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What is fear costing you? What opportunities have you missed out on, that you wanted to do, but didn’t, because of fear?
In this podcast episode, Kathryn Ely talks to Kristen Ulmer, a thought leader on fear and anxiety who seeks to radically challenge existing norms around the subject of this deeply misunderstood emotion.
Meet Kristen Ulmer
Kristen Ulmer is a thought leader on fear and anxiety who seeks to radically challenge existing norms around the subject of this deeply misunderstood emotion. Having an education unlike no other, Kristen spent 15 years being labeled fearless by the outdoor industry -named the best woman extreme skier in the world for 12 of those years and voted the most fearless woman athlete in North America.
Rounding out her expertise, she also draws from 15 years intently studying a Zen approach to Fear and anxiety. The author of, “The Art of Fear,” she facilitates courses, events and individuals around the world.
Visit Kristen’s website and get her free fear and anxiety assessment.
In This Podcast
- The two basic ways we can combat fear
- Everything you want is found going into the fear
- What resistance to fear is costing you
- 3 steps to have a better relationship with fear
Two basic ways we combat fear
- Most commonly taught and studied: conquering and overcoming fear through breathing exercises, meditation, yoga – all of which are effective ways to rationalize it, yet are temporary with long term consequences. They become bandaids to the natural fear practice of a process. What you resist, persists and that repressed fear ends up growing louder and can manifest negatively in lives.
- Turn towards fear and feel it. Acceptance is a passive step in the right direction. Embrace, feel, and dance with fear to shift towards an optimistic view of it, wherein it becomes an ally and asset. Viewing fear as fun can translate to a feeling of excitement and focus that ultimately takes you to an altered state of flow. That’s when you can show up with your A game in the present.
Leaning into fear
Everything you ever wanted isn’t on the other side of fear, it’s going into the fear. Having a willingness to feel fear and having one foot outside of your comfort zone can increase your potential significantly. It takes a lot of energy for the body to manufacture fear. Risk avoiders are essentially fear avoiders and in turn end up thwarting important growth. Fear is not what’s holding us back, it’s the unwillingness to feel fear. By taking small risks and expanding your comfort zone, there’s less fear. You become a bigger and better version of yourself when you have the willingness to feel fear and embrace it. Avoiding fear is like telling yourself you can’t handle your own emotions. When you start listening to fear and letting it in, you cultivate a confidence that might not have been present before. You tell yourself “I can handle fear.” And when you tell yourself that, it trickles into every aspect of your life.
Fear is a gift from the universe to help us be on point and not screw it up. We get that wrong. It’s not an enemy. It’s not a low vibration energy. It’s actually a high vibration energy and it’s wisdom, intuition, and instinct as a gift from the universe
What resistance to fear is costing you
Once we start perceiving fear as a gift rather than a problem, we can be more in flow with it. Fear-shaming kinks the hose of this natural process. It starts recirculating in our systems and is exhausting. Fear then redirects and can show up as an exaggerated version of itself as anxiety. An unwillingness to feel fear will show up in other ways such as anger, depression, or numbness. When not redirected or recirculated, fear can flood our thoughts and turn into irrational fears, insomnia, and eventually even physical bodily illnesses. From an intentions standpoint, positivity practices are a well-meaning Step A. They are ultimately a spiritual bypass and take us in the polar opposite direction of dealing with emotional discomfort, which needs that Step B.
3 steps to have a better relationship with fear
- Awareness – have an awareness of what your relationship with fear is like currently. Do you have habits that might be resisting or repressing fear or keeping you out of your emotional headspace to truly feel your fear? Awareness is power.
- Talk about fear in a positive way – we will often start by thinking we accept fear as an emotion, but will acknowledge it with a resistance to letting it get the best of us. Don’t pick a fight with fear, rather approach it as if it were a person in a positive, considerate way.
- Fear practice – dealing with fear from an emotional rather an intellectual perspective. How can you embrace fear? Make an emotional shift and do a dance with fear.
Books mentioned in this episode
- How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food with Nicole Mareno | IT 031
- Imperfect Thriving Facebook Group
- Imperfect Thriving on Instagram
- Imperfect Thriving Free Email Course (Your Blueprint To Thrive)
Meet Kathryn Ely
I’m Kathryn Ely and at age 50, I’m enjoying my very best life. I spent years as a lawyer and then stay-at-home mom helping others go out into the world and live their best lives. While this was very important to me, I did not realize that I was losing myself in the process. I followed all of the “shoulds” like “women should always care for others” and “taking time for yourself is just selfish”.
As two of my children were getting ready to go out into the world I realized I was lost, without my next purpose, and it was scary. So I went back to school and over the course of several years, I not only found myself, but I designed the formula for women in midlife to achieve their most fulfilling lives. It is my mission to equip as many women as possible with this design and the tools to make this chapter of their lives the best chapter.
Thanks for listening!
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Imperfect Thriving is part of the Practice of the Practice Podcast Network, a network of podcasts seeking to help you thrive, imperfectly. To hear other podcasts like the Bomb Mom Podcast, Beta Male Revolution, or Empowered and Unapologetic, go to practiceofthepractice.com/network.
