Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A 5-Step Plan For Fighting Panic

“Panic is what fills your head if there’s nothing more productive going on up there.” That’s what a friend used to tell students when we taught whitewater canoeing. Our job, he would say, is to give them something more useful to think about.

I decided months ago to brave some metaphoric rapids. Now the deadline is closing in, and I’m getting nervous. I don’t have time for a full-blown linear panic. Instead, I’ll make do with this 5-step plan for fighting my fears. Here’s how it works:
  1. What’s the Worst That Could Happen? List 20 possible consequences. No shortcuts. With fewer, you don’t get to the really scary stuff like “Everyone will see I’m a complete fraud,” “I’ll end up alone and penniless,” and “Even the dog will hate me.”
  2. Work Backwards. We taught whitewater students to “read” rapids from the bottom up. In other words, starting with the swim you have to make if things go wrong. On the international scale of difficulty, the situation I’ve put myself into is about a Class III. Challenging but survivable. Write a description of the situation, starting with the Possible End Result and working backwards or upstream to where you are now, the Brink of Utter Doom.
  3.  How Well Are You Prepared? What five skills or characteristics prepare you to meet most of the challenges ahead? Come on. You’ve done harder things than this. Use that knowledge.
  4. Plan To Hit Some Rocks. It’s not possible to miss all obstacles. Therefore, it may be necessary to choose which ones you’re going to bang into. List five “rocks” you could hit that might leave some dents in your ego but allow you to keep moving toward your goal. Practice saying, “I meant to do that.”
  5. Break It Down Into Doable Parts. Once you stem the flow of panic, you can start to see this Big Scary Situation as several connected Small Anxious Moments. In whitewater canoeing, downhill skiing and some other situations, you would target safe places where you can stop and reassess your approach to the next area. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.
In the meantime, what to you do to fight your fears? Hit the comment button to share.


  1. To fight my fears, I take step number one, "What's the worst that can happen" and my answer is, "I die". Nothing I do in my studio could net in my death, so since I've seen death, I lived through cancer, there really isn't anything to fear. I tell my students that cutting into that fabric will not cause any earth shattering cataclysmic results, worst that can happen is it doesn't go along the way you want, so you resort to plan B. Which is more creative anyway.
    As for white water rafting? I avoid anything where the end result might be my death. Though I do get on airplanes, get in cars, and actually live a normal life...

  2. Good points, Daryl, on keeping things in perspective. Any other hints for getting students to make that first cut in the fabric?

  3. Yeah, when all else fails, I do it for them! :-)

  4. I think there might be lots of people who would love to borrow your well-trained scissors, and the hands and eyes that guide them!


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