How I Learned to Lean Into Stress and Embrace Fear

Contemplating on starting or continuing your fitness journey?

The first post I ever published on any FJP Training site was called “It’s All About the Story.”

My point—and one of the enduring goals of FJP Training was that OUR gym will give you a life worth living; that we want our members to go and DO stuff with their fitness. We love having you do 5ks and marathons; Spartans and Strongman; the “bucket list” stuff, like skydiving and Gran Fondos. We can get you ready for any of it. That doesn’t mean those things won’t be scary. If you’re doing the 100-km bike ride on St. Joe this weekend, the nerves will probably start kicking in right about…..wait……waaaaaaiiiittttt….now.

Here’s how I’ve learned to lean into the scary stuff, embrace stress and live a better life:

First, understand that your body doesn’t know the difference between fear and excitement. They feel the same. When you start getting anxious before an event, ask yourself: “Am I actually scared, or am I just excited?”

As adults, we’re not excited often. Our body’s default response to increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate and surging adrenalin is fear. Then we fall into a downward spiral and get scared when we should really be excited.

Here’s something Coach Ray once told me that I’ve never forgotten: In the CrossFit Open, I was staring at a very heavy barbell before a max-rep clean-and-jerk event. He crouched beside me as the clock was ticking down and said, “It’s like opening your Christmas presents!” Now I repeat that to myself before the start of every big workout or event.

Second, know that anticipation is worse than the event.

Our fear of what might happen is always way out of scope from what actually happens. Our lizard brain takes over and our minds go to the worst-case scenario, and we run at max heart rate for three days before the event. When the event actually starts, we’re exhausted from replaying the possibilities over and over! We’ve already done the whole event—with every catastrophe included!—78 times!

Waiting, deliberating, anticipating—they’re always worse than doing. If you can choose when to start The Hard Thing, choose to start it right now. Skip the hard part.

Third, put the event in perspective: Will you actually remember this in a year?

If not, it’s not worth stressing about.

If you WILL remember the event a year from now, it’s REALLY worth doing.

Life is a series of moments. I often joke that “anxiety is my cardio.” These standout moments—not the daily rhythm of eating breakfast and shaving—become your story. Any story without these moments is boring. Take it from someone who tells stories for a living: Every time you go through a painful break-up, every time you grind your gears to dust on a steep climb, every time you stay up all night in fear—they’ll all make a great story that will help someone else. In the end, these are the things that matter most. Lean into them.