There is nothing more terrifying that seeing a person engulfed in flames. Watching them stumble around, arms flailing, until gravity finally wins and they fall to their knees in front of you submitting to their inevitable fate. It’s something you never forget – even when it’s just staged on the set of a movie.
While a primal part of you is in awe at the fearsome sight of it, that same primal part has you recoiling in fear. That’s because deep inside of you, your instincts know that even in the most controlled of environments the danger is still real. One wrong move or forgotten layer of protection and the worst still can happen, even if you’re a stunt performer.
The hardest part is to be able to overcome fear and panic and remain calm during the chaos. Stay levelheaded while others are losing theirs. Now that doesn’t mean that you will stop feeling fear after a while, that’s the worst thing that can happen. It’s good to be afraid, it’s healthy. What I mean is that over time you learn to control it instead of it controlling you.
I find that one of the best ways to do this is to challenge yourself on something you’re afraid of, even if it’s minor. Personally I’m deathly afraid of heights. Now that fear of heights is also a primal instinct, some would call it a genetic memory, hailing from our primitive ancestors where like the monkeys of today we’d reach the top of a tree and realize there was no branch above to support us. It’s that fear which seizes your stomach and begs you to grab ahold of something fast, hug it tight for all it’s worth and to not let go. Kind of like love, just as dangerous but that’s a different primal instinct. So do I let that grip of fear control me? No, not any more. Over time i’ve challenged myself enough to be able to push back and maintain a rational calm while it tries to scream in my ear that “This is a really really bad idea!.” After years of pushing myself the peak of overcoming my fear of heights came on a trip to Spain where I came across a metal pole that had been imbedded into a rock on a mountain edge for over 50 years. It was a great view that I knew I couldn’t pass up so I grabbed onto it and leaned over the edge of that cliff. It was scary yet liberating and I wish I had the photos to show that amazing view and the shot of me holding the metal bar while leaning over.
These baby steps work. Even if two hours later I almost slipped and fell to my doom on that same mountain. Note: It took a week to get that dirt out from under my fingernails from stopping my slide over the edge and pulling myself back up onto that icy mountain path.
Now in a real crisis level event, no matter how much you’ve challenged yourself there is always a chance you will still freeze. We’re only human and every person has something that their brains just won’t be able to handle at a certain time and moment. So don’t be too hard on yourself if it happens. After all in times of war sometimes the strongest men and women crack under the pressure only to be held together by that person who was afraid of their own shadow until the proverbial crap hits the fan. It’s those moments that truly define you but luckily i’ve never seen true war and I hope I, and yourself, never have to. Not that I haven’t felt the force of explosions and come close when a blank once misfired and ricocheted over my head (that’s why you never point guns at people, especially on a film set).
But in the scope of our everyday lives it can help you. So climb that tree. Ask that attractive woman with the tattoos out for drinks. Grit your teeth and swallow that fear because you can control it even when you’re watching wooden shrapnel fly around you after some actor kicks open a door with enough force to shatter it (and you can’t make a sound or else you ruin the take). Trust me. And don’t let that attractive woman try to talk you into getting any random tattoos – At least not until she at least buys you a few drinks first.