A very wise friend once said to me: “At this moment in time, you are exactly where you planned to be. This is what you wanted. This is what you worked hard for. This is your great accomplishment.”
You might be able to imagine that my very first reaction to this statement was one of utter denial. I had no money, I was deep in debt, struggling to make ends meet, etc. How would any sane individual purposely plan for the life I had constructed for myself? But, over time, as I began to accept the notion that I, and only I, was responsible for the life I had created, I began to accept that he was right. Unless you are prone to passing the buck, like it or not, your life is the life you have made.
I’ll tell you a secret. Forty-five years ago, I suffered from alcoholism and prescription drug addiction. That all ended for good on May 7, 1977, but that’s another story. Sometime in the seventies, in the middle of all of this, I developed several debilitating phobias. This is common in most people suffering from addiction. One of which was the fear of flying. It wasn’t so much the flying that bothered me, it was the fear of being confined in any small space, whether it be a room, an elevator or locked inside the belly of an airplane. Consequently, I had the tendency to avoid any situation where I might not be able to leave quickly in the case of a panic attack, and that included motion picture theaters. As an example, if I was ever convinced to attend a movie, it became a necessity that I sit in an aisle seat, so that I could escape in the case of a sudden panic attack.
Soon after my permanent recovery from my addictions, it became necessary for me to fly with my colleagues on a business trip. I had only 14 days to prepare. Even though I had physically recovered from my illness, my phobias remained, as I had yet to deal with them.
I had no alternative but to attempt to eliminate these phobias through a technique I had subsequently learned through research and attending seminars. The technique I was able to use resulted in the elimination of not only my phobias, but led to the creation of a successful computer business that continues to support me to this day.
Many times throughout our lives, we miss all sorts of opportunities due to ungrounded assumptions that continue to control our lives, even though we know them to be false. Mostly the results are minor, but sometimes they can be quite debilitating and derail all of our hopes for success.
Had I allowed my phobias to continue to control my life, the least of my problems would have been the loss of that particular job. I could have gotten another job. Had I not made deliberate changes, looking back 38 years, I can see where my life would have been completely ruined for many reasons.
Severely debilitating phobias are one thing, however those that are not so severe, by virtue of their numbers, can add up to severe consequences. For example, the ‘fear of change’ is both widespread and subtle. Its most common effect is that it stops us from making any decisions at all, and as far as our careers or businesses are concerned, it can become the most dangerous phobia of them all.
Once a phobia takes root in your mind, it prevents you from thinking outside of the box. Put another way, it virtually paralyzes your senses. It’s often been said that humans are creatures of habit. We develop habits to sustain stability in our lives. When we allow a phobia, any phobia to become part of our habits, we are putting shackles on our ability to grow. As the world around us grows, we remain static, and consequently, we are left behind.
The choice of ‘not flying’ had become a habit for me. The necessity of flying created a conflict and a tremendous battle of the mind ensued in which I had no alternative but to come out as the winner. It’s important to note that I felt I had no choice in the matter. It became a do or die situation for me. But it didn’t have to be. It could have been as mundane as wanting to stop biting my fingernails, or not carrying a particular grudge. In fact, it could have been anything. So here is my story and the steps that I took to overcome my phobia of air travel.
Upon receiving the news of the impending trip, at first I tried to worm my way out of flying. I couldn’t drive because time constraints would not allow it. I investigated the possibility of traveling by Amtrak, but the cost of switching modes of transportation would not be absorbed by the company, and the cost would have been over $3,000. Within 24 hours I had made my decision. I would have to learn how to fly BEFORE I was to board the airplane. I had to learn how to fly with the only tool I possessed. I had to learn how to fly using my mind.
I began by planning the trip in great detail:
- Preparing to go to the airport
- Driving to the airport
- Walking into the terminal
- Acquiring my ticket
- Going through security
- Waiting for my flight
- Walking down the jet bridge
- Being greeted by the stewardess
- Walking to my seat
- Stowing my overhead luggage
- Sitting in my seat
- Attaching my seat belt
- Rolling down the runway
- Taking off
- Etc., etc.
Each and every day, in my mind, I practiced every step from the beginning to the end. I imagined a sense of calmness and enjoyment. Just as if the event was actually happening. I imagined that I absolutely loved to fly. In a word, I learned the art of ‘brainwashing’.
On the day of the actual trip, I began to go through the steps I had practiced, and experienced the emotions, just as I had imagined them in my practice sessions. Throughout the well-rehearsed process, when a tinge of trepidation arose, I would quickly replace it with the experiences I had imagined during my practice sessions.
To make a long story short, a few seconds after attaching my seat belt, I fell asleep, and I didn’t wake up until the plane landed at my destination. What had actually happened, is that I replaced the memories of fear and panic with those of peace and enjoyment. I learned an important lesson. The human mind has no concept of reality. Experiences can be real or they can be manufactured. By exercising control over the information that is processed by the brain, it will alter the decisions we make later on.
Since that day, 37 years ago, I have made literally hundreds of flights, many as long as eight hours or more, both national and international, and I never experienced the fear of flying again. Once the manufactured experience is reinforced with an actual one, it is almost impossible to reverse. Hence the saying, ‘you are what you think you are’ becomes your reality.
Fear of the unknown, or bad experiences from past experiences can limit your ability to succeed in all things. Whatever you fears, I urge you to do what I did. Change your life by imagining your dreams, applying the appropriate feelings and emotions before you encounter the actual experiences and you will create a new you. Whether it be in your job, your company, your faith, or in your personal life, you can break bad habits and reach for success by imagining you have already conquered the scary parts and you were successful in doing so.
Winning is 99% knowing that you have already won. Start that new job, build that new company, enhance your career, improve your marriage, raise perfect kids… all of this can be yours, not because you think you can, but because you’ve already won. That is the secret to a better life.