The author of a book that I read recently wrote a chapter on how he handles stress from a lesson he learned years ago while on a rock climbing excursion. I found the story he shared fascinating as he went on to explain an incident that caused a high level of stress and fear and left him frozen with fear in the middle of a rock wall.
The type of fear that he was referring to was the kind that comes from letting possible scenarios in the future or situations that are beyond our control dominate our thoughts. If these thoughts are not controlled they will produce stress and eventually lead to fear; fear of the future, fear of what might happen, and a fear of moving out of the "safe" place you are in.
This is something that I can relate to. I have learned on a very personal level about fear and how it can control your life. Our thoughts really do choose the direction of our decisions and our decisions choose the path of our life. On other words, your thoughts determine your actions and your actions produce results based on your thoughts.
We have all had stress and fear take over our lives, especially those of us who are entrepreneurs. Quite often it can seem like there is too much to do and too little time. In addition, we can often also be pre-occupied with the future and stress about what might happen even if it hasn't happened yet (after all, you don't have a guaranteed paycheck paying the bills for you!). This is something I know very well. It's been a journey to move past this way of thinking and I can honestly share that in the past I went through a deep season where I let thoughts of fear rule my own thinking. These thoughts began to take shape and determine the decisions that I made, taking me down a dark road to a place where I became paralyzed with fear and stopped moving forward at all. All of this came about through the seemingly subtle habit of letting uncontrollably circumstances dominate my thought life. Don't let it happen to you.
The author in the book goes on to say what he learned as fear gripped him in the middle of the rock wall. While clinging to the face of the cliff unable to move forward he heard these 6 words that changed everything, "Stay in your 3 foot world." It was the voice of his instructor who had climbed up beside him (without a rope!) to help him move forward. From the instructor's point of view it was easy to see that the climber had let the fear of falling, the view of the valley far below, and the habit of looking down over take him. These circumstances produced a very real fear and stress in his mind even though in reality he was securely connected to the wall with a rope and harness. The constant dwelling on these thoughts and looking down produced a "reality" that was more real in his mind that the facts.
The instructor encouraged him to focus on simply staying in his 3 foot world, in other words to just focus on what was directly in front of him. He explained that he needed to let go of what might happen and to use his mind to figure out the very next move, not the 10th possible move that may take place in the future. Putting this into practice caused the overwhelming fear in the student's mind to subside. By becoming focused on just the next hand hold he was able to continue climbing the wall. Without looking up or down he came to the top faster than he expected, surprising even himself. The reality of what might have happened versus what was in front of him had caused him to get stuck in a valley of fear and by simply stopping those thoughts and just focusing on his own 3 foot world he was able to overcome.
So what does it mean to stay in your 3 foot world? It's about not letting outside circumstances produce fear in you and not letting things that will most likely never happen become a reality in your mind. Even though this story is about a rock climbing experience, the author goes on to explain how he uses this technique in everyday life as a way to handle stress and to not let circumstances beyond his control paralyze him from moving forward.
For too long I have let outside circumstances and thoughts of what might happen control my own life. These mind games always, always result in unwanted stress and eventual fear. It's something that I am climbing out of one hand hold at a time, as I learn to let go of the circumstances that are out of my control and to only focus on the next task at hand.
As entrepreneurs and small business owners, it can be so easy to think you are the only one struggling with fear and uncertainty. Sometimes you just need to know that there are other people out there who are overcoming as well. I've been there. I still struggle with it. You're not alone. Just stay in your 3 foot world and move past your fear by taking one step at a time!