People are Awesome

Peak Moments

Take 60 seconds and write down the peak moments in your life. Chris Guillebeau, on whose excellent blog that suggestion came defines a peak moment:-

… as a fixed point in time that has strong, positive memories. You summited the mountain! You achieved something monumental! Things will be different now.

Apart from the obvious landmarks, like getting married or having children, most peak moments are time when we stepped well out of our comfort zone. I wrote about one of my peak moments (although I didn’t label it as such at the time) when swimming beneath the Azure Window in Gozo a couple of years ago.

If you do the exercise, how many peak moments were accompanied at some point by strong feelings of anxiety or even fear? I can report from memory, 25 years on, that getting married generates much anxiety for the main participants!

Lets Scare Ourselves

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween

As I write this we approach Halloween and there is the usual glut of horror films on TV. Personally I’ve never enjoyed the genre; likewise I’ve never enjoyed the adrenaline rush people get from riding roller coasters.

But just as our peak moments lead to extra adrenaline pumping around our body, as we prepare to fight or flight from danger, we do seek it as well by deliberately submitting ourselves to fear and terror.

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. … I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”  ~ Joseph Campbell

Fear can be fun. Being scared can give us an amazing high. Its a way of jolting ourselves out of our ordinary world and living on the edge. Whilst the likes of Chris Guillebeau have organised their lives to seek adventure, most of us don’t.  To feel more alive we need to use more mundane methods to generate these more intense feelings.

Lets Scare the Children

As a side note, its interesting that we generally encourage children to embrace these scary moments – not that they need much encouragement!  Rides at fairgrounds cater for all ages, many children’s stories have plot lines that seem to have been borrowed from horror films.

Or should that be the other way round? Charlie Higson in the Times 29.10.10 (sorry, no link available) writes

So many fairy tales are based around this idea of monstrous adults trying to devour plucky children. Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel…(And if that’s not a classic horror film set up what is? The mysterious house in the woods, the seemingly kindly person who turns out to be deranged.  This is Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre….)

Charlie also gives an interesting argument that Snow White is a pretty effective horror film for children! But I digress…

Fear of Heights

So fear isn’t just something that, as in the case of Tony Blair, can dominate our lives in a very negative way. We also seek it and use the same body physiology to have peak experiences. Can we somehow combine these two extremes?

fearsome fun

Oh what fun!

I enjoyed reading Tyler Tervooren have a go at curing his fear of heights in The Fastest Way to Cure a Fear. His solution was jumping out of an aircraft at 11,000 feet. I’ve no particular fear of heights myself, but that is an experience I’m not looking to copy!

What was most telling was his conclusion:-

And I didn’t “conquer” my fear – I’m still afraid of heights – but I did confront it. I proved to myself that my fear is irrational and even though I still feel it, I can work around it. Getting on a ladder won’t be nearly as scary anymore.

Is our fear of heights  irrational? Even falling from a ladder can result in serious injury. I know if I chose to step out of an aircraft the way Tyler did I would go through the same anxieties as him, although perhaps not as extreme.

For some people just being in an aircraft can induce fear. When we travelled home from holiday in Egypt last June the lady across the isle from me was being comforted by her family as we came into land.  She was visibly shaking and gripped, I assumed, by a fear we were about to crash.

You can argue that a fear of flying is irrational as basically flying is statistically proven to be a safe way to travel.  However, if your thinking dwells on flying itself being irrational – a large, heavy, tin box unsuspended thousands of feet up – then statistics won’t help.

Being in Control

When we sit to watch a horror film, when we strap ourselves into a roller coastline, or, like Tyler step out of an aircraft at 11,000 feet we are choosing to do so.  All those gut wrenching moments in the video are done by choice – undoubtedly after much practice in less scary situations. Whilst we don’t know for sure what will happen or how we will feel, there is an element of control in what is happening.

What is different about Tony Blairs fears are they largely revolve around the reaction to him of other people. However well prepared, he cannot control what happens next.  And his fear isn’t irrational – he has chosen a profession where even those supposedly on his side will put the boot in at any opportunity!

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on whether trying to rationalise a fear is workable, and to what extent you submit yourself to fear. Do you watch horror films or ride roller-coasters? Most importantly, how do experience being alive?

Photos by Artiom Pontratenko and celineon on flickr

On Twitter? Please Click here to Retweet this post, thank you

Steve @ Chrome Heated Towel Rails November 3, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Great post! This is really interesting, people are awesome indeed! I’ve never come across a blog that share thoughts about “people” really appreciate this post. I enjoyed the video clip of “People are Awesome” wow, I liked the guy who throws the playing card precisely at the candle fire to extinguish. WOWW .. and the person who skates down from the high point of a bridge landing on the big skate board ramp! Incredible!!! Great work with this post!

