You’re not alone. We all have fears and insecurities. But let me tell you a secret: fear doesn’t actually have to be something to be afraid of. In this episode, Rosie Zilinskas is joined by high-performance facilitator Kristen Ulmer who shares her experience in exploring how to find the courage to lead with vulnerability and create intimacy with fear. Join us in getting to know fear not as a threat but as a rich resource for seeing oneself and the world anew!
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Creating Intimacy With Fear With Kristen Ulmer
Our conversation is centered around fear, not necessarily what to do about it, but how to change your relationship with it. Kristen Ulmer is formally named the Best Female Extreme Freeskier in the world for many years. She is now a high-performance facilitator and author of The Art of Fear, a book that radically challenges existing norms about what to do about fear and anxiety. Working with groups and individuals all over the world, some of her clients in keynotes include Google, Citigroup, Olympic athletes, and the US Air Force.
This conversation with Kristen is so enlightening because, once again, we have the resistance to feel fear, and then we don’t know what to do about it. Often you hear self-help books or therapists say, “Conquer or resist your fear.” Kristen is here to challenge some of those thoughts and ideas. This is a fantastic conversation if you have fear of negotiating in the corporate world, asking for a raise, or simply applying for a job that you’re interested in. Stay tuned for this enlightening conversation with Kristen Ulmer.
Kristen, thank you so much for being on the show. You and I met at the TEDxNaperville event, and you were talking about an analogy of parenting. Can you start us off with that analogy?
Yes. The analogy is this. Imagine that you are a parent of 10,000 children, and the reason why it’s 10,000 is that it’s the traditional number in Zen. We say in Zen that you have 10,000 different states of being. We are very dualistic. Some children are good. Some children are bad. Half of them, we’ve named Love, Joy, Gratitude, and Forgiveness. The other half of our children, we’ve named Fear, Anger, Sadness, and Despair.
Despite your best intention, would you be able to treat all your children the same way? The answer is no. This is what’s happening in America. We tend to nurture, love, and show off to the world these children over here. It’s not just in America but in the Western world. We have a gratitude practice. We choose love over fear.
What we do with the children over here is that we lock them in the basement, and we throw away the key. We don’t want to have anything to do with them. We’re trying to conquer, overcome them, let them go, and meditate them away. Imagine, if you’re one of those children locked in the basement, you’re going to be pretty upset. You’re going to do whatever it takes to get out.
In particular, I like to focus on fear because fear is a big one that nobody wants to deal with. We’re all in denial of it even being there. Nobody wants to admit to feeling fear. We ignore it. We avoid it. We treat it badly. I love to personify fear. In this case, it’s a child. We do everything we can to keep it locked away and put duct tape on its mouth and a plastic bag over its head. Fear has a strong personality, and it will not be denied. It’s screaming, yelling at us, and coming out of the basement in some pretty weird ways, and that’s what we’re going to address.
One of the reasons why I wanted to invite you onto the show is because my show primarily talks to women in the corporate world that are trying to advance in their careers. Many women have that fear of negotiating and asking for a promotion. Sometimes even they have fears of applying for a job.
I thought it would be a good conversation to bring you on and talk about fear from that perspective. When you’re thinking about women in general, not wanting to speak up for themselves or to negotiate, what are some of the things that you talk about being a fear and anxiety specialist when it comes to women?
Here’s why we need to talk about fear as it relates to your question. We have this thing called the amygdala, two almond-shaped nuggets at the top of the spine, determining whether it is safe or not safe. It’s the oldest part of the brain. It is not a thought-producing part of the brain. It’s emotion-producing. I call it the manufacturing plant for fear. All sensory data is run through this primary filter first.
Scientists have figured out that there are 11 million bits of sensory data per second coming into our system. If there’s a threat, the amygdala will produce an emotion called fear that’s supposed to flow like water through a hose to our bodies. It’s proven by science. It shows up in our bodies. In this whole process, there are no thoughts involved whatsoever.
While it’s in our bodies, it’s supposed to elicit a fight, flight or freeze reaction. Fight looks like anger, flee like I’m out of here, or fight can also look like bringing your A-game to the conversation or the moments that matter most. Freeze is, “I need to pause. I need to gather more information.” 10 to 90 seconds after the threat is gone, so too is the discomfort of fear.
It’s the world. It’s the perfect design. Nature got it. We can see it, just animals being in flow with it. Humans, first of all, have a combative relationship with that discomfort in our bodies. We’re like positivity junkies. We’re comfort junkies. If you’re a badass woman that’s doing cool stuff with your life, you’re going to have even more fear flowing through your body.
