Testing my Fear of Heights

It’s all very fine going on a course but the proof of the pudding is in the eating – which means, in this case, I need to get up high and test my reactions. I came away from the Overcoming Fear of Heights course confident I’d made a significant shift, but I wouldn’t know that for sure until I’d put it to the test.

The best test I could find locally was the Treetop Trek in Heaton Park in north Manchester. I did something similar at the now-defunct Aerial Extreme near the Trafford Centre, probably about 10 years ago, and the fear took over. While I was waiting on the platform for my turn to step off into the abyss, I allowed the fear to creep in, out of what can only be described as habit. It felt wrong to be up there and not be terrified, so I talked myself into being terrified. It was unpleasant but it was comfortingly familiar. I found this a fascinating piece of psychology and I discuss it in my other talk, Life Lessons from Public Speaking.

Interesting as it may be from a psychological point of view, self-sabotage is exactly what I’m trying to get away from and I was determined not to let it happen again. This time, I stayed positive as I waited for my turn, reminding myself I was perfectly safe in my harness, that if the children in front of me could do it so easily, there was really nothing to worry about, and that I can choose how I feel.

At the first zip wire, my nerve failed me and, after some agonising, I gave up. However, I had covered about a third of the first set of challenges – far more, I believe, than I would have managed if I hadn’t been on the course. This felt like solid progress and I was much more pleased than disappointed. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s unrealistic to expect an entrenched fear to vanish overnight. I know now that I can do this and I’m going to go back in a couple of months and try again. Then I’ll do it again and again, until I can do it without turning a hair.

Everything I learnt on the course holds true and is not remotely devalued by the fact I couldn’t conquer this challenge at the first attempt. I have made a significant shift: it’s just going to take some more testing to make it full and permanent. This makes sense, really. If I went on a course to learn how to juggle or sing or play poker, I wouldn’t expect to emerge from one weekend an expert. Overcoming fear is a skill we have to acquire, then hone and practise. Practice is the key to it – you know what they say practice makes… 🙂

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