David November 9, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Thanks for your comment and “awesome” compliments. I must admit most of the things people do in the video are pretty stunning!

Debbie @ Happy Maker November 8, 2010 at 10:56 pm

When it comes to fear we can not let fear stop us from being who we are. Tony Blairs chooses to take a risk rather then hide who he is.

We have to face fears, but at the same time some of the stuff that is done in the video I would have a fear to do. However I would not attempt them because I know that I do not have the talent to do them. When we have a talent to do something and let fear get in our way, that is when one needs to step back and face the fear to move forward.

David November 9, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Thanks for your comment. The more I look at fear, the more confused I get. I think even if I had a talent – such as diving from a height – some of these things would fill me with fear. But I agree that for most things people shouldn’t allow fear to get in the way and put boundaries on how they function.

Bruce November 12, 2010 at 1:08 am

I agree people are amazing and peak moments are something to contemplate. I was in a position once where a man pointed a pistol at me and pulled the trigger – click! A second click! He ran. I have had trouble getting excited about much ever since. I still had to function and found out I could with a clear head. Been in ER medicine ever since. My peak moment. Great post.

David November 13, 2010 at 12:17 pm

That’s one hell of a peak moment! Its interesting to reflect, as I think you elude to, that when people experience such extremes – such as being in battle – then having experienced such peaks life is boring unless you can recreate them in some way.
Thanks for sharing this experience

Benjamin@Meditation for Beginners November 15, 2010 at 4:26 am

Nice, Bruce.

I’ve been in the U.S. Army Infantry… a practitioner of a variety of martial arts for over 15 years… and a former bouncer at a downtown nightclub… and I don’t have any stories nearly that intense. 😉

keep smiling,


Michelle Vandepas December 4, 2010 at 4:41 am

Bruce. wow. wow. that’s all i can say. you must feel like you got a second chance.

Beat Schindler November 12, 2010 at 9:59 am

People truly are awesome, particularly the ones crazy enough to believe they can change the world – they’re the only ones actually doing it. Onlookers and fence sitters typically assume the crazies do what they do because they have no fear. Wrong. Everybody has fears – the difference is in what are you going to do about it. There’s no right and wrong, just a myriad of choices. Your post captures it well. It makes for a great read.
– Beat

David November 13, 2010 at 12:19 pm

That’s a great point – “Everybody has fears – the difference is in what are you going to do about it.”. So many people don’t step outside their comfort zone and realise their potential. Thanks for your comment and kind words.

Andrew @ Blogging Guide November 12, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Awesome video! Doing any of those sort of stunts would make me very fearful.

The fear of getting hurt!

I often wonder how these guys start. How do they get to the stage were they can flip 10 times and land on their feet.

But they are awesome at ‘their thing’.

We are all awesome as something – just flipping and jumping isn’t mine!


David November 13, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Another great comment, “we are all awesome at something”. The trick in life is finding what that is. Another angle is if you can do something awesome, that others cannot do, its a great source of self confidence to help you else where in life.
thanks for your comment

Corinne Edwards November 12, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Hi David –

Watching that video was a heart stopping experience.

Of course, the first thing anyone has to ask is what kind of DNA is present in some of these people to take those risks?

After 20 years in the travel industry, I can tell you that most people are afraid to fly. They don’t tell you. But they certainly told me.

One extreme example was a client who booked every weekend to fly to Florida to see his mother.

His requirement was there had to be a minister, priest or rabbi on the plane and he had to sit next to them. He thought God would not let those people die in a plane crash.

Those were the days when you could actually call the gate agent at Delta and they would try to accomodate him. They really tried too.

If they failed, the ticket was on my desk for refund the following Monday.

When I was two, my favorite uncle Jerry had an old two seater plane at Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn. He took me with him almost every weekend. (My mother was only 20 at the time and didn’t have much sense)

I have never been afraid of flying as a result. It worked against me when I decided to take flying lessons. Two instructors quit me. They said I was dangerous. I never got my license.

But, some of those tricks in the video?

Sorry. I wasn’t trained in those antics.

Maybe next lifetime.