Kathryn: I am so excited to have Kristen Ulmer on the show. You just don’t know. So let’s get straight to it. Welcome to the show, Kristen.
Kristen: I’m excited to be here. Imperfect Thriving is such a good topic. I’m ready to talk about that.
Kathryn: Thank you so much. Well, I know all about you or at least quite a bit about you and I’ve listened to your book in its entirety. But for those of our listeners who don’t know you yet kind of catch us up, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today and your book.
Kristen: I am a fear and anxiety expert, but I have a background that’s very unique in how I became a fear and anxiety expert. I didn’t learn about fear or anxiety in school, or I’m not repeating the same old information that other self-help gurus are repeating. I came to my own conclusions through personal experience. First being the considered the best woman, big mountain extreme skier in the world for 12 years and extreme skiing is the consequences of failure are death.
So I made life or death decisions in the mountains on a pair of skis for actually the better part of 15 years. I was also considered the most fearless woman athlete in North America, beating all women in all sports disciplines, not just skiing. Cause I did a lot of other dangerous sports as well. And so that was kind of my super sexy start to being kind of obsessed with the fear process.
I was called fearless. I felt fearless, turns out I wasn’t. We’ll talk about that, I’m sure. And then I also have 15 years voraciously studying a Zen approach, an Eastern approach to fear and anxiety. And then I’ve worked with tens of thousands of clients, wrote a book about it, writing another book about it.
You know, that’ll be out in about three years, that I actually haven’t even started yet, but taking notes, I’m just like I’m obsessed. And I feel like my entire ski career was just an education for me too put the pieces of the puzzle together on what to do about fear and anxiety, why some people struggle with these things and other people don’t, and how you can learn how to have a home healthy, considerate relationship with your fear so that you don’t have fear or anxiety issues.
Kathryn: I feel like we’re such kindred spirits, not in our athletic ability. I’m nowhere near where you are or in, as you say, the fearlessness that you had growing up and in your ski career. But I feel like we have wound up in very similar places. My story not nearly as sexy. Mine was 49 years old coming to the end of my counseling program at school and found out that I had to give a big presentation in front of an auditorium of people.
That was my biggest fear right there. And I had to decide, am I going to quit school? That’s how big the fear was. Am I going to quit what all I’ve done or am I going to move forward? And it wasn’t until that part of my life that I realized exactly the fear, the hold that fear had on me and how I needed to and why I needed to change my relationship with fear.
So. Am I exaggerating when I say, when I learned how to have a relationship with fear, it changed every part of my life and every relationship in my life. Would that be an exaggeration?
Kristen: No, that would not be an exaggeration because fears with us every single moment of every single day in pretty much every single interaction we have, even if we’re not about to give a huge presentation in front of an auditorium of people.
And it’s such a huge part of life. Like we like to think that we’re all about love. But no, that’s only partially true. We’re also all about fear. Like life is a very scary experience and if you don’t have a healthy, considerate relationship with that huge part of life, then you’re not going to be a healthy person.
And I actually think that having a fear practice or getting to know your relationship with fear and making it the best relationship possible is the most important personal work you can do because it affects all aspects of your life, your relationships, your mental health, your emotional health, your physical health.
I mean, it just goes on and on and I have dedicated my life to this, and I can’t even tell you the, the impact that it’s had on me in, in so many areas of my life. It’s just. I think it’s, it’s also a very spiritual practice too, because if you learn how to connect with your fear, you learn to connect with the nature of life, you know, nature itself.
If you’re in a combative relationship with fear, you’re at war with yourself, you’re at war with your body too. And you’re your war with the nature of life. Like you do not want to try to conquer or overcome fear like we’re taught, you know. So this is, this is a very progressive conversation we’re having, because most people do not teach having a healthy, considerate relationship with fear.
Most people teach a combative relationship with fear, seeing it as an enemy, seeing it as something negative, but that is changing. This is the future and it starts here.
Kathryn: So how did you come to this realization and come to writing your book.
Kristen: Oh, I love that question. You know, I’ve never been asked that question.
Like how did I come to be writing my book? You think that would be an obvious question? Well, just the short kind of biography of my life is professional skier. Just, you know, doing my thing, but then I got to the end of my ski career and something just was felt really, really wrong. I felt really inauthentic.
I had a whole host of issues that didn’t make any sense, including I was burnt out on skiing. I hated skiing. Like what was that all about? And so I didn’t have to quit my ski career. I, you know, I had transcended the ski industry. All I had to do was show up at the parties and drink a can of red bull and I’d get paid.
You know, I didn’t even have to ski anymore. but I quit because I couldn’t take it anymore. And I set to figure out what had gone wrong. And then I started studying Zen and I became a mindset sports coach. And all of a sudden, one day, I don’t remember even where I was. It just struck me like, ah, duh, of course I’m supposed to be a fear expert. Because what I was teaching my clients around what to do about fear, which was so out of the box, like, so revolutionary, so different was not only solving their athletic issues, but it was solving their relationship issues, their health issues, their depression, their anxiety disorders. And you know, having been called fearless all those years, it just from a marketing standpoint, just made such sense.
