Tag Archives | Fear

Is fear holding you back?

If you’re like me, you have mixed feelings about fear. On the one hand, fear is a kind of self-preservative. It can keep you from doing something stupid, like jumping off a cliff or driving way too fast or trying hallucinogenic drugs.

On the other hand, fear can also be a prison. It can keep  you from things that could be fun or even life altering. Like skiing that extra steep slope or leaving that spirit-crushing job or dumping that boyfriend who’s no good for you, anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately, and how it can hold you back. Not long ago I heard someone on the radio say, “Everyone is scared.  It’s doing it anyway that takes courage.” And it really hit home.

Believe me, I’ve had my share of fear. I’m as guilty as anyone of looking at a ski slope that I know I can ski and saying, “Ahhhh, I think I’ll go another way.” This is something I’m working on. The head can be a powerful deterrent to all sorts of things.

All the same, I think I’ve done a number of things that some might consider fearless. My husband and I left well established jobs and struck out on our own, starting our own ad agency that kept us going for 19 years. And when his first book, FINN, came out in 2007, we closed this same agency, sold our home in suburban Philly and moved to Vermont,  a place we truly loved, even though we had no jobs, family, or friends there.

Yes, these were scary. But you know, they turned out fine. And it taught me a lesson: Sometimes you just have to hold your nose and jump in.  Because if you don’t, you’ll never end up doing anything new. And that can make for a pretty boring life.

I found this video on YouTube that I thought made a great case for living fearlessly. I hope it speaks to you, as well.


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In the negative.

Ever had negative thoughts while skiing? Times when you’re less than confident or when you beat yourself up for not skiing as well as you think you should?

You’re not alone.

This was the subject of a thread on TheSkiDiva.com, and I thought I’d share a few of the ways our members have of dealing with this:

  • Pump up the jams, baby: Listen to music. It’ll distract you from feeling nervous or uneasy. If you don’t have an iPod, sing!
  • Take a break, do something different: It might help you break the cycle.
  • Reassess: Figure out what’s causing the negativity.  If it’s the cold, go in and warm up. If it’s the people you’re skiing with, head off by yourself for a while. In short, think of a positive way to change the situation.
  • Remember that it’s not a competition. You’re not in the Olympics. You don’t have to be the best one out there. Just be yourself.
  • Repeat positive affirmations. Give yourself a pat on the back for the things you can do, rather than beat yourself up for the things you can’t.
  • Pack it in for the day. It’s okay to quit. There’s always another day.
  • Take a lesson. Improving your skills is a good way to set yourself up for future success. And make it easy for yourself to learn. Don’t try to learn to ski bumps when they’re icy hard, or learn to ski crud when it’s like a coral reef out there.
  • Find a comfortable run and hang out there for a while. You don’t have to ski the most challenging stuff all the time. It’s okay to relax and back it down.
  • Adjust your expectations: Realize you can’t be an expert skier in a day or even a week. Set realistic goals for yourself, and work to achieve them.
  • Visualize: Envision that you can do it, and picture how it should be done. Getting the right way set in your mind’s eye can do wonders.
  • Don’t try to control the things that you can’t: The weather is not up to you. Neither is the grooming or the light or a million other things. Accept what is and only change what you can.


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Frozen In Place.

I’ve never made any claim about being a super skier. Au contraire. I’m simply someone who loves to ski. A lot.

So here I am at Solitude Mountain Resort. And some of the people I’m with encouraged me to do something I’ve never done before: ski a double black. In Utah.

Usually I don’t let myself get pressured into doing things I’m not confident about. But like an idiot, I went along.

I should’ve had a clue when the sign at the trail head said, “Danger. Cliffs Ahead.” That messed with my mind a little, but I forged ahead, anyway.

How was the trail? Steep. As in s-t-e-e-e-e-e-p. And narrow. With rocks. And trees. And a view across the canyon that literally gave me vertigo. My world started to spin. And I absolutely froze. Couldn’t move at all.

I’ve heard about this happening to other people. The thing is, it’d never happened to me. The longer I stood there, the worse it got. A truly humbling experience.

Then I remembered an interview I’d done — for this blog, in fact — with Mermer Blakeslee, the ski industry expert on fear. She said if you can just get moving, you’ll be okay. If you change your focus, you’ll be okay. If you break it down into smaller increments, you’ll be okay.

I knew I either had to do something or change my mailing address. So I started to move. I focused on keeping my hands in front of my body. And I concentrated on the next few turns.

In the end, I made it down. It wasn’t pretty, but I was intact..