David November 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm

The mind boggles at what you did to make two instructors quit on you!! And really, fear comes down to the experiences and training we have had. I’m sure many of these people would feel less confident in front of a TV camera being interviewed – whilst you excel. Thanks for your comment

Joel November 12, 2010 at 9:54 pm

I’ve never actually been scared by a horror file, knowing it’s not real means I don’t get scared. Sure I get surprised a lot, but that’s a cheap scare. I get more scared when I press the wrong button or do something risky on a client site and then realize I didn’t back up first! Real life is much scarier!

David November 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm

I agree on the horror, for me lack of reality (and with anything sci fi) means I cannot get immersed in the story like I can in action/thriller films. And we all have those real life “heart in the mouth” moments from time to time, which give reminders that the body does have this fight or flight automatic response. Thanks for your comment

Michelle Vandepas November 14, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Trouble is, we don’t always know the different between fear and discerning. We have to learn when it is real fear holding us back, or when we are scared for good reason! (starting a business without being prepared for example).. After we have figured out it’s unfounded fear and we go for it, then WOW what a thrill!

David November 15, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Thats a good point – we seldom analyse our emotions and figure out what is behind how we feel. And why not get that adrenalin rush learning to do something useful – like speak in front of a crowd! Thanks for your comment

Benjamin@Meditation for Beginners November 15, 2010 at 6:36 am

A lovely post, David.

The connection between fear and excitement is interesting, indeed.

There is a ride at many amusement parks that takes you up ten stories or so… and then drops you into a free fall, only slowing you down about forty feet from the ground (guestimating). I used to go to a nearby amusement park in Denver, CO… every time I went I would ride that ride repeatedly. I enjoyed the combo of fear and excitement at the initial drop… but what I really enjoyed is noticing the differences when I would play with different aspects of experience when the free fall began. Sometimes I would breathe deeply, sometimes I would close my eyes, other times I would look at a spot far away, and sometimes I would just notice the physical sensations in my body.

Perhaps the most persistent thing was the anticipation on the way up. This strikes me as a very useful realization. Whether people like something or hate it… whether they experience a peak state of excitement or a peak state of fear… usually it is the anticipation that shapes the experience (for the more or less predictable stuff).

It also seems to me that doing your best to positively anticipate the intense situations in life (be they recreational or otherwise) goes a long way toward experiencing them as positive peak states as opposed to peak states of fear. 😉

keep smiling,


David November 15, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Rather you than me, as I hate all these adrenalin rush fairground rides. But it sounds like your experiments came up with useful material. I will ponder on this issue of how much anticipation affects these peak moments. Thanks for your compliments and comment

SenseiMattKlein November 16, 2010 at 11:48 pm

Really liked Tyler Tervooren’s story about jumping out of the airplane to cure his phobia. I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge (don’t worry, you are strapped in) and it worked like a charm to cure mine. Never be afraid to confront your fears head on.

David December 1, 2010 at 10:13 pm

I still don’t get how this “cures” a phobia, unless done repeatedly. I’m sure I’d be as scared the second time as the first? Thanks for your comment.

Krizia | Blog Income for Women November 18, 2010 at 6:46 am

Oh yes, jumping out of a plane would surely cure a lot of fears.

Perhaps something I should consider trying 😉

Great post!!!


David December 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm

You first!

Cheryl from thatgirlisfunny November 30, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Hi David,
I’ve recently started sparring in my kick-boxing class. You can believe that fear is present as I’m dodging blows and getting in a few licks of my own. It keeps me fully focused on the present moment. Laughing, grimacing and trying to catch my breath. Fun and fear-filled at the same time. I love it! That’s how I experience being alive.

David December 1, 2010 at 10:30 pm

You’re the first commenter who is regularly engaging in an activity you describe as “experience being alive”. I’m quite fascinated by this as we all get absorbed into the “daily mundane” and having something (other than drink or drugs) that can safely do this must be wonderful.
Thanks for your comment

Amy - Earnest Parenting December 5, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Ugh! I would not do most of those tricks. Some of that is fear, but some of it is because I am content with my existence as it is. I know that’s not true for everyone, and it’s fine if someone else gets a rush from that kind of stunt (my children are in that category). Most of it’s not for me though. 🙂

Mariam January 11, 2011 at 7:44 am

I love horror films. In fact, I preferred watching these kind of films instead of drama and comedy. And I have also ride roller coster and is looking forward to experience bumpee jumping soon. 🙂

David@Carpet Cleaning NY May 25, 2011 at 1:17 am

fear is essential to all that we do in life it can propel us to become better people
I learned that after serving in the Israeli military If we use fear in a positive way we have it made because it is all around us 🙂

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: