A Fear Worse Than Death

In 2017, Alex Honnold did what even the world’s best rock climbers thought was impossible. He climbed to the top of EI Captain, a granite rock mountain more than 3,000 feet high without a rope, harness or net. His feat was showcased in the Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo”. Neuroscientists were so fascinated by Alex’s ability to handle fear they decided to conduct some tests on his brain. They scanned his brain using FMRI while flashing a series of images at him.

Usually fear-base images would trigger the amygdala but Alex’s was not.

The amygdala is the threat detection system in the brain to detect and prevent whatever is a threat. Alex believes he has trained his brain to detect real threats more acutely. He says, “it seemed perfectly natural that my amygdala wouldn’t trigger while looking at pictures while lying in a safe metal tube, because I’m totally safe.”

It gets more interesting though. The media became very interested in his success which thrust him into public speaking, including the opportunity to give a TED Talk. So you might hypothesise he would have no problem delivering the talk but it’s not life or death but actually the opposite was true.  He described shaking behind the stage in anticipation of what was going to happen next. Giving validation to the statistic that 75% of people are more afraid of public speaking than death.

I thought this was really interesting though because absolutely everyone has their own arch nemesis when it comes to emotions that we really hate to feel. Whether that’s the fear of fear itself, fear of being unloved, fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of being alone, fear of something being wrong or even feeling we are wrong in some way.

If we think about Newton’s third law of motion, whenever two objects interact, they exert equal and opposite forces on each other. So, if we are not in acceptance over these fears then we are actually resisting the very thing that is going to set us free.

There is a case though for starting small and building on your successes. Alex may have benefitted from speaking on some smaller stages first. The equivalent of a perfectionist being okay with leaving a towel on the floor for a couple of hours. In fact, he went on tour after the TED Talk and had to speak so much he became desensitised to his public speaking fear.

I want you to think about when you feel most vulnerable. What kind of flavour of fear is it?

What is one tiny step you can take to get more comfortable with the uncomfortable? Hit reply and let me know what action you will take.

Keep opening up,


PS I have a series of events coming up for you

⌛ Accelerate your career even if you have no time
Thursday 20th October 12:00-13:00 (UK Time)

😞 Accelerate your career without imposter syndrome keeping you small
Friday 4th November 12:00-13:00 (UK Time)

❓ Accelerate your career even if you don’t know ‘what’s next?’
Tuesday 15th November 12:00-13:00 (UK Time)

These workshops are free and a 7-day replay will be provided but you will need to register for the sessions by responding to this email with the name of the workshop you would like to attend.

📅 The much-anticipated Planning 2023 Workshop is back!
> > Tickets on sale here < <
£43 per ticket 100% of proceeds (after tax) goes to clean water causes. 1 ticket purchase gives access to 2,000 days of clean water.

PPS The Women in STEM Career & Confidence podcast has restarted after the summer break. The latest inspiring story is from group VP and GM at Wiley, Aurora Martinez. She shares with me her biggest personal and professional failures and how she normalises failure in Wiley to build leadership trust. How to be CEO of your own network of support through shared values and how her daughter’s diagnosis caused Aurora to be vocal about being a role model for self-esteem. Listen in on your favourite platform 🎧 iTunes 🎧 Spotify 🎧 Other Platforms