And I just like turned an abrupt corner, stopped being a mindset sports coach, and just started focusing exclusively on fear. And I knew I had to write a book. And I finally manifested a book contract with Harper Collins, not by writing a book proposal. I actually had a 10 minute conversation at a Halloween party at 1:00 AM with, you know, a big wig there and told them my idea.
And within a week I had a book contract without having to write a book proposal because you know what I teach about fear is so unique and so different. And so like, once you hear about it, it’s just like light bulbs go off for everyone. And so that’s what happened with Harper Collins. And, so it’s like the universe just really, really wanted me to write this book.
Kathryn: The universe needed you to write this book. I find that every day in my counseling practice, I approach anxiety, which we know is fear-based, right completely differently than any other therapists. I know, cause I use acceptance commitment therapy and a great deal of working with my clients who have anxiety and depression is working on their acceptance and usually anxiety and depression come from avoidance.
Right. You’re trying to avoid your feelings. You’re trying to avoid what is coming up from your fear? And in my practice, I don’t teach that we have to get rid of that. I don’t teach that. I try, I teach and work with clients on their understanding their fear, understanding that it’s there for a reason and that you can move toward your best life with it side-by-side instead of, I have to get rid of this fear to do what I want. And that’s what most people think I have to get rid of this to have the life I want. How has that changed your life? With your relationship with fear.
Kristen: Let’s go back to your example of having to give a speech. You know, there’s two choices that somebody can make when giving a speech and for any scary experience, even getting on a water slide or a job interview or anything that you’re doing, that’s scary, which much of life is right.
So there are two basic ways that you can approach scary situations. The first way is to try to conquer and overcome the fear, kind of breathe it away, breathe in calm, breathe out fear, rationalize it away. Like, oh my gosh, I’ve been practicing the speech for months. I’ve got this, like I’m going to do great.
And that’s mostly what we’re taught to do. And I think that it works. You know, there’s a reason why it’s taught because it works and there’s been a Harvard study actually that you can breathe in calm and breathe out fear, rationalize it away. It takes about four minutes to kind of calm down. That seems reasonable.
Right. But the problem though is you’ve just spiritually bypassed fear and, Carl Young, you know, whatever you resist persists, so you’ve resisted it. You’ve resisted the natural fear practice of a process. Of course, you’re supposed to feel fear if you’re about to give a speech or do anything scary. And it works, but there are consequences for that and that you’ve just kind of bookmarked it. And then that fear, like, see it as a person, like a child or a roommate in your life that has something to say. And you’re just like lalala like I’m not gonna deal with you. I’m just going to put you out of my mind.
Well, it’s going to piss it off and then the fear is going to come back later, louder than before. And especially if you do a lot of job interviews or you do a lot of scary things or do a lot of speeches, the next time you give a speech, it’s going to be louder. Yeah, and it’s going to take five minutes to get rid of it.
And then the next time it’s going to be louder still until eventually you’re like heck with this. I’m not I’m doing this anymore. This is too stressful. So whatever you resist persists grows louder, stays longer, becomes more and more persistent. And you know, all these things that people do to get rid of fear, meditation, yoga, you know, getting outside in nature and fear and anxiety, mind you, are kind of the same thing. So to get rid of anxiety, you know, all these things are not meant to be treatment for anxiety. You know, yoga is not meant to be treatment for anxiety. It cheapens it. So was meditation, you know, but they’ve just become bandaids. And next thing you know, people, you know, because it keeps growing and growing and growing. They have to do yoga or else they can’t function, or they have to meditate two, three times a day or their life becomes unraveled. And so eventually people just give up and acquiesce and start taking anti-anxiety medication. And, you know, that is basically the domino effect of that kind of practice, which, mind you, works temporarily.
Kristen: Right. And that’s why it’s taught mostly because people don’t know what else to teach. So that, so that’s a big kind of long, you know, story about what happens when you try to breathe away, you know, fear and calm down and rationalize it away or false evidence appearing real. Right. So that’s the first option and it’s proven by science to work.
Sort of, you know, temporarily with longterm consequences. The second possible way to deal with your fear when you’re about to give a speech is what you’re talking about, what I’m talking about, which is just starting to be explored as well. And that same Harvard study, this technique actually calms down fear in four seconds and you do this without repressing it or pissing it off so that it doesn’t come back and persist later.
So what it is is just instead of turning away from it or trying to get rid of it or replace it with something more pleasant, you actually turn towards it and you allow yourself to feel it. And you call it acceptance commitment therapy. I accept that fear is here. I commit to the fear. Maybe that’s not the right language for me. Yeah. What’s that?
Kathryn: Close enough.
Kristen: Close enough. Okay. So for me, it’s more about, you know, yes. Acceptance, it’s a step in the right direction, but you know, it’s still a little passive, but embracing it, feeling it, being intimate with it, like kind of doing a dance with it. And next thing you know, you have an optimistic view of fear. You see it as an asset and an ally there to help you be magnificent, be more sharp on points to focus better. Like it’s like I’m Batman and fear is Robyn and we’re stronger together than apart. And so I am, you know, like the first way is the power that you might get by punching Robin in the face, right?
