Jumping off the high dive

Six steps to overcoming your fears

One summer, when I was eight-years-old, I spent almost the entire summer at the Verdugo Pool in Burbank. I loved jumping off the diving board to see how many kids I could splash with my cannonball. As I stood in line waiting for my turn at the diving board, I would stare at my nemesis just a few feet to my right—the high dive. I watched with envy as other kids flew off the high dive, but I was too scared to approach that intimidating tower of steel and fiberglass. In my mind the ten foot diving board was at least twenty feet tall. Every day that summer I stared at that high dive and fear gripped my heart. Until the very last day of summer.

Here are the six steps I used to overcome my fears that summer.


1. Take the first step

The first step is to take the first step. The first step we take towards our dreams is almost always a small step that involves little to no risk. The first step for me that summer was to get in line for the high dive. Standing in line is not typically associated with fear.

Yet we allow our fears of what may happen in the future prevent us from taking even very simple first steps. Once you know what the first step is, focus just on that step and take it. Don’t be afraid before you have a reason to be afraid.

Get in line for the high dive.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” —Laozi

2. Focus on the outcome, not on your fear

The human brain has an amazing ability to focus on the negative. If we get five compliments and one criticism, we’ll go to sleep thinking about the criticism. If we get three pieces of good news, it only takes one piece of bad news to ruin our day. I was so focused on my fear that I stopped thinking about how much fun it would be to jump off the high dive.

We need to train ourselves to focus on the positive. In this case, you need to focus on the outcome, on what it will feel like when you achieve your goal, and not on your fears.

Focus on what it will feel like when you fly off the high dive.

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.” —Henry Ford

3. Listen to your heart, not the haters

Many of us, myself included, are far too concerned with what other people think of us. Worse yet, we're concerned with what we think other people think of us! I was sure that everyone at the pool that day would be watching me as I climbed up the ladder to the high dive. In reality, nobody else cared.

When you are pursuing your dreams, make sure that they are your dreams and not someone else’s dreams. Once you realize that you are pursuing your dreams you'll soon stop caring what other people think.

Climb that ladder even when you think people are laughing at you.

“The number one reason people fail in life is because they listen to their friends, family, and neighbors.” —Napoleon Hill

4. Don’t fail before you've failed

In the same way that we focus on fear before we have a reason to be afraid, we allow ourselves to fail before we fail. Some kids gave in to their fears and climbed right back down the ladder before even walking to the end of the diving board.

If you think that you may fail, if you get tired, or if you lose your will, you will give up. And when you give up, you are guaranteed to fail — every time. So don't give up until you're dragged kicking and screaming off the diving board.

Don't climb back down the ladder before you've even tried to dive.

“Giving up is the only sure way to fail.” —Gena Showalter

5. Embrace failure

Fear of failure is the biggest obstacle to success. But the secret of successful people is that they've all failed — over and over again. The only way to avoid failure is to never try to do anything outside of your comfort zone. If you never fail then you just aren't taking enough risks in your life.

If your first dive isn't pretty, that just means that you have more experience to draw on next time you take the plunge.

“I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” —Michael Jordan

6. Embrace success

The only thing that will hold you back more than the fear of failure is the fear of success. Fear of success manifests itself as self-sabotage. We believe that we are inadequate to handle success and don’t think that we deserve success so we hinder our own success. Embrace success by convincing yourself that you are worthy; speak highly of yourself to yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat a loved one.

When you do jump off that high dive, take pride in the fact that you've accomplished your goal. Appreciate that you've learned something new. Celebrate that you've overcome your fear.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.”
Marianne Williamson

So what happened that summer?

On the last day of summer I realized that it was time to take the plunge or live in regret. I mustered all the courage I could and I got in that line. As soon as I stood in line I realized that I had already taken the hardest step towards my goal. I knew then that there was no backing out. I crept forward as the kids in front of me took their turns climbing up the ladder, bouncing off the board, and splashing into the water. Finally I got to the front of the line and slowly climbed the ladder to the back of the diving board. Was I scared? YES! But I took a deep breath and told myself to stop thinking and just act. And so act I did. I jumped. And I splashed.

As I surfaced I felt a combination of pride and joy like I had never felt before. But as I climbed out of the pool I also felt a tinge of regret. I realized that I could have spent the whole summer experiencing the thrill of jumping off that high dive. And I had no one to blame but myself.

What are you preventing yourself from experiencing? What fear are you going to overcome? What are you going to do to start practicing risk? Let me know at @tutak.

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