Here’s the thing that people don’t get because we like to believe that we’re all about love, but we’re not. We’re also all about fear. More happens in 20 minutes in the world than it used to happen in 20 years. Fear is flowing through our bodies pretty much every single moment of every day in every interaction we have.
If you’re going to do incredible things with your life, there’s going to be even more. If you’re going to ask for a pay raise, if you’re going to start a business, if you’re going to have a third kid, and you don’t have time for it, you’re going to feel even more fear, getting married, getting a divorce, and all of that. Next, fear is flowing like class six rapids through our bodies pretty much all the time.
There’s overpopulation. There are so many people. There’s so much going on. There’s the internet, and on and on. If you don’t know how to handle that fear properly, then you’re going to wind up with an anxiety disorder, depression, PTSD, get overwhelmed, burnout, or any number of things. Being in flow with your fear is one of the most important things you can do to be emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, and healthy. More on that soon. Also, it’ll determine how you operate in your business.
For example, if you’re a fear-avoider, you’re not going to take risks. You’re not going to step out of your comfort zone. Here’s your comfort zone, and it’s a circle. You’re still going to feel fear, no matter what even if you don’t start the business, even if you don’t get married or don’t get divorced. You’re not going to step out of your comfort zone and try something new if you’re not even willing to feel fear. If you’re a fear avoider, you already have so much already. Who wants more?
I find that you can ignore your fear for about ten years tops, and then all of a sudden, things start to go South in your life and you don’t know what the problem is. I had an interesting relationship with fear during my ski career. The word extreme means the consequences of failure, death, or severe injury. I was dealing with a lot more fear than a normal person.
First of all, I loved feeling fear, and I was willing to feel fear. I embraced it on the one hand and had intimacy with it, which I’ll talk more about soon. I also ignored it. It was my habitual pattern around fear. When you ignore fear, it stops its flow. You’re not merging with it, so something else is happening. You kink the hose.
Usually, there are 8 billion people kinking the hose on fear in the world because that’s the predominant message about what to do about fear. There are eight billion different ways kinking the hose on fear will then wind up messing up a person’s life. For some people, if you kink the hose on fear, then that fear gets stopped up and starts to grow like trapped water in a closed system and turns into an anxiety disorder. All of a sudden you have your first panic attack, and you’re like, “Where did that that come from?
I have a lot of clients that say, “I have no fear,” but they have anxiety. I’m like, “That’s fear, right?” It’s the same thing, but they have this illusion. We don’t even call it fear anymore. We’re calling it anxiety, which is a new made-up word that is less threatening to us all than fear. That trapped fear will flood into our thoughts and our mind, and the next thing, you have fearful thoughts, or it’ll keep you up in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep.
That’s when your guard is dropped, and it’ll see its chance to scream, yell, and flood into your thoughts. It could show up redirected in other ways, like anger or sadness, if you don’t want to feel fear, but you have to feel something. We see this in men a lot. Anger’s the only emotion that we, womenfolk allow them to feel that seems macho. They’re not allowed to feel fear. They’re not allowed to feel sadness. They feel angry because that’s the only one that’s allowed. That’s fierce fight energy.
Our relationship with fear determines so much whether we kink the hose or not, whether we’re unwilling to feel fear. If you are going to be a business leader, it is crucial that you have a healthy flowing relationship with fear, or else, like back to my ski career, I became a rigid, arrogant person to be “fearless.”
Whom do you have to become to deny fear its rightful place in your life? We become very masculine, tough, and rigid. After ten years, I eventually burnt out. I thought about skiing, but because 99% of my energy was spent ignoring fear, I didn’t have much energy left for anything else. I was just exhausted after ten years in my ski career. There are so many ways that a compromised relationship with fear can mess up your life and cause these issues, but also decrease your productivity. What is procrastination? Procrastination is, “I don’t want to feel fear. I’d rather just sit on the couch and eat a bag of chips,” which is not a bad thing.
You’re saying that a lot of self-help books or magazines say, “Here’s how to conquer your fear. Here’s how to get rid of fear.” Your message is, “Let’s embrace fear and let’s have a relationship, and that’s how you are in flow with fear.” Many people have anxiety now. I know that you have clients. How does that transfer from avoiding fear and trying to conquer it to having that intimate relationship so that you can befriend it and be in flow? How does that work?
