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Facing the Sharks

Do you remember the game show “Fear Factor?” In each episode, the contestants would undertake a series of daring stunts to win the big prize.

One of the acts of the show had caught my fancy. The act required the participants to swim inside a steel cage with a group of ferocious sharks. The freight amongst the contestants was palpable but they managed to complete the task successfully. Almost a year after the episode was aired, I came across a sign of the shark diving adventure while visiting a marine water park. You had to be inside a cage below the water surface, with a group of sharks swimming around freely. I remembered the participants of Fear Factor rejoining after completing the task successfully. 

While all the safety precautions were in place and the instructing divers were keeping a close watch, I was in a dilemma. I too wanted to do it, but there was a small problem. I did not know how to swim. I had never gone down deep, below the surface of the water. Even after going through an elaborate security briefing, my initial representation of partaking in the experience was that of fear. I started wondering “what if I drown?”, “what if the sharks attack me?”, “what would I do if I needed help?”. I stood outside the booking booth frozen in thought. I was struggling to gather the courage to go ahead. Few minutes passed by. Frustrated, I asked myself “What can I do to get over this fear?” The first thing that I did was to get answers to my questions from the diving instructor. I shared my concerns with him, and he patiently addressed each one of them.

After listening to the answers, I imagined myself in the cage, with a group of sharks swimming outside. I recollected how the participants in the TV show were overjoyed after the task. I imagined myself coming out of the experience perfectly safe and thrilled. The visualization helped me to overcome my fear and I went ahead with the dare. I live to say that it was an amazing experience. I will remember it for the rest of my life. And more importantly, it helped me overcome my fear to a large extent.

Did I experience fear while I was in the cage underwater?

Absolutely! I had never been more scared before. As soon as the cage went underwater, I had panicked. I struggled to hold my breath and had to come to the surface frequently to take in some air. It was difficult for me to hold still underwater as I couldn’t swim. The initial few minutes were tormenting. But I persisted.

What helped me go on?

I kept my eyes closed for the initial few minutes. I not only wanted to survive at that moment but also savor the experience. I realized that I could do that only if I was calm inside. I closed my eyes so that I could calm myself down. Once I felt I was ok, I opened my eyes. There they were – three large majestic sharks swimming around my cage. It was amazing!

Have you struggled with fear? The next time you feel afraid, remember to close your eyes and take few deep breaths. Once you feel calm, open your eyes and face your fear head-on.

P.S. If you would like to know more about the effects of fear and how to conquer it, take a look at my book Maximum Results. You will benefit from it.

Why Do People Find It Difficult to Say No?

The two-letter word which is so difficult to say sometimes is “No.” We often worry that if we say no, we will risk our relationship with the other person. It would embarrass the other person and may make them perceive us as cold, unhelpful, or arrogant.

While there can be many reasons why people struggle to say “No,” here are some key ones:

  1. Societal Models: Saying No is difficult because as humans, we, unfortunately, relate agreement to affection and likeability. When we say No, other people may relate that denial to rejection. The fear that people may perceive that you are rejecting them rather than their idea or request compounds the inability to say No.
  2. Roles & Self-Perception – We all play many roles in our lives. Our perception of each of these roles creates a set of expectations within us. These expectations influence our behavior significantly. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you hold a perception of a good manager as, “A good manager should always take care of his/her team members.” You may find it difficult to say No to your team members when they come to you asking for leaves. Similarly, a “loving” mother may find it difficult to say No to her child’s demands.  
  3. Previous Conditioning – We imbibe a lot of our behaviors from our parents as well as key figures in our lives. Our personalities get shaped in the formative years by observing them. Many people find it difficult to respond assertively because they end up modeling similar behaviors of their parents or role models. Such learned behaviors can be modified through consistent practice and reinforcement.
  4. Low Self-Confidence – Lack of self-worth or low self-esteem can impact a person’s ability to hold ground. The fear of a backlash can lead to an individual give in to the demands of the other party too easily. The individual may find it much safer to just toe the line rather than say no and create a confrontational situation.

When someone approaches you, their inherent expectation is that of a “Yes” as an answer. Saying “No” instead is like swimming against the tide. It is difficult and requires more effort. But, with practice, you can learn to say No when needed.  The key is to display empathy to the person as well as their idea or request. Also, rather than simply stating a “No”, share your reason or logic for saying so. This can help in managing the consequences better and not make the other person feel rejected.

The Antidote to Friction in Relationships

Have you ever felt frustrated because of the thinking or behavior of a colleague, a friend, or a family member?

Let’s explore this with an example.

“He does not value punctuality at all,” grumbled the manager.

“Why should he be bothered about what time I walk into the office? I sit till late in the office every day and complete all my work,” thought the exasperated team member.

Let’s look at one more example.

“She just does not realize how important it is to save money,” gasped the husband.

“I don’t want to keep hoarding money and sit on a pile of it when I am eight years old. What is the point of having money if you can’t even spend a small part of it?” exclaimed the wife.

You may notice that the perspectives of both parties are appropriate from their vantage point. However, people find it difficult to see things from the point of view of the other person. They latch on to their perspectives and try hard to convince the other person. This difference of thought leads to debates and then to arguments. Sometimes people go beyond this, to never speak to each other about it.

You can spend your entire life trying to win over people and make them see things from your point of view. But the hard truth is, every person is unique and different. Every person has his or her point of view. Sometimes they would align to yours, sometimes they wouldn’t. Accept that people may think differently than you do. Realizing this will save you a lot of heartburn. Try to understand their perspective and respect these differences. Work towards finding a middle ground.