Like that’s son of a bitch, I punched him in the face, but you’ve just kind of rendered yourself weak because you’ve now lost this asset and an ally that is fear aka Robin right. Much better is to embrace Robin and much better is to embrace the fear and see it as a positive. And that’s actually then what it becomes.
And there’s huge opportunity in that. And the thing is kind of like that upset roommate/ child like you turn towards it and give it some love and attention. Just like children will, it also calms right down in four seconds.
Kristen: And then you still have it as an asset and an ally to help you give a great speech or a great interview.
Or if it’s on a water slide, like fear is fun. You know, if you have a positive attitude about fear, the fear just becomes fun. And taking it back to my ski career, you know, we look at extreme athletes and we think, Oh, they’re fearless. That’s not true. We just really enjoy fear and we really enjoy feeling it.
And then it doesn’t feel like we know fear to feel, you know, if you’re in resistance to fear, it’s the resistance to fear that’s the awful feeling. But if you enjoy feeling fear, it doesn’t feel bad. It just feels like excitement and focus. And it’s, it’s a wonderful feeling and it takes you in to an altered state of flow or zone it helps you bring your A game to what you’re doing, takes you into the present moment.
And little else does, like, if you embrace fear, if you have an intimate relationship with fear flow actually comes for free.
Kathryn: Absolutely. Absolutely. I could not agree more that if you try to push fear away, you can push it down for a little while. Like you would a beach ball and water, but it’s going to pop up stronger. It’s going to pop up louder. And what eventually starts happening is your life shrinks. Right. You do less and less, your comfort zone that you stay in actually becomes smaller. And that’s what happens when people are overwhelmed with anxiety and depression. It’s because they quit doing things that brought them joy because of their relationship with fear. What I try to work with my clients on is keeping one foot out of that comfort zone. If you take the fear with you, it enlarges your life, but not if you stay in the comfort. If you stay in the comfort, it’s just going to eventually actually shrink. So I love what you just said right there.
Kristen: Well, let me riff on that because there’s two things that come came up. I’m going to explain exactly why some people have anxiety disorders even, and others don’t and exactly why people have depression. I want to talk about that, but I also want to talk about what you just mentioned, which is, like we, we hear the saying everything you want is on the other side of fear.
And we, we think that means, Oh, well, I just need to get rid of the fear. And then I’m going to have everything that I want, but that’s actually not what that quote means. And I don’t know if the person that originally created that quote meant it this way, but this is my interpretation of it. Is that everything you want and let’s actually change the quote.
It’s not on the other side of fear. Everything you want is found by going into the fear. Like for example, let’s take Alex Honnold the guy that free soloed El Cap. Now I don’t expect anybody to relate to free soloing El Cap. And I don’t expect anybody to really relate to my athletic career, but I mean, let’s just put it this way.
The guy has done the most incredibly scary thing, I think in the history of humankind. And so, I mean, he has expanded himself to epic proportions. He’s like transcended even what we ever thought was possible, in terms of our, our mental kind of physical, possibilities. Like he is, he has taken whatever gifts he has and taking it to the absolute top of what he’s capable of. So if somebody wants to do that, there’s a rumor going around that Alex Honnold, you know, there was a scientific study done that he has like his amygdala isn’t firing. As a damaged amygdala that’s actually absolutely not true. I talked to him for two hours about this. He just laughed like, no, they, they did some weird tests that it’s totally not accurate.
What’s actually going on with a guy like that who’s achieved his greatest potential is that he has a willingness to feel fear. So we have this comfort zone and picture it like a ball. And you’re still going to feel fear if you’re in your comfort zone, but if you’re willing to feel fear, you’ll be willing to go out of your comfort zone and take a risk.
And let’s say you just kind of take a little step out of that circle. Take a risk where there exists fear, willing to feel fear. You do that often enough, you know, you connect the new dots and all of a sudden you have a bigger circle. You’re now capable of so much more. And then you go for round two, you know, you take risk.
You’re willing to feel fear, willing to feel fear, connect the new dots, bigger, bigger, and each time two things happen. First of all, it’s very expensive for the body to manufacture fear. It takes a lot of energy. So the body doesn’t want to have to do that if it doesn’t have to. And so just each time you expand your comfort zone, of course, there’s going to be less fear, you know, when you’re in your comfort zone.
Right. And second thing, there is no learning and growing without a willingness to feel fear. So you just keep expanding who you are. You have less and less fear. You know, you become a bigger, greater version of yourself until you become so big that Alex Honnold was able to free solo El Cap. So taking risks comes from a willingness to feel fear.
Can you learn how to have a willingness to feel fear? And here’s the thing. There are a lot of fear avoiders. You know, or risk avoiders in the world. What they are is they’re fear avoiders. They’re thwarting their growth, you know, and they’re going to keep themselves pickled in fear cause they never expand their comfort zone.