There are four different generalized ways that I see people dealing with fear. I’m going to rank them from worst way to best way. The first hot tip that I want to give you is that you want to get to know your relationship with fear. Almost everyone has a level one relationship with fear, which is a resistance relationship with fear.
Why do we all have this? It’s because it’s what’s taught by nearly every single self-help guru, psychologist, or doctor. Doctors are giving drugs to people, anti-anxiety medication, sleep medication, and even THC. We think, “It’s a way for me to deal with my fear AKA anxiety,” which is what everybody’s calling it these days, but it’s a way to not deal with it. It’s a way to medicate it away, and it’s not without consequences.
Getting to know your resistant relationship with fear is very important because 100% of us do this some of the time, and 99.9% of us do this all of the time. This is where the language comes from. Don’t get too caught up on the word resistance. There are so many different ways to resist fear. There’s the conquering and overcoming crowd. There’s the ignoring fear. There’s avoiding fear. There are the people who eat whenever fear shows up so they don’t have to deal with it. Also, the drugs and alcohol.
It’s great if you go shopping. It’s great if you clean your house, but if you’re obsessed with control and cleaning your house and having it be meticulous, that’s a sign of you trying to control fear. It’s fine to shop, but if you’ll all be busy, that’s a big one. People are just so busy, shop, clean, or some variation of that. It’s a way to not deal with their fear. Exercise is another one. You think it’s a way, “I feel uncomfortable. I’m going to go for a walk. I’m going to meditate. I’m going to do breathing exercises.” These are ways to also continue to not deal with it.
Resistance is a treatment for anxiety. It’s what we’re taught. I’m pretty much the only one not teaching that or some variation of that. This is very new. This is very fresh. I’m not parroting anything else that you’re going to hear about what to do about fear, AKA anxiety out there. Notice what is your unique resistance pattern around fear. That’s the first one.
The second one is acceptance. There are a few self-help gurus and spiritual teachers who say, “Fear’s normal and natural. You don’t want to repress it. You don’t want to resist it.” Here’s where we get in trouble with level two, which is a step in the right direction. If we’re accepting fear, that’s better than resisting it, but then there’s too often a comma after that. You need to accept it, you need to learn how to feel it, but you don’t want to let it get the better of you, and then you need to let it go afterward and right back to level one. That’s level two.
Going back to the analogy of a child or a person in your life, if you’re living with a person and it’s your child, your roommate, or your spouse, and they’re there all the time, 24/7, even when you’re sleeping, if you’re in resistance to them, imagine what life you’re living. That’s your whole world, trying to block fear out, resist them, or, “Won’t you go away already?” Acceptance is, “They’re here. There’s nothing I can do about it. It is what it is.” It’s a step in the right direction, but imagine if you’re that child or that roommate. It’s still quite disrespectful.
There’s level three. Level three is where we start to deal with our emotions. The biggest form of resistance that I see to fear out there in the world is people being in their heads all the time so they don’t have to feel the emotions in their bodies. Emotional intelligence is seen as our ability to understand and control our emotions. That’s what it’s touted as. Next thing you know, we’re in our heads trying to understand our emotions, making our therapist rich.
Why is the fear here? We’re trying to control it. Now you’re trying to control that child. You’re trying to control that roommate. How’s that going to go? Nobody likes to be controlled, least of all, fear. Level three, when you start to feel fear is when you start to deal with your emotions. That’s something that I see a few people teaching as well.
Too often, you want to feel your fear, then there’s the common, we’re back to resistance again. Level four though is where things get interesting, where we have intimacy with our fear. I’m going to pause because I’ve been talking for a little while. I’m sure you have questions about the levels, and then I’ll tell you how to do that with intimacy.
I do. Resistance is the first one. Acceptance is the second one. The third one is so important, emotional intelligence because you’re right. So many people are afraid of feeling their emotions. I remember, years ago, I divorced, and then I started dating. I was by myself for a long time, and then when I first started dating, I remember my sister’s like, “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
I would rather be hurt 1 million times and feel love, even if it’s for a short period of time than be safe and never feel love at all, even though I get hurt. That’s what I’m hearing you say. You have to be able to be willing to feel the emotions, whether it’s fear, anger, or whatever. The second piece to that is emotional intelligence. Before we go onto intimacy, can we talk a little bit about how people transition from knowing an emotion and feeling an emotion?
