Courage is Contagious
Alex Honnold is quite possible one of the most remarkable athletes alive.
If you’ve seen or heard about Free Solo, you know it’s a documentary about his ascent, with no ropes, climbing up the side of El Capitan in Yosemite. I (Tiffany here) honestly can’t even fathom this. The documentary won an Oscar. If you’re scared of heights, I recommend watching it with your hands partially over your face.
Honnold has become known as some sort of fear-free freak of nature.
The subtitle to the documentary is “Live Beyond Fear.” As a matter of fact, there’s even a scene in the movie where Honnold goes into an MRI machine and things that light up around fear for 99.9% of humans don't for him. Everyone took this to mean he doesn’t feel fear.
But he puts a new spin on this as he talks to Adam Grant on the Re:Thinking Podcast.
He said… I don’t think I’m immune to fear at all. Instead, I think I’m acutely aware of fear. I’m acutely aware of when to take my fear response seriously.
It’s almost like he’s hyper rational… not fearless. But, let's not fool ourselves. He's clearly an outlier in multiple ways, although I think there is something for us mortals to learn here.
If we liken fear to performance anxiety, or the anxiety of starting a new project, or honestly anything scary, Honnold teaches us to ask a very important question:
Are we doing a good enough job of vetting our fear response?
Are we taking advantage of that space between stimulus and response? Honnold said he frequently has to regroup when he’s climbing and vet his fear–is it warranted? Why or why not? And what can he do about it?
There's also a moment in the podcast where he likens feeling fear to feeling hunger: you can know it’s there, but continue on normally until you get some food. It doesn’t have to take over your entire being. Fear is a signal there could be danger.
Next time you’re preparing for a performance, remember there is a space between stimulus and response. How can you become acutely aware of when you really do need to be nervous versus when that isn’t serving you a single bit?
It’s not about being a fearless freak of nature.
And unlike that popular quote “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, it’s not even about doing it anyway.
It’s about understanding the fear and becoming acutely aware of when you need it and when you don’t.
We find a lot of inspiration in people like Alex Honnold. They’re a reminder that humans are capable of incredible, astonishing things.
And lastly, never forget. Courage is contagious.