How I motivated myself to conquer one of my biggest fears

Waves - conquering a fear

A couple of weeks ago, I headed up north to 90 Mile Beach with the intention of spending a week relaxing in the sun. Well, it certainly ended up being a fun week, but not quite as relaxing as initially intended… instead of relaxing in the sun I decided to challenge myself to master a new skill that would tackle one of my biggest fears head on.

Unlike our Managing Director Josh Comrie who extols SMART goal setting, I am one of those ‘New Year’s resolution’ types. I see a new year as the perfect opportunity to start fresh, turn a new leaf, tackle something new etc… so on this camping trip when the opportunity arose to try surfing I jumped at the chance.

Unbeknown to my friends, I didn’t take on the challenge just because surfing looked like a fun new hobby – instead, I looked to it as an opportunity to face one of my debilitating fears. Let’s just say a bad beachside experience as a toddler and another near drowning incident in my teens in a particularly rough river, produced my deeply ingrained fear of rough water.

I hired a longboard and wetsuit and followed my friends down to the beach to take on my new challenge. My friends hadn’t been surfing for a long time so weren’t masters themselves but they were still able to give me advice on how to get onto the board and catch a wave. Using their advice and remembering what was said in the surfing lesson on the movie ‘Blue Crush’, I headed into the water to give it my best shot. I am proud to say that I not only managed to stand up on the board (no small achievement!), but I impressed myself by taking on the rough water and trying my hand at a new sport. It certainly wasn’t easy (there were multiple face-plants and inhaling of the sea) but I’m glad I did it as it was fun and I am one step closer to diminishing my fear.

So what helped motivate me to push past my fear, and ultimately helped me succeed?

Dan Pink, New York Times bestselling author and TED speaker talks about what drives and motivates us. Pink explains that often we focus on the large rewards like money – essentially “the carrot-and-stick approach” that doesn’t successfully motivate us. He believes that the true elements behind motivating people are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

I agree with Pink; if I had approached surfing by simply thinking, “I’m going to become a master at surfing and because I will be a master at surfing I’ll never be afraid of rough water again” I wouldn’t have had the motivation to get through the challenge.

So, this is how I used autonomy, mastery and purpose that Pink introduced us to:
Autonomy: Firstly, I’m sure everyone can agree that no one likes being told what to do or managing to do those things well when you are being micromanaged. I found that taking my time and not being pushed by my friends helped motivate me to take my time to tackle the surf in my own way.

Mastery: Realistically I was not going to be able to literally jump into this headfirst – I’m no sporting genius and haste wouldn’t help solve my fear of the waves. Instead, I gave myself small goals where I could feel like I was progressing my skills and feel the rewards at each step i.e. simply getting into the water, and then being able to duck dive a large wave. Not only did this motivate me but also, it actually made me enjoy the process a lot more.

Purpose: My true purpose for learning to surf was to help build my confidence, lose some of my fear associated with rough water (and learnt to have a little bit of enjoyment around it) and to be challenged by a new sport which I can enjoy for the summer.

The result; I’ve surfed head on into the new year with a challenge that I’m motivated to master (quite literally, I would like to give surfing another go!). I encourage you to pick a new challenge whether it’s a new hobby, goal or skill that you can master for 2015 and use Pink’s theory of autonomy, mastery and purpose to ensure you are properly motivated to succeed.