That’s the million-dollar question because most people don’t know that they’re not feeling. Like the weepy woman who cries all the time, she’s like, “I feel my emotions too much.” If I have a client that is that, maybe they’re depressed or they have anger issues. 100% of the time, it gets revealed that it’s their resistance to the emotion that they’re crying about, not the emotion itself. It’s the, “I don’t want to feel this.” If somebody gets migraines, “I don’t want to get a migraine. Not again. Why me? This is so bad. Won’t it go away?” It’s our resistance.
This is one of the biggest realizations that I’ve had in many years of putting the puzzle together. When I realized my ski career was just an out-of-the-box, out-of-the-industry education and real-world, live, in-the-dirt experience of learning exactly what to do about fear and what not to do about the fear that’s out of the box, it’s the awful feeling we associate with fear. It isn’t even fear. If you have intimacy with fear, fear doesn’t feel that bad. It’s no big deal. It’s wonderful. It’s the resistance to fear that feels so awful. That’s the awful feeling, not the fear itself.
What is it that you’ve identified? Why the resistance though? Why is it that we’re so afraid of feeling?
We could answer that question and probably pick apart the history of the world and of humanity. I don’t know if that will get us what we want or where we want to go. If you’re about to give a speech and you’re fully freaking out, is that the time to say, “Why am I fully freaking out?” Probably not. That’s learning the why. “I’ve been resisting fear for a long time” is not going to get us to feel better before we go on stage. The only thing that matters is, what do we do now?
Everybody goes through trauma. Everybody goes through difficulties. What determines whether or not we have PTSD or not, for example, even from our divorces, never mind from the muggings or abuse, is, “Are we in flow with our fear?” I had two friends who got mugged in Paris. They come back from that trip, and one person is in resistance to the fear. Next thing you know, they don’t want to feel fear ever again. They think it’s too dangerous to travel anymore. They never leave the house. This is an extreme example. They have PTSD, they have nightmares, and it ruins their lives, all because they’re unwilling to feel their fear.
First of all, the fear makes them make sharp, on-point intuitive decisions while they’re being mugged of what to do. Fight, flight, or freeze. Afterward, it winds up becoming one of the most amazing experiences of their year, the other guy, and sparks interesting dinner conversations. The fear is going to be elevated. He’s going to be afraid to go out on the town for a little while, but eventually, it’ll just turn into wisdom, insights, and all that.
I want to keep us on point for the audience that I’m speaking to. Hot tip number one is getting to know your unique relationship with fear. There are so many coping mechanisms. Fear is supposed to inspire, fight, flight, or freeze action. The mugging was the problem. The fear is here to help with the solution. I see this in skiing. There’s the steep slope. It’s a little steeper than a person’s anticipating. Fear shows up, and they’re like, “Not fear. There’s something wrong with me. It’s a sign of personal weakness. It’s a character flaw. I shouldn’t be feeling this. I got to get rid of this fear.” They freeze and they can’t move, and they’re just frozen on the side of the slope for an hour.
Here’s the other biggest insight I’ve had over the last several years. Fear doesn’t hold anybody back from doing anything, certainly not skiing a steep slope. It’s our unwillingness to feel fear that holds us back. If you don’t ask for a job promotion, fear’s not holding you back from that. It’s your unwillingness to feel fear that’s holding you back. It’s going to be scary to go in and ask for a job promotion or to start a new business.
Hot tip number 1) Always comes back to, “What is your unique relationship with fear?” Once you understand what that is, you see what the issue is. What is the insomnia? It’s my undealt with fear during the day waking me up in the middle of the night. I got to deal with it during the day. Hot Tip Number 2) Go through the levels. Learn how to accept your fear. It’s normal and natural to feel fear. Let’s say you are going to ask for a job interview or you are going to give a speech.
I was going to give a speech right after my book came out, The Art of Fear, and I’m a facilitator. I don’t typically give speeches. I’m starting to give a lot more, doing a lot of keynotes now, but at the time, I was about to give a big-time speech in front of a very important audience, a 75-minute keynote, and I was freaking out ten minutes before. I’m fully prepared and I like to be a little underprepared, so I have a little bit of fear so that I bring my A-game. I plus fear equals super media, like what I had during my ski career. If you’re too prepared, there’s not enough fear there to keep you sharp and present.
I went behind a building and had a private moment. I acknowledged that it’s normal and natural for me to feel fear. This is scary for me to do. I’m pretty far out of my comfort zone. I went and found the emotion in my body. This is how you shift from being in your head into a feeling experience where it’s where you learn what relationship you have with your body. Many people, high achievers, smart people are so in their heads. Our modern school system keeps us so in our heads, dealing with our emotions intellectually, trying to understand and control them.
