Climbing Trees and Overcoming Fear

Charlie Overcoming FearFour times a week I babysit my 8 and 10 year old “dudester” cousins. Needless to say, we do a bunch of awesome stuff: wrestle, sword fight, play football, swim and most recently we’ve started climbing trees.

When Sam and Charlie first began, they were climbing small, easy trees. Then, as I started suggesting moving to harder trees or more difficult routes, a certain word started recurring: CAN’T

“I can’t climb that tree, it’s too high”
“I can’t grab that branch.”
“I can’t go higher.”
“I can’t, I can’t. I can’t.”

Sure, they are young boys new to pushing the limits but saying “Can’t” gives them an excuse, a justification, an out. They can, and deep down they know they can.

So, like a good older cousin, I don’t let them get away with copping out and not overcoming the fear. I’m their “Fear Counselor.” Because, seeing their situation from an outside perspective, I know fear can easily be overcome with a different perspective and some encouragement.

I’m looking at Sam’s route and I can clearly see that he can reach his hand up and grab the next branch. I know that Charlie can hang, dangling his feet, and do a pull up. I know Sam can push off with his left leg in order to reach the next foot hold.

But in the moment, blinded by the fear, they can’t see these options and how to push solve them.

The Solution

Usually around the time when they are about to back down the tree because they “Can’t” go any higher, I ask,

“Can you really not or do you just not want to?”

I don’t let them get away with the thinking that they are physically unable to continue. If they decide to come down, they know it’s because they chose to not push further not because they couldn’t.

Sam Overcoming FearSee, they can take the next step, climb a little higher, risk a little more: they just need a little encouragement.  Sure, it’s pretty dangerous if they fall, no doubt. But what if every time they said they can’t, I swept in and bailed them out, if I let it slide, helping them down? How far would that take them?

By offering outside perspective and some encouragement, they almost always end up pushing through the “Can’t” and take that next step. Over and over again. In a little over 3 weeks, they have gone from climbing puny trees to scaling Oaks and Magnolias to heights of 30 feet (Shhh don’t tell their parents). Each obstacle they overcome pushes them to even further. (Now were looking to neighbor’s yards for bigger trees!)

You and Fear

How many times do you say “Can’t”? How many times do you justify fear?

With age, instead of involving bodily risk through dangerous stunts, fear appears in the form of other types of risk, usually social.

We fear accepting an invitation to an unknown party or event. We fear meeting new people. We fear taking risks. “Can’t” is (almost) always an excuse because some sort of fear is lingering deep down: fear of embarrassment, fear of failure, or fear of (fill in your blank.)

 “Can’t” is your easy out.

You can you just don’t want to. You are making excuses. In times like these, it helps to reframe the word, and look at at if from a different perspective. Why can’t you? Are you physically able to? Are you justifying your situation? What are you scared of?

Truth is, you (almost) always can accomplish what you think you can’t.

Fear is holding you back. Next time you say “Can’t”, stop, rethink your use of this word, and explore why you think you can’t. Maybe you decide you really can’t, but I think you will find you cop out more often than you should.

So, as Sam and Charlie would say, “Stop being a ‘crud’ and keep climbing.”

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Please share this Thought with others, it might help inspire them to overcome their fear.

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