My point here is twofold:

1) Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing anything you don’t feel confident about. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

2) Fear just happens. This is the first time it ever hit me like this. Now I know what the fuss is about. And if you do freeze, do what Mermer suggests. Move. Focus. Break it into smaller bits.

I am truly humbled by this. I mean, I’m a pretty good skier. But as I said, this can happen to anyone.

Afterwards, I went and skied things I felt more confident on. Hey, you gotta get back on that horse! And I think it made me feel better.

All in all, the whole thing was a learning experience. So I guess it was actually a good thing. It gave me a better understanding of what new skiers must feel.

I think it was Churchill who said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Know what? I think he may be right.

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A conversation about fear with Mermer Blakeslee.

For many of us, skiing is a head game. Get past the fear, and suddenly things become a lot easier. So who better to talk to about this than Mermer Blakeslee, the ski industry’s recognized fear expert and author of In the Yikes! Zone: A Conversation With Fear (Dutton, 2002).

Mermer started skiing at the age of 3. After training at Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont, she competed internationally. For the past 20 years, she’s trained instructors as an examiner for Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA). In 1996, she became a member of PSIA’s elite National Demonstration Team and now serves as a selector for that team. Mermer travels all over the country educating industry professionals. She also leads women’s seminars at Wyndham, NY, and Snowbird, Utah.

Q: Mermer, I know you’re also the author of two novels [In Dark Water and Same Blood], yet you do all this work with skiing and fear. How do you reconcile the two?
A. I know they seem diametrically opposed, but both of these disciplines come together in the core of my being. A lot of what I’ve done with fear and skiing is also what I’ll do with fear and writing. When you have a writing block, it’s because your expectations are high. You need an entrance ramp to get into either writing or skiing. You can’t just click in and be in the zone. It’s like when you come into music. You can’t just start dancing unselfconsciously. You may start out on the sidelines watching, then you may start moving a bit, then you slowly get drawn in. You have to find your process to actualize what you’re capable of doing.

One big difference between me and sports psychologists is that I treat the athlete as an artist. The psychologists deal with conditioned responses and overlook the creativity of the sport. I talk about skiing as a metaphor for any creative act. There’s always that moment where you have to give yourself up and let go. You know, I really love skiing just for itself. It doesn’t have to be a metaphor. But I find that because it’s such an emotional sport, the metaphor can easily transfer into people’s lives.

Q. So what do you do in your fear clinic?
A. I gear the clinic toward getting women to respond to skiing in a new way, based on their own ability. We get them into a place where they’re free of what I call the “nag.” That’s the negative self-talk that tells you you can’t do something.

Q. How did you get started with your fear clinic?
A. I started to teach skiing at Wyndham (NY), and no one liked teaching the fearful women who came in for lessons. I told the ski school to give them to me, and I started developing a reputation for dealing with them. It’s ironic because when I was ski racing at Burke Academy, I understood there was a mind-body connection; that it was my mind that was keeping me from getting better. So I felt that these fearful women were just like me. I also thought they had amazing emotional courage, to attempt to do something even though they were frightened. Eventually I was asked to do a special clinic about fear; I think that was back in ’85. Now I offer one clinic a year, and I train a lot of fear clinicians. I also train ski teachers and I help examiners become better examiners. I do staff training and women’s clinics at Snowbird. I’m trying to mainstream fear into the way people think about ski teaching.

Q. Do you think it’s healthy to feel fear?
A. I distinguish between fear and respect. A lot of what we teach in the clinic is a healthy respect, because some people misjudge their own fear. They think it’s fear when it’s actually respect. What they need to do is develop more skills to expand their comfort zone. It has nothing to do with not fulfilling their potential. They have to put in the ground work and develop their skills.

Q. Do you find that men and women have different approaches to fear?
A. A lot of women don’t understand the amount of repetition that’s needed to become good at something. There’s a dichotomy in the psyche of many women. On one hand, they feel unathletic. On the other, they’re not aware of how much work it takes to improve, so they think they should be better than they are.

There are two approaches to fear. One is avoidance. You avoid going down a particular trail. A lot of women are like that. I call them Janes. You have to give them a push. Then there’s the person who rushes through fear. I call them Roberts. These are mostly men, though they could be women, too. For those people, you have to modify the rush.

Q. So how do you handle this in your clinic?
A. We start inside with a conversation about fear and how it affects us. Then we take it out on the hill and work on it concretely and literally, to determine what is happening to our bodies. We do a lot of strategies, though I wouldn’t say we “overcome” fear. You’re always going to be frightened of the next step. What we do is expand the ability to move in and out of fear so that someone’s comfort zone doesn’t have to shrink around them.

