How to conquer your fears

24 October 2016

He’s crossed both poles, climbed Everest and lost his fingertips to frostbite. Sir Ranulph Fiennes shares his tips for overcoming or harnessing fear.



When I force myself to face up fear, I concentrate on comparing myself with others who have stood up to far worse situations. People, ordinary and not so ordinary, who through the twists and turns of fate have found themselves face-to-face with fear and terror in its various guises, from bullying, persecution and torture, to man-made massacres and natural disasters.

 I say to myself, aloud, ‘They did it and they survived. So don’t be a wimp. Go for it . . . Now!’

I had learned, at least in theory, the secret of dealing with fear [while fighting Marxists with the Army] in Dhofar: keep a ruthlessly tight clamp on your imagination. With fear, you must prevent, not cure. Fear must not be let in in the first place. Think of anything but the subject of your fear. Never look at the void you are about to jump into. If you are in a canoe, never listen to the roar of the rapids before you let go of the riverbank. Keep your eyes closed and let go. If the fear then rushes at you, it will not be able to get a grip because your mind will be focusing by then on the technical matter of survival.

[Psychologist] Susan Jeffers advocated breathing and yoga-type exercises alongside specific, always optimistic, thought processes. In her audio book The Art of Fearbusting, her basic message was as follows:

‘Until you fully understand that you, and no one else, create what goes on in your head, you will never be in control of your life. You are the cause of all your experiences of life, meaning that you are the cause of your reactions to everything that happens to you. If you can create your own misery, it stands to reason that you can also create your own joy . . . so . . . constantly fight that negative voice in your head. Do so repeat­edly every day.’

I used to have two quotations on my desk when planning expeditions into known areas of lethal risk. One, by Ernest Hemingway, was, ‘Cowardice, as distinguished from panic, is almost always simply a lack of ability to suspend the functioning of the imagination’. The other, by the poet John Milton, stated the warning that, ‘Imagination can make a heaven out of hell or a hell out of heaven.’

Entire books have been written about ways of fighting fear, but my five decades of breaking world records through taking risks have convinced me that, with due respect to devotees of yoga, breathing and powerful drugs, successful control of your own mind gives you the best chance of winning the battle and even of achieving that most enviable of states . . . being a happy human being.

Extracted from Fear: Our Ultimate Challenge by Sir Ranulph Fiennes (Hodder & Stoughton, £13.99)

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