Don’t let fear keep you from challenging yourself

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Start saying yes to things you might not usually do

Ever heard of The Year of Yes?

While I admit I haven’t yet read the book by Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes, in which she reveals how saying “yes” changed her life, I have for a long time been intrigued by the idea of saying yes to offers I might ordinarily refuse.

Or perhaps you might accept a challenge you didn’t think yourself capable of.

One of the benefits I’ve enjoyed since I started taking care of my health, and getting in shape, was an improved sense of confidence and inner strength.

This, of course, is because there is such an indelible connection between physical and mental well-being.

Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone

So, for the past year or so, while I haven’t been saying yes to everything, I have been consciously challenging myself to do things the old me might have shied away from.

It started with training to run a 10km race… then diving straight into a programme to prepare for my first half marathon. Now I’m getting certified as a movement coach and training to do a 12km trail run to raise funds for the Cape of Good Hope SPCA.

The last has required that I spend more time than usual running off-road, so when my friend asked me last week if I’d like to “go up” Lion’s Head with her and her friend visiting from Australia, I said “Sure, why not”.

Looking back, I really wish she had asked if I’d like to “climb” Lion’s Head with her. Because that’s what it really entailed – and what I had not been fully prepared for.

And something really interesting happened to me up on that mountain.

For the first time in a really long time, I felt fearful. The kind of fear that sets butterflies free in your tummy, and makes your legs tremble like jelly.

When I discussed this with another friend afterward, she was curious about what exactly I had been afraid of, pointing out that I was fit and strong, so my body could certainly cope with the climb.

That was real food for thought which prompted me to do some research into the concept of fear and how it can hold us back from challenging ourselves or achieving our goals.


Fear is an unpleasant emotion

My Pocket Oxford Dictionary describes fear as “the unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm”; but it is also described as a feeling induced by perceived threat or danger.

It’s a subtle linguistic difference, but incredibly significant when you really think about how many things you fear because you think they will cause you harm, without having hard evidence that they actually will.

The interesting thing about fear is that because it can be instinctual or taught, it is possible to feel fear without being in any real danger.

And when fear grips you, your body will respond in one of four ways – freeze, fight, flight or fright.

My fear really kicked in when I had to climb the first ladder on the route and then again when we were faced with a steep rock face. It was at that point that my fear got the better of me and I froze. It literally wouldn’t allow me to go further.

According to, we react differently to real and imagined threats. “Imagined threats cause paralysis. Being scared about all the bad things that may or may not happen … makes you worry a lot but take little action. Real threats, on the other hand, cause frenzy,” they say.

So, I should feel embarrassed about this irrational fear that kept me from the top of Lion’s Head, right?

Wrong, says life coach Lloyd Burnett.

Acknowledge your fear

Explaining why it’s important to acknowledge one’s fear, he writes: “After a frightening experience, most people try to pretend they weren’t afraid or affected at all. (But) this response doesn’t honour the fearful energy flowing through the body and stops the energy from fully expressing itself. When the energy isn’t fully expressed, it accumulates and will find another outlet for release.”

While I may not be ready to tackle the Lion any time soon again, I’m grateful for my experience on the mountain and for another opportunity to understand the power of the mind.

What scares you? Let me know.

Chantel Erfort

I'm a yoga teacher and health advocate who runs and enjoys the outdoors. Having previously lived a sedentary, unhealthy lifestyle, nothing makes me happier than being able to share the benefits of including some movement, mindfulness and healthy eating into one's life.