So, and they blame fear for holding them back. But that’s not what’s happening. Fear is not something that holds anybody back for any reason whatsoever. It’s their unwillingness to feel fear and notice the difference that holds them back. Yeah. That so yeah, another, you know, reason number 700 on the list of why it’s important to have a fear practice is because if you have a fear practice, you become willing to feel fear, and then you can expand to your greatest potential and you can take your gifts and just take them to the moon and back like Alex did.
Kathryn: So many followups to that. But the first one is what, and I don’t have any scientific evidence of this. This is my hypothesis based on working with those who do have fear and anxiety. It’s that when you keep pushing your fear down or bowing down to it and avoiding the things that cause the fear, you start this internal dialogue with yourself of, I can’t handle it.
And you’re telling yourself you can’t handle your own emotions. So it causes more and more and more avoidance. When you start not only listening to fear and letting fear in and changing your relationship with fear. What happens is this confidence that you’ve never had before, because now you tell yourself I can handle it. When you can handle that you tell yourself that in every aspect of your life.
Kristen: And the question is what is the “it” that people say that they can’t handle and what they can’t handle? I mean, let’s say you’re taking a flying trapeze class, you know, and you say, I can’t handle it. Well, usually people are saying they can’t handle the fear.
Right. It’s like, and no wonder like our society has raised generation after generation, after generation of people that just do not know how to deal with discomfort and the more positive we are like right now, there’s just a big trend. Like, you know, we’re all about love and make it a great day and you gotta choose your own happiness and, like have a gratitude practice, all these things beautiful! You know, intentions, but it’s yet more crap of just teaching people how not to deal with their negativity or it’s the spiritual bypassing. Again, we are like on a freight train, just heading in the opposite direction from being able to deal with negativity by all these positivity practices. And I’m a big fan of positivity practices and gratitude, but it needs to be plan B you know, that step B in life. The first A step needs to be. You need to learn how to deal with your emotional discomfort or the uncomfortable side of life. And, you know, I say, you need to, it’s like nobody needs to, but if you want to live a great life, then that’s where you should start.
And especially if you have issues. And so maybe this is a good time to back up and explain where anxiety disorders and depression come from. Okay. Which entirely come from your relationship with fear. So, fear proven by science first shows up as an emotion in your body. You have this amygdala, it’s the manufacturing plant for fear.
It’s not a thinking part of the brain. There’s no thoughts in the amygdala. It’s just a kind of emotion kind of generating resource center. And if there’s a perceived threat, then it’ll show send a shot of discomfort called fear into your body and it’s supposed to flow like water into, through and out of your body and provide for you kind of the energy and resources that you need to bring your A game to anything that you do.
Freeze is one of the reactions that you have, like okay, I just need a pause right now to gather more information, right? Fight, like bring my, A game to this task or flee, like I’m not going to do this. So. That’s its wisdom. And as long as we’re in flow with it, then as soon as the perceived threat is gone, then 10 to 90 seconds later so too is the fear. And we see this in animals a lot. Like there’s, there’s no thoughts involved. It just leads to physical action. And, you know, we complain that we don’t come on this planet with like an operating manual or any kind of like a sense of how to live our lives. It’s actually not true.
Fear is a gift from the universe to help us be on point and not screw it up. Right. We get that wrong. It’s not an enemy. It’s not a low vibration energy. It’s actually a high vibration energy and it’s wisdom, intuition, and instinct as a gift from the universe. Now that’s the ideal. Here’s what we’re doing.
Humans are a lot more complicated than animals and we have these big brains and we really like to solve problems. You know, we’re all like engineers, and now we see fear as a problem to be solved. And next thing you know, we’re fighting or fleeing the fear itself, or we’re freezing when the fear shows up, you know?
We don’t know how to handle it. And generation after generation we’re fear-shaming, each other. You know, like little Johnny says, I feel afraid and mom says, well-intended, there’s nothing to be afraid of, which is so not true. You’re right. And then it sends a message, just a little tiny that he’s not going to get his mom’s love or attention if you know, so long as he feels this.
So he represses it and, you know, and on and on, like we now then get to work to try to solve the problem, which is fear. Which is not a problem at all, but we perceive it that way. Right. And so we do the breathing exercises, the meditation, the letting it go, you know, like I got this it’s false evidence appearing real.
And all we really do in that is we kink the hose. And like see fear as like water through a hose. You know, you kink the hose. Like you stop that natural process that the universe is providing you. And of course there’s going to be problems that come from that. First of all, it’s exhausting. You know, you stop the flow of any river, stop the flow of any hose, you know, the beach ball, whatever.
It’s exhausting to keep that up. And so then picture that the water, and this is what anxiety is. The water then gets backed up. And starts recirculating. And I see this, it recirculates, most people people’s bellies or in their chest or in their shoulders, their neck, their lower back. For me, when I used to do it I used to build up in my throat. So, and it’ll show up as an exaggerated version of itself in the form of an anxiety and eventually anxiety disorder, if you keep it up long enough. So it’s that anxiety is nothing more than recirculating fear stuck in your system when there’s no perceived threat or it’ll show up as kind of a panic as well. So that’s the first way it’ll show up is an exaggerated version of itself. The second way it will show up. And here’s where depression comes in. it’ll show up redirected in other ways that don’t seem like fear at all. And if you are absolutely unwilling to feel fear, well, you have to feel something.
