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You’re not going to believe this, but I am not the first person to do a fear-based project.
Apparently, there are lots of us out there.
Journalist, surfer and shy guy Jaimal Yogis might be one of the most well-known. You may have heard of his first book, Saltwater Buddha (soon to be a feature film!). A surfing meets Zen book sounds great and all, but what drew me in is his second book, The Fear Project, exploring the science behind our most primal emotion & how to overcome it. We talked swimming with sharks, social anxiety & why as adults we need to “drop ourselves off at daycare.”
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Like me, you’re a fear enthusiast. Hmmm… maybe enthusiast isn’t the right word, but you know what I mean. How’d you get here?
I’d been dumped by my girlfriend of five years. When we broke up, it triggered not only my insecurities and fears, but this intense doubt of everything I’d ever known… I thought we were going to get married and I was thrown from my foundation. I couldn’t sleep. I needed to start over.
You hear about all this brain science and I started to wonder if there was anything out there that could help me. I didn’t want to trust any of the assumptions that I made in the past because my boat had basically sunk. So that’s where the Fear Project began.
Because I am a writer, I think about anything that I am doing and wonder if I can turn it into a book. Some people can do their job separately from their lives. But I am one of those people who works on things that are happening in my life.
What was the first thing you intentionally did because it was scary? What did you learn?
I’m a surfer and decided I was going to really face my physical fears in the water. I thought I would get in really good shape and then swim to Alcatraz.
I’d been on a field trip there as a kid and they talked about the prisoners getting eaten by sharks if they escaped. That turned out to not be true, but it scarred me. I had dreams when I was little about falling off of Alcatraz and getting eaten. So I decided I was going to escape from Alcatraz. Jump off the island and swim back.
I did the swim with this famous open water swimmer named Jamie Patrick. It turned out that we couldn’t just go out to the island and swim to shore. We had to swim out and back, which turns out to be four miles or something way longer than I’d ever swam in the open ocean.
Long story short, we miscalculated the tides and we ended up getting almost swept away. The Coast Guard was really upset with us, but it ended up being really fun. By the end of it, I discovered any little fear you can break through and associate with something good starts to ripple into other fears.
What insight have you captured by facing your fears?
I started realizing fear doesn’t have to have a negative association. We’re so trained to say fear is bad because it makes us uncomfortable.
When you break it down, what is it? It’s actually a heightened sense of awareness.
It’s like your body tensing up, getting ready for action, and so when you’re saying yes to it…it starts to change the fear instantly. That’s why people become fear junkies. It can actually become really fun, too. And as long as you’re doing that in a way that doesn’t risk your life too much, it can be so empowering. Everything I’ve been afraid of can actually be dealt with this way, from the cocktail party with strangers to skydiving.
I talk a lot about how it’s the things that can’t kill you that often are the scariest. Do you agree?
I’ve found that the scariest things are around losing my good reputation. I think this is a primal fear and goes back to when we were tribal people. We depended on the tribe. If you were outcast, it was a death sentence. Getting approval from your peers and having a social network is so key.
In a lot of ways, it’s more scary to lose that respect than it is to die. I think that’s one of the reasons soldiers say things like I was more afraid to be called a coward than I was to die.
I’ve done some things that were maybe a little too death defying, but that’s scary in a different way. Social scariness keeps you up at night, which is the most annoying. The death fear is really intense in the moment and then it passes. It’s like, thank god I survived that. Now it’s over. But social anxiety can plague you.
What’s helped you overcome that social fear?
I’ve surrounded myself with really cool people. Whatever I do that’s authentic to myself, they’re all really supportive. It’s inspired other people to go out on a limb and write a folk song and sing it at a café, or do something uncharacteristic that might be truer to their real selves.
Those leaps outside of my reputation comfort zone are always the scariest, but they’re the most gratifying if they’re based in an authenticity that comes from the heart.
In a recent blog post, you talk about how adults need to drop themselves off at daycare. What do you mean by that? Why do you think it’s important?
I have a 2.5-year-old. He started preschool a year ago. At first, he’d would throw a tantrum when I left 100 percent of the time. It’s now about 50 percent. But he still throws a tantrum often. He suffers form all the same social anxiety his mom and I do. Shyness is genetic. I see him, every day, pushing his comfort zone because he has to and because we know it’s good for him. He’s gradually becoming this flexible and socially relaxed creature. It’s a beautiful process to watch.
I realized recently that we as adults find patterns that we’re comfortable in and we don’t have to be in those tantrum throwing experiences that really expand our boundaries. I think part of that is that life is really difficult as an adult—you have taxes and your parents are getting older and a lot to think about.
Doing one thing that makes you struggle a little bit, even if it’s small. That’s where we grow.
I think when you do it consciously, that growth is exponential. That’s why I said you have to be your own parent and drop yourself off at preschool everyday.
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I want to hear your Everyday Eleanor story. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.