it is to be afraid of it. And so, whenever a bus would appear, I would say out loud, ‘oh look – another pink elephant!’. The craziness of this statement would make my instructor laugh and ease the tension in the car.
Being open to changes
After having lessons with my fiancé for a couple of months, we realized that there’s a reason why couples don’t teach each other to drive. Nick (my fiancé) is a wonderful man – but I would say patience is not one of his strong points and seeing as driving is definitely not one of my strong points, it was a recipe for disaster!
Nick had the foresight to refuse to teach me how to drive anymore. If I’m honest, at first I didn’t agree with him and did everything I could to try and get him to teach me. The plan had always been that I buy a car and then he could teach me so I could get my driving experience up.
What I learned was to just be adaptable. So it didn’t work out as originally planned? So what. Time to stop moaning about it and just make a new plan. And this is what I did. I approached a few girlfriends to help me instead – which actually ended up being a better solution as we could catch up while driving!
A realistic plan
After a year or so of driving on and off I knew that I really needed to prioritise my driving if I wanted to pass my test. And so instead of just fitting driving in around my life, I created a plan to fit my life around my driving, for a period of 2 months so I could get up to speed to pass my test.
I committed to a minimum of 2 paid driving lessons a week and 2 lessons from friends for an 8 week period. I booked my test at the end of this period knowing that I had to focus on fitting in these lessons. I scheduled in what day I would have each lesson and made this a priority. If I hadn’t done this, I would still be doing the odd lesson here and there and would not yet have passed my test.
I forced myself to keep the pressure on to get to the end goal. And this was not easy – I had to make a conscious decision to sacrifice other things during this period. I wasn’t able to do as many yoga classes or go to as many social occasions – but it was so worth it. I see this a lot with coaching clients who are looking to achieve a big goal, yet are not willing to commit and sacrifice a few other things in the short run.
Preparing for the test
The night before and the morning of the test I put aside some time to work on my thinking. I spent time meditating on being relaxed during the test and I also visualised the test going well. This technique really does work wonders if you’re nervous about something. When the mind is quite, it’s hard to be negative, plus your whole body relaxes so you can focus on what you’re doing. I also noticed that I kept thinking ‘I might fail my test’ which was fueling feelings of anxiety. So, like before, I simply chose a more positive statement – ‘I will definitely pass my test! and I repeated it to myself over and over again in my mind.
Take a deep breath and just do it
I have to be honest – before the test, every single cell in my body was screaming not to go through with it. I could feel the cold hard fear coursing through my veins – and yet I did it anyway. People think that some people are just fearless, but that’s not the case. Some people just push through their fears. Just before the test, I forced myself to take some deep breathes and repeat my mantra (“I will definitely pass my test.”) so I could go into the test with a positive mindset. I did everything I could to prepare myself, took a deep breath, stared fear in the face and gave it everything I had!
The funny thing is, since passing my test on Monday I have been out driving all over the place and the fear has completely dissipated. Someone once said to me:
Once you push through your fear, it disappears.
And I think they were right 🙂
I hope this inspires you to take on something that you have feared in the past and just go for it! If you need some help, I would love to help you through it with some coaching.
Simple Life Strategy: How to Face One of your Biggest Fears
1 Pay attention to your thinking. Notice if you’re being positive or negative? What sentence can you come up with to interrupt any negative thinking patterns?
2 Dissociate. Have some fun coming up with creative ways to dissociate from your fears. Remember my pink elephant exercise. How can you lighten up the situation?
3 Be adaptable. Be open to changes along the way. Things don’t usually go according to plan, you need to be able to adapt on the spot and change your plans.
4 Set a realistic goal. Put a plan into place to ensure you actually keep up the momentum of pushing through your fear. Know that this might involve sacrificing things you like to do for a short while, but it will be worth it in the end
5 Commit. This is the most important step. Commit to making it happen. Do whatever it takes to make sure you commit 100%
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