So what people may feel is anger instead. Like a kid who has a really scary home life kinks the hose, doesn’t want to feel fear. Well, he feels anger instead, and it’s just redirected fear. Or, depression is, is either incredible sadness. You’ll feel sadness instead if anger is not acceptable. Depression can also be numbness.
You can also make yourself really, really numb in order to not feel fear. The third way in which it’ll show up, if not an exaggerated version of itself or a redirected different kinds of emotions. Well, emotional response is then like what, or will it’ll flood into every available surface, namely your thoughts.
And next thing you know, you’ll have fearful thoughts. You’ll have irrational fear. You know, you’ll have insomnia because that undealt with fear. You know, will get really clever if you’re really good at blocking it out during the day and hijack your mind in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep.
And then of course you have a compromised body and makes it ripe for illness to thrive. You may, you know, during my ski career, the part of me that, ignored fear, you know, I became really rigid and stoic and arrogant and I started having a lot of injuries after about 10 years, because you have to, you know, it’s a very violent sport.
You have to be more slinky like in your body. So at least a lot of injuries, like, you know, you have some sort of weird, funky thing going on. Relationships. It’s like, if you have a lot of arguments with your spouse, it’s like, I don’t want to deal with my fear and I’m throwing it at you and making you deal with it on my behalf.
Kind of like a monkey throwing its poop, right? You do not want to kink the hose of fear in your body because it will cause some serious issues in your life. It’s like trying to swim upstream and exhausting, you know, going against nature.
Kathryn: Well, I definitely want to ask you more about how we can cultivate this kind of relationship with fear, but I want to get in a couple of stories about you, especially your story of the beginning of you becoming this world class skier when you were just a mogul skier locally. Can you share that story? You know what story I’m talking about?
Kristen: Yes, yes. I do. And you know, I’m gonna spin it in a way so that the audience kind of can get something out of it. And during my ski career, I don’t believe you learn from experience.
You learn from reflecting on the experience. And I had no idea what my relationship was with fear back then. I’ve actually interviewed, 26 now, very, very famous professional, extreme athletes, Alex being one of them. And even people who are in their forties or fifties who have been doing these sports forever, they also don’t know what their relationship is with fear. Of the 26th athletes that I interviewed only three of them had a clue and Alex was not one of them, mind you. So it remains a real mystery, but I realized I did some things right by fear and I did some things wrong by fear. And the story you’re referring to is, when I became famous in one day overnight by, jumping off a bunch of cliffs with some cameras rolling and I had never jumped off a cliff before.
And the first cliff I jumped off was 20 feet, which is actually quite a lot. And I threw a trick, a backscratcher where a skier touches the backs of the skis in between their shoulder blades, you know, by arching their back. I’d never thrown a backscratcher before, but that’s what the trick of the day was.
And that’s what the guys that I was watching were doing. And this is you know, now everybody jumps off cliffs, but back then, this was very new. Only a small handful of guys in the world were doing it. Certainly no girls and cameras were running and, you know, by the end of the day, everyone in Squaw Valley knew my name.
By the end of the week everyone in the ski industry knew my name. And within three weeks, pretty much every single major ski magazine was calling me and asking me for interviews. So, I took this huge risk and the thing is when I tell this story, there’s no mention of fear in my story. And the reason why is because I felt fearless.
So what was going on? Like it wasn’t even like I had a cognitive understanding of, Oh, I feel fearless. I just didn’t have any fear, you know, and that’s why I got so famous. It’s like, yeah, my skiing was really intriguing and really cool and made for good cinema. But the media was just fascinated by my ability to be fearless.
And so what I’ve learned from experience and dissecting that now is that I had a paradox going on. So, first of all, why would I jump off cliffs in the first place? Well, fear. Fear of not being special, fear of not being loved, fear of being invisible, fear of never, maximizing my, you know, abilities and my talents.
You know, we look beneath the surface of what makes anybody great at anything. And I can guarantee you that you’ll probably find fear. You’ll always find fear, actually. You may find the anger too. You may find spite, you know, you may find revenge. There was a cute guy there too, right? Like, let’s be honest here.
Like, this is why these things happen. It’s not because of like will or drive or passion. No, there’s usually some sort of demon or insecurity or, you know, fear behind our motivations. And people that you admire that do great things with their lives. If they’re willing to be honest with themselves and admit it and willing to do some self reflection, they will tell you that that is the reason why they did great things, no exceptions.
And the other thing is I love feeling fear and thus, it didn’t feel like fear. It just felt like excitement and focus. And a hunger, you know, like passion also comes from fear. Passion comes from anger. You know, I had a chip on my shoulder about men. Oh yeah, watch this. Right. Like, I didn’t want to be the best female skier.
I wanted to be the best skier, I wanted to kick the men’s butts, all of that. So that was what I did right by fear. And I was completely intimate with my fear and it took me into that zone flow state and helped me do the impossible things that, you know, that was so far out of the realm of like, even, I didn’t even know that this was possible. People weren’t doing this much less women doing things like this back then, but here’s what I did wrong by fear.
