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Let Go of Your Fear and Live Like Don Wildman

…when your fear goes away, you can move the world

- Sebastian Thrun

First off, we're not saying that all fear is bad.

After all, it's good to have a healthy degree of fear of things like killer bees, grizzly bears and box jellyfish.

No, what we're talking about is the kind of fear that shuts down our abilities, makes us focus on the worst-case scenario, and turns that into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Just try this simple test.

Grab a long, 6-inch wide piece of wood, place it on the floor, and walk from one end to the other without falling off.

Easy enough, right?

You didn't even contemplate falling off because that would've been completely absurd.

OK, imagine doing the same thing only the piece of wood is now 500 feet in the air - there's no safety net, no parachute, no harness.

Suddenly, it's a whole different deal.

Now the reality is you already showed that you're perfectly capable of performing the task, so what's changed?

Your mindset.

After all, you're now thinking about all the things that could go wrong, the consequences of messing up, and you're vividly picturing the very outcome you want to avoid.

And guess what? That makes it all the more likely to happen.

What we focus on, we tend to move toward.

So, in a heartbeat you've gone from confident and sure-footed to anxious and unsteady, and your ability gets shut down.

Even worse, if that persists for long enough, you start believing that you never actually possessed it in the first place.

That's the fear we're talking about - the kind that conditions us to being so much less than we really are.

And that's exactly the kind of fear Don Wildman doesn't have.

How Don Wildman Lost His Fear

A native of Los Angeles, Don Wildman joined the army aged 17 and was shipped out to Korea where he served on the front line as a combat medic.

His first day there was the stuff of nightmares.

Seeing a freshly decapitated corpse and then having most of his company killed in an ambush was a terrifying experience and an unforgettable lesson in what fear really is.

And although Don was tempted to injure himself as a way to get sent home, he gritted his teeth and gutted it out.

As he says, "I had so many close calls -- I'd felt sure I was going to be killed. And the thing was, most of the guys who thought they were going to get killed did get killed."

Somehow or other, he made it back to the US in one piece and kissed the ground when he arrived home.

He was now invincible.

Having already survived hell on Earth, those everyday fears that freeze most folks to inaction (what if it doesn't work, what if people judge me, what if I lose everything) meant nothing to Wildman.

Serving in Korea had given him a completely different reference point of how bad life can get, and if he could survive that, he could survive anything.

His outlook was very simple - life was to be enjoyed, life was to be lived.

And that's precisely what he did.

Fitness & Extreme Sports

Back in the US, Don worked a variety of jobs but always lived life to the fullest, even though he had little money at the time.

Eventually, his love of health and fitness lead him to work full time for a gym that he would go on to own, then grow to a chain of 200 throughout the United States.

He sold that to Bally Entertainment Corp back in 1983, and managed the operation for the next 11 years until he retired at age 61 - not to spend more time gardening or playing croquet, but to free up time for snowboarding!


Now don't go thinking that Don Wildman is some kind of Peter Pan figure living out a surf and snowboard fantasy.

Over the years, he's achieved other incredible things, such as:

• Completing the Hawaii Ironman nine times in his 50s, placing in the top two of his age group 8x

• Completing the 3000-mile RAAM (Race Across America) cycling race

• Becoming the first to win all three of the Chicago Yacht Club's prestigious Mackinac races in one season

And, at the ripe-old age of 83(!), he's still showing no sign of letting up: snowboarding in Alaska, surfing around the world, mountain biking in California and an exercise routine (known ominously as "The Circuit") that would take down a silverback gorilla.

Now, if this is beginning to sound like hyperbole, just keep in mind that Don's both a friend and training partner of fellow Malibu resident, and big-wave surfing legend, Laird Hamilton.


(Laird is to the far left with Don standing next to him)

They even invented the GolfBoard together - a cross between a skateboard and surfboard that's taking the golfing world by storm.

Make no mistake, Laird and his buddies play hard and Don Wildman is a match for any of them.

Thanks mainly to the iron will and positive mental attitude he's cultivated over the past six decades.

3 Steps to Conquering Fear

Let's get down to brass tacks.

Whatever we may choose to believe, the reality is all of us could achieve way more than we currently are.

OK, maybe you don't want to do a triathlon, surf or mountain bike, and that's fine.

But, deep down, aren't there things you really want to do and isn't fear the biggest thing holding you back?

So, how do we start conquering those mundane, everyday fears without having to experience hell on Earth like a Don Wildman or a Jerry Coffee?

Well, these 3 steps are an awesome start.

1. Push Your Comfort Zone

We know that our comfort zone works like a muscle - the more we push it, the larger it becomes.

The key is to make small increments of progress with things that are challenging but doable.

• Signing up for some kind of class (kung fu, yoga, Spanish)

• Entering a 3- or 5-mile run or maybe a half or even full marathon

• Weight training with progressively heavier loads

Anything where the big picture seems daunting but can be broken down into manageable, bite-sized chunks will work.

After all, taking on incrementally larger waves is what enabled Laird Hamilton to surf monsters like this.

Ultimately, small steps add up to big results as long as we keep walking in the right direction.

2. Hang Out With the Kind of People You Aspire to Become

You don't need me to tell you that mojo vampires, doom merchants and naysayers are all around us.

Spend enough time with folks like that and your passion and enthusiasm will be sucked out of you before you know it.

Put it this way, when his (decades younger) wife commented to Don Wildman that he doesn't hang out with people his own age, he replied "Yeah! Because they're so friggin' negative!"

Like the saying goes, whoever you spend time with, you will become.

So, be careful who you surround yourself with.

3. Condition Yourself Mentally

The experience in Korea didn't "give" anything to Don Wildman, it was simply the mother of all catalysts for changing his mindset.

Fortunately, we can do something similar by:

• Focusing on the positive outcome we want to achieve

• Not dwelling on all the things that could go wrong

• Using the inevitable mistakes to our advantage (Don Wildman has made a ton of painful mistakes: broken bones, severed tendons, yet he always comes back stronger)

• Being grateful for everything we already have

And above all, we need to do this consistently - once in a blue moon isn't enough.

Remember the quote from the beginning of the article.

…when your fear goes away, you can move the world

Now just imagine what you would tackle if you were completely without fear.

Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of loss.

And when you realize that those fears are largely a creation of your own mind, it changes the whole game.

So go out, have fun, take knocks and get back in the saddle when you fall off.

Enjoy life the same way you used to when you were a kid.

And as for growing up? Well, here's Don Wildman's take on that.

"I hope I never do."

– Tim


Ice Climbing by Adha65 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons



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