Q. For all our gearheads, what are you skiing on now?
A. I’m skiing on Fischer SC Race skis. It’s a great eastern ski. I can take it into the bumps and it’s great on ice, too. I have a 3 degree side bevel on them. I have Fischer boots, too.

Mermer offers her women’s fear clinic at Wyndham Mountain in New York. For more information, visit Wyndham Mountain or call 800/754-9463 ext. 1120


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Are you afraid of getting hurt?

Can’t blame you. No one wants to get hurt. The problem is when the fear of injury takes over until you work yourself into such a nervous tizzy that your skiing suffers and you actually end up doing yourself some damage.

Funny thing is that you can get hurt doing just about anything. One of the women on TheSkiDiva.com posted about someone she knew who got hurt washing her car; she tripped over the hose and woke up in the hospital with a shattered femur and a number of torn ligaments. It was one of the worst injuries the therapist there had ever seen.

This doesn’t mean you should take needless risks. But fear of getting hurt doesn’t help your skiing. It can dampen your enjoyment of the sport and keep you from realizing your full potential.

The best advice: know your limitations, maintain your equipment, and keep yourself in shape; good balance and good core strength can go a long way in keeping you out of the emergency room.

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Facing fear.

Ever get scared on a ski run?

There, there — It’s okay. You can admit it. Happens to everyone.

Fear is a good self-regulator. It’s what keeps us from trying something stupid that could send us to the emergency room.

But it’s also a nasty head game that can make us play things a little too safe. And that can stop us from meeting new challenges that could actually be fun.

How to deal with fear? Obviously, it’s best to avoid it altogether. Having a realistic assessment of your skiing ability helps. So if you’re a Level 4 skier and someone wants you to go down a double-black mogul field, I’d suggest taking a pass.

That said, even on trails you should be able to handle, fear can still rear its ugly head. So here’s what I do: First, I give myself a little pep talk. Then I try to get going as soon as possible. In most cases, I find that the more I stand and mull something over, the worse it gets. If it’s really gnarly, I try to break whatever’s ahead of me into smaller, more manageable components and concentrate on getting through those sections, one at a time.

I think everyone deals with fear differently. Some people thrive on being scared. Not me. The trick is to get good enough so you have the tools available to handle any situation; that way it isn’t an issue. That could mean taking lessons and just putting in plenty of hours on the boards. And if and when it is an issue, try not to let it get the best of you.

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Sure, I’m sure!

Even though it’s come and gone, here’s a day worth noting: National Women’s Confidence Day.

If you missed it like I did, here’s some background: National Women’s Confidence Day was established on June 7 by Vanity Fair (the lingerie company), and announced to the world by none other than their spokesperson, Queen Latifah. The idea of the day is “to recognize women who project the power of confidence and encourage other women to gain confidence and self-esteem.”

As much as I abhor this as a blatent ploy to sell women’s underwear, I guess I must be a sucker at heart. Because I can’t help but applaud the notion behind it. After all, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging women to be confident.

This is especially important in skiing, a sport where head games can do a real number on you. Lack confidence in your ability, and you can pretty much guarantee yourself a white knuckle, teeth chattering, toe clenching ride down the mountain. In other words, you won’t have any fun. But feel fairly confident, and the run’s a different story.

Seems to me that lack of confidence is more of an issue with women than it is with men. Chalk this up to social conditioning, intimidation, or who knows what. I’m not saying you should over estimate how well you ski and take unwarranted risks. On the other hand, why not give yourself permission to recognize the ability you do have? Instead of talking yourself down, boost yourself up. You’ll ski better, feel better, and have a much better time.

I’m sure of it.

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Risky Business.

Granted, there are a number of women who ski with no fear — who have the skills and nerve to tackle just about any situation on and off-piste without a second thought.

But for all of those with no fear — and I salute you — there are dozens of other women who are reluctant to push themselves to the next level, or who may even give up skiing, for fear of getting hurt.

Is it that women are more averse to risk than men? Do we know that we’ll still have to go to work, take care of the kids, do the laundry, cook the meals, clean the house, and so on and so on, even if we’ve torn our ACL or fractured our tibia? Or is it some macho thing that causes some men to turn into super competitors who are willing to try anything on the slopes, even if it’s beyond their abilities, no matter what the cost?

I know I’m generalizing. I know there are plenty of men who’ll do the housework and take care of the kids, and many women who’ll rip down the slopes, launching themselves off frozen waterfalls and zipping down untracked couloirs. Of course the whole concept of what’s risky — and what isn’t — is purely personal. It probably has a lot to do with past experiences, social conditioning, upbringing, role models, expectations, and so on.

But still, when I see how male dominated skiing seems to be, it makes me wonder. What do you think?

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