When I was twenty-five years old, based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and working for Price Waterhouse, I’d already literally flown around the world a number of times. Often on the most rickety airlines you’ve ever heard of, and sometimes on ones you probably haven’t heard of and some taking off and landing on grass runways! Yet through it all, I remained absolutely fearless. I loved flying!
Then, one day when I was flying on Delta Airlines somewhere over Kansas, seven miles high, we hit turbulence. Nothing too terrible, really. Likely the kind of turbulence you’ve flown through many times yourself. Well, sitting by the window, I looked straight down during the bumps and was overcome by a terror that no words can describe. If you’ve yet to experience “terror,” I can assure you it’s like nothing else in the pantheon of human emotions. And mine, being summoned by some mysterious irrational fear, was something I could not get a grip on. It was profound, and no amount of logic, reason, or rationale would free me from it.
From that moment forward in my life, flying became my nemesis. And on future flights, with the slightest sign of turbulence, and sometimes for no reason at all, my knuckles would go white, my heart would race, and I’d want to desperately grab the person next to me and ask, “Did you feel that? Are you scared too? Do you think we’re going to make it?”
In a roundabout way, I followed a two-step formula for aligning myself with my desire of flying fearlessly.
First, I identified the beliefs that a fearless flyer would have.
Drawing upon my spiritual and logical insights, I made lists:
- Nobody dies before their time.
- There’s no such thing as death—certainly not as we’ve typically thought of it.
- If and when I die, it’s going to be because my greater self saw it as the ideal time.
- Flying is far safer than driving; statistically it’s the safest way of traveling.
These thoughts gave me comfort. I would use statistics, facts, and my own spiritual perspectives to remind myself of these truths, to seed within myself beliefs that would ward off my new fear of flying.
Was all that enough? I wanted it to be enough! I may have wished it was enough! But as I’ve already spelled out, it’s rarely (if ever) enough to “know about the truth” to effect life changes. You must also live it, embody it: make it your own experience.
Second, I installed those beliefs.
The way I installed my beliefs was two-fold.
- I refused to focus on the problem. I refused to tell anyone, other than immediate family, of my fear. Doing so would have reinforced and perpetuated the belief in my “issue.” Even when I spoke to my family about it, it was usually in passing terms and I’d never allow there to be a big discussion. This isn’t always easy, considering that when we go through trauma, whether it’s fear of a plane crash or a broken heart, or bankruptcy, our instinct is (or at least mine is!) to tell the whole world what we’re going through.
I remember once, after a relationship broke up due a bit of a scandal, walking through a grocery store wanting to grab a compassionate looking older woman and say, “Do you know what my girlfriend just did?” We want sympathy, we want consoling, we want someone else to “get” what we’re going through. But if we go overboard talking about our trials and tribulations, we risk lingering in our sorrows, and worse, bringing about more of the same in the future as these lingering thoughts rearrange the circumstances of our lives to become more things. Keeping quiet most of the time worked for me; you might want to talk about it a bit more with family, counselors or therapists. You have to be your own judge as to how much talk is healthy, and how much should be kept quiet.
- The other thing I did to help install these beliefs and ward off my fear of flying was to never decline the opportunity to fly somewhere. I only flew a couple of times a year at that time; but even if it was a short trip, I wouldn’t allow myself to get out of it by taking a car, train, or bus. I was going to fly. I had to. It was my responsibility to act as if I wasn’t afraid of flying.
It took about five years to get entirely over that irrational fear, but the point of this story is that to this day I still can’t tell you why I went through that or what was “wrong with me;” although any such irrational fear is clearly based upon underlying, tangled, invisible, and limiting beliefs about ourselves and life. And all of this evidences that you needn’t know what might be wrong with you, nor need you figure out how you got where you are today, in order to deliberately move forward, creating life changes. You just need to know where you want to go, coupled with your growing knowledge of the mechanics of this reality and behave accordingly.
This article was excerpted from my New York Times Bestselling Book, Leveraging the Universe and Engaging Life’s Magic.