By Randy Pierce
A treacherous bridge provides a good opportunity for risk assessment.
I am often asked about my relationship with fear in dealing with blindness as well as my many adventures. I prefer to think about it in terms of a healthy respect for dangers, both real and perceived.
As a planner and problem solver, I like to understand the potential risks as best as possible and then evaluate a range of possible solutions for these in advance. A strong part of my approach is knowing that a problem solver should be able to undertake every experience of a risk taker with more success and fewer bruises!
My experience is that attempting to practice solutions to challenges can lead them to become routine. The risk management can be reduced to acceptable levels before things are attempted. Part of this is to ensure that when reaching a moment of particular danger potential, I will be as prepared as much as possible to avoid the “paralysis by analysis” situation of over-thinking in an instant when an immediate reaction is necessary.
The first decision in situations of danger is whether or not an immediate reaction is needed at all. If, for example, I begin to lose my balance on a stretch of trail for which I don’t know the full dangers present, I probably need to make a quick decision about the level of balance loss.
If the chances of falling are high enough, it is likely best to immediately allow a fall in a more controlled fashion. That is, if the spot my feet are on is sufficiently known to me, then landing there is probably the lowest risk of the other unknown options. I similarly know that my pack is a cushion that landing upon will typically be preferred. So I tuck my head and drop back if at all possible.
I’m not eager for that fall, but often it’s the best reaction for an unanticipated dangerous situation. If my balance is such that I have time, then I might call out to someone around me to get a quick terrain understanding or I might explore myself with the hiking/support stick. In that moment of uncertainty, I feel concern that can border on a fearful moment. The more I know the situation, however, the more I know a range of possible reactions and likely consequences to reduce or remove the fear.
Sometimes, it's safer just to fall backwards and sit down.
There’s an old expression, “don’t borrow trouble.” I find a similar approach to allaying fears. By trying to fully understand the real cause of fear, I find that I get to truly know the fear and this is a major step in achieving a goal of having no fear.
In the above example of balance loss, I’m likely facing varying levels of concern for possible injury. In the moment of uncertainty for how big my risk is at that point, I can envision more significant injuries. Ultimately though, planning has reduced the likelihood of injury. By thinking through this in advance, we accustom our minds and some of the emotional surge in the moment to the realities of those risks. Considering the worst case scenarios and our reactions has diminished the “fear” to “concerns” and the advanced paralysis of anticipatory fear can be eradicated.
So in planning any adventure or experience that could make you anxious, I suggest taking the time to think about what are the real and reasonable risks. Get comfortable with the approaches you might take if problems occur. This is where the preparation not only aids in your likely success, but also may enhance your comfort or courage to undertake a task. Practice often makes perfect, as the expression says, and practice with mentally breaking down our fears or concerns is a means to build confidence to manage them.
This is not to say you don’t want real solutions or are trying to avoid things for which reasonable risks have not been addressed. It is to say that in truly and thoroughly knowing fear, we may eventually get to a point of low or even no fear! I know that at this point in my life I have little time or attention that is spent unnecessarily on fear. This additional time and energy is placed instead on more rewarding things in my life!