I was also really good at ignoring it. And so it’s a paradox. It was like a love, hate relationship with fear. And my whole entire ski career was all about my relationship with fear. Kind of like you can have your relationship with your husband or your wife be all consuming. And can you love it and hate your wife or your husband at the same time?
Absolutely. Right. Anybody who’s married will tell you that. So I was really, really good at ignoring fear at the same time, that was the paradox. And you can get away with some sort of resistance repression ignoring, controlling, you know, Being in your head about it, whatever for about 10 years tops. So 10 years after I jumped off that first cliff, all of a sudden I had PTSD, I had sleep issues.
I started to burn out. I hated skiing. I felt like there was something wrong. I felt like a fraud. I didn’t feel like an authentic person. So when you resist fear in any way, the consequences of that are different for everyone. Some people get depressed. I started having a lot of injuries because I became so rigid.
Other people can have a lower back pain. Other people can just be angry all the time. Like it’s different for everyone, but that’s how it manifested in me. And so in many ways I became a fear expert to heal my own wounds that came from the repression of fear for 10 years. And it started there and then I’ve been just taking what I’ve learned systematically and to helping other people since.
Kathryn: That is amazing and I don’t want, I know you can’t tell us all about it now. We need to read the book to really get a good understanding, but what can we do to begin to have a better relationship with fear?
Kristen: Three steps. The first step is awareness, used to be said that knowledge is power. You know, the person that said that in the late 14 hundreds, when we also believe the world was flat, right.
Kind of doesn’t apply. We have Google. Like knowledge, yeah, that’ll keep kids paying attention in school, but really what’s true in today’s world. And what’s really valued in business too for that matter is self-awareness or awareness. Awareness is power. So have some awareness about what is your relationship with fear, which is different for everyone.
You know, there are so many different ways to resist or repress or kink the hose on fear. Some people drink alcohol. Some people say, Oh, I’m an emotional eater, but actually it’s not the emotion that’s making them eat. It’s their unwillingness to feel the emotion. You know, it’s a way to run away. Some people exercise like five hours a day to not deal with their fear.
They think it’s how they deal with their emotions. It’s a way to actually not deal with their emotions. So, you know, like take a look at some of your weird behaviors. Right. Are you a shopping addict? Do you obsessively clean your house? Are you so busy that you don’t have time to feel your fear. And the big one that I see is, especially in our culture, are you in your head all the time?
Kristen: Cause being in your head all the time is a way to not deal with the feelings in your body.
Kristen: Right? Like, so any kind of like wacky behavior, like it could be explained once you start to have an awareness practice about how you deal with fear or rather don’t deal with fear, smoking pot, et cetera, you know.
So awareness is power because then once you see it then your behaviors are first of all, explained, but then you can also take action to choose a different relationship with fear, which will organically change your behaviors. So that’s the first one awareness.
The second one is, start talking about fear in a positive way. Now, this is going to be really, really hard to do.
And once you start this, you’re going to notice that everywhere you go, people are talking about fear in a negative way, and you’re going to get some pushback. And you’re just going to start noticing this. I mean, for me, I really notice it, you know, and even from people such as yourself who are kind of supporting the cause of embracing your fear, it’s like, we almost can’t help ourselves.
We keep going back to negative language. Like we may start like, okay, you know, fear is normal and natural. You want to accept it. You want to embrace it, but you don’t want to let it get the better of you. And if you finished with that sentence, right. We’re right back where we started, you know, so see fear is a person, you know, can you talk about this person in a positive way?
Like if I say, feel the fear and do it anyway, it’s like saying, Hey, fear, you’re here. We’re going to do this thing. And I’m going to do it despite the fact that you’re here, like that’s really negative of language. Drop the word anyway. So see it as a person in order to get this right. You know, it’s not about, I accept you, I’m embracing you, but I’m still not going to let you get the better of me.
That’s you’re right back where you started, you’re picking a fight with fear. So only positive kind of considerate, loving relationship towards fear period. the third step is fear practice. You’ve heard me talk about it. Well, what is that is we’ve got to learn how to, well, we don’t have to, but I recommend how about we learn how to, instead of deal with our emotions intellectually, trying to understand them as a way to control them, like talking to a therapist, talk therapy about fear.
Like that’s not what’s going to forge a great relationship with fear. No fear wants to be dealt with emotionally. Kind of like a woman that wants her husband to meet her emotional needs. Right. How do you do that? You give her a hug. You know, you embrace her, you’re intimate with her. You consider her and her feelings.
You don’t just understand things intellectually and you don’t try to control her. Right. Like we have all these books out there, emotional intelligence about trying to understand and control your emotions. That is not emotional intelligence. That is archaic old stuff that has caused anxiety disorders, depression, and other issues.
Emotional intelligence needs to be redefined to kind of give us a better, more progressive future into our ability to feel our emotions in an honest way, and have them help us come alive. So, can you learn how to embrace your fear? Can you learn how to be intimate with it? Can you learn how to feel it?
