3 lessons learned from overcoming my fear of heights

I have to share something. I wasn’t planning on blogging this week as I didn’t have any photos, or have I finished any books. This all changed yesterday. I was planning to do some kind of outdoor activity with my friend Anita, however The Weather Network called for rain. We were planning to hike in Squamish, so I ended up looking on instagram to see what the weather there actually looked like currently, and it showed partly blue skies. The hike was on.

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that I’m highly afraid of heights. This is the basis of the story. It’s a strange fear to have for someone who mountain bikes, but I’m still afraid of heights when I bike; just a little less. I’m not sure where this fear came from, but I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. The thing is, no one is born with any fear. It is something that is learned, or gained, but I’m not entirely sure where I got it from. 

So we were set to hike the Chief. The Chief is one of the most popular hikes around town, so I knew what to expect going in. The beginning started much like the Grouse Grind. Fairly steep, lots of natural steps; like natures stair master as they say. We eventually made it to a point where we bumped into a family and the kids told us that we were almost at the top and that we would have to start rock climbing with chains pretty soon. I knew this part was coming, but I had no idea on the complexity and configuration on this part of the climb. 

Now I’m not going to go into how the climb was physically. The fact of the matter is that it was extremely difficult for me and in order of me to be successful in it, I needed to over come my fear of heights. On the trail we saw kids, people in jeans and bulky flat shoes, even a guy who was older than my dad. For anyone who doesn’t have a fear of heights, and is in decent shape, it shouldn’t be a terribly hard hike/climb. Physically, it wasn’t too much of a challenge for me, other than the fact that it was kind of long. So instead of going into the physicality’s of the climb, I’m going to talk about the lessons I learned on my way to overcoming my fear of heights.

The first lesson I learned is not to worry about what I call “non problems”. Society in general these days worry about too many things, many of which are non problems. What are non problems? They are problems that aren’t really problems because they aren’t effecting you in the present. Are you in debt? Thats a problem. Are you a first year student worrying about finding a career job? Non problem. When I started climbing up the chained assisted area, there came a point where I was scared stiff. I said out loud, how the heck am I gonna get down from here when I can’t even figure out how to get up? I’m so screwed! Anita quickly put me in my place and said, “Don’t worry about that yet! You’re still gong up.” I was so worried in my non problem, that I lost focus of the actual problem at hand, finding a way up! This immediately ties into the next lesson.

Distractions. Non problems are distractions, but there are also many things that one does in a day that can be a distraction to their goals. On the hike mine was looking down. If I was looking down, not only was I scared, but I wasn’t looking for the next step, or next hold. If I wasn’t looking at my next step, I was not focused on the problem at hand and instead was focused on something that was taking away time and energy from my main goal; to reach the top of the Chief. 

The last lesson I learned may be a bit out there to some people, but it has to do with control. I intentionally put myself in such a position in which I had to take full control of myself, or face the consequences. Heres what I mean. If I’m afraid of heights, every time I come across anything moderately high that I don’t feel safe around, that fear suddenly takes control of my mind and body. All I can think about is the fear of falling and worse my body is scared stiff. I thought to myself, if I didn’t overcome this fear, this fear would be in control of me; and I hate being controlled. I was not going to be a slave to my own mind. That was all it took, like a switch. Now was I suddenly free of my fear of my heights? Hell no. I was still scared, but now, I didn’t let me fear control me. Instead I acknowledged that it was there and decided to free my thoughts from it. I just thought to myself, focus on the next step. Left. Right. Left. Right and you will make it back down. Don’t look or think about anything else other than the next step. It’s just like thinking of a vision for your life. The rest of your life is a scary thing to think about and plan for, but it doesn’t have to be if you can break it down into tiny steps. Left. Right. Left. Right.

At the end of the day, I was dirty, bloodied (cut my finger on a rock) and tired, but I was not defeated. I went home at night and drank from the cup of life as I felt so alive. I think the biggest thing of over coming your fears, and mental obstacles is just cutting off that association. I had to stop thinking of myself as the Wilson who is afraid of heights. I had to create a new me. Remember, these fears and mental obstacles don’t really exist. They are ideas that have been manifested in your mind. To overcome them you must clear yourself of your old tales and write yourself a new story.

The two images above were taken by Anita, while this one was taken by me. All photos taken on an iphone 4.

The two images above were taken by Anita, while this one was taken by me. All photos taken on an iphone 4.

Wilson Lau

Photographer of weddings, and people alike.