Can you learn how to do a dance with it? When I work, I have the ski camps that I do, called the art of fear ski camps. And I’ll facilitate people into a reality where they’re doing a dance with fear down the mountain and in an instant people’s skiing improves by 40%.
Kathryn: Oh, I bet.
Kristen: And it’s not about like, you know, driving your knee more and, you know, leaning more forward.
It’s just making that emotional shift into doing a dance with fear while you’re giving a speech or while you’re doing the job interview or whatever it is. And it just changes everything and ups our performance just tremendously.
Kathryn: It absolutely does. When I’m working with my clients, I try to explain to them and it takes a while for this to sink in that fear is not their problem. It’s their fear of fear. That’s the problem.
Kathryn: And yeah, I can totally see that. And I’m so excited that you have something that you’re going to share with our, with the listeners of this podcast today. What do you have for them?
Kristen: On my website, kristenulmer.com I have a free fear and anxiety assessment right there on the home page.
And it’s a series of 20 questions that are super fascinating and kind of gets the juices flowing and starts you thinking about, okay, what is my own unique relationship with fear? And then you learn which of three types you are. And then I gave super practical, great advice on how to start a fear practice and what next steps are based on your type.
Kathryn: Okay, that is great. I suggest everybody head over to Kristen’s website for that. That is awesome. You know, before we wrap up, like I said, I’ve read Kristen’s book, “The Art of Fear,” and besides the message, which I loved, what I liked most about it was the fact that it was this great balance of education and entertainment.
The stories that you tell about yourself along the way, sort of brought me into feeling like I was watching a movie while I was also learning. So it was just like once I started, I just couldn’t stop. I absolutely loved it. So I will definitely have a link to Kristen’s book in the show notes, but where else can listeners find out more about you and your book?
Kristen: If you go to my website, Kristenulmer.com, I have a ton of content and resources available. I have this great newsletter that just kind of step by step, kind of educates you into how to have a healthy relationship with fear. And also, if you have a healthy relationship with fear, you have a healthy relationship with yourself, and then you can have healthy relationships with other people.
Like this is just it’s such juicy, interesting work. I make it super simple, make it super fun. Nonthreatening. You know, people are so afraid of fear and I make it so that it’s an easeful transition into flow with fear versus resistance to fear.
Kathryn: Oh, that’s awesome. I love that. Well, I could keep talking to you for forever, but I know how busy that you are.
So I wrap up each podcast with asking the question. What is the one important action that you would suggest that we all take today to bring us closer to our best lives? Imperfect action.
Kristen: I would say it would go back to your language. You know, I think that is the most crucial first step. And I, why don’t I just narrow it down? No more fear shaming. No more fear shaming to other people. No more fear shaming to your children. No more fear shaming to yourself. This is going to be very hard to do though for people and because fear has such a negative stigma and you’re going to get pushback from people, you know, like if recently I had, I went through a difficult time and a friend of mine who was a life coach, came up to me and said, how are you feeling? And I said, Oh, I’m just, I’m really angry and really sad. And I’m really scared. He was like, well, you know, you need to, you know, you can’t let those things eat you from the inside out.
You need to move on. And I’m like, Hey, do not shame me for feeling my emotions so that you can feel more comfortable. You know, they’re here for a reason. Let me enjoy them. Right. And he was a life coach, right. Like he knows better. And he wrote me an email afterwards. He’s like, I am so sorry. You’re absolutely right.
And I don’t know, you know, like people just feel so uncomfortable around other people’s fear, around other people’s sadness, around other people’s anger. So that involves not apologizing when you cry. That involves also being mature about your anger, of course. And it also involves owning your fear.
You know, when somebody says, how you doing today, instead of saying, I, you know, I’m doing fine when you’re not, you just say, well, I’m really, really scared today. And they say, Oh, well, you don’t want to be scared and say, well, let me have it. Like, just practice that. Yeah. It’ll change your life so fast.
Kathryn: I love that y’all you heard it straight from Kristen. No more fear shaming. Start that today. That is the next step that you can take towards your best life. Kristen, I’ve had the best time talking to you today. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Kristen: Well, Kathryn, I have to say when my book first came out, I Googled, you know, my kind of style of teaching about fear.
And I couldn’t find anyone in the world that mirrored it, they would take a gentle step in that direction, but then they’d go back to resistance. And since then I found 13 other people who just really, truly get it and teach this. You’re number 14.
Kathryn: Oh, thanks!
Kristen: And I’m keeping the list. I’m putting you on the list. So you are, you are the future.
What you’re teaching. You’re very progressive. I love what you’re doing. You know, like huge hug from me and just important work and we’re, you know, drop by drop by drop. We’re just going to become a mighty river and getting this message out so that people don’t have to struggle with anxiety disorders or depression in the future, insomnia, all those things. So thank you.
Kathryn: Oh, thank you. I think we should take at least all of the 14 of ourselves and have a big party when this is all over. And I think we should all find a way to work together toward this, this wonderful goal. So keep that in mind and I hope that we can talk again in the future.
Kathryn: Thanks so much, Kristen. Bye bye.