My version of emotional intelligence is our ability to feel our emotions in an intimate way and have them help us come alive. First of all, I acknowledge right before that speech that it was normal and natural. The second thing is that I went and found the emotion in my body and it was nervous. There are so many different names we have for fear. When I say fear, what am I saying? Scared, afraid? No, I’ve never felt scared or afraid in my life.
For me, fear does not manifest as being scared or afraid. A few people, especially high-achieving women business leaders, are never going to feel scared or afraid but they’ll feel nervous, worried, angry, frustrated, jealous, and 1 million other things. For me, it usually manifests as nervousness or sadness. It is the emotion that I typically feel, like when I went through my divorce. I was feeling nervous that day and it was in my chest and throat.
You have to notice where the emotion is showing up and notice that it can show up in aches and pains, like lower back or shoulders. It could show up in your headaches. It can show up in your thoughts. Where is it? How strong is it? The third step was, am I in-resistance to it? I’m like, ” I was. Damn it. I’m about to give a speech about this. I’m the poster child. We’re not resisting, and now here I am resisting it,” because that’s what we’re so conditioned to do. I acknowledge that I was resisting it and bowed my resistance the whole process.
The fourth step is then I put my hand on my throat and chest and closed my eyes as a good parent would with an upset child that’s been ignored for the last few months or several years. I felt the emotion. I gave it a hug connected with it in an intimate way, which is a no-mind thought-free experience. We’ve been hugging people our whole lives. When you’re present in that hug, time stands still. That’s the moment that I had with my nervousness AKA fear. After about a minute, it just calmed right down, but it was still there a little bit, and then me and my buddy, fear, went on stage and gave a great speech. The fear was there to keep me sharp and focused.
Kristen, that is amazing. I could even feel that intimate moment with you. I was picturing you behind the stage doing that. That is exactly what I wanted to pull out of you because whether it’s a business or your corporate life, when you’re trying to get to that next level, hugging that fear and having that intimate moment, even right before you go into the meeting to do whatever deal you’re doing, that is so perfect for you to go to the bathroom, have that private moment with yourself, and embrace those feelings that you’re feeling right there. Recognize it. Acknowledge it.
I love your analogy about the roommate or the child that you don’t want to deal with. You put in the closet in the basement. You try to shut it away. You even said, eventually that feeling is going to get mad and burn the house and say, “I’m here. Pay attention to me.” It’s like a little kid saying, “Mom.” That is so brilliant of you to be able to identify that all of this resistance is even creating more fear and anxiety in our society. It just shows up in so many different ways. I love the fact that you come up with this intimacy concept. Can you give us maybe one story on a client that you were able to help with that intimacy piece?
Yes. I have a client right now who just got a major promotion, country manager of a major company. She was overwhelmed because she was still managing the last country that she was a manager for, but this was a bigger country. Anyway, she was overwhelmed, also has two kids, also has a husband, had to move, very intense, had to shut a department down from 145 people down to 78. Immediately her first job with this new culture was to fire a whole bunch of people. It was overwhelming.
She and I have been working together for a while, and I’m her career coach in helping her get promotions over the years. Her practice during that transition was to every day find a private space. It’s important that we acknowledge what it is. It’s fear. If we say, “I feel anxious,” it’s like not calling it by its real name. Her process was to find a private moment and say, “I feel afraid.”
You can’t do this in public though, maybe you can tell a close friend, your spouse, or your kids that you have a fear practice and you’re trying to connect with your fear because I don’t care who you are. If you say, “I’m afraid,” and you’re a senior executive at a high level, people are going to think you’re unstable or that there’s something wrong with you. Nobody’s willing to admit this anymore.
This is a private thing that she does where she says to herself and touches wherever her fear is that day, “I feel afraid,” and just closes her eyes. Can you see then by feeling it wherever it is in her body? It’s a self-love practice. Immediately right there, the normal and natural, she’s now organically going to be in flow with her fear just by having that connecting moment every day. It’s not going to require so much of her to ignore it, and it takes effort, but it’s a lot less effort than ignoring your fear.
It’s very calming to do that, too. It’s like you’re Batman and fear is Robin, stronger together than apart. Next thing you know, that fear very quickly transforms into your friend. If you have a combative relationship with your permanent roommate or your child that’s following you around, it becomes relentless and exhausting to block them out when they’re screaming and yelling.
If you take a moment to connect with them and they become your best friend and your support structure and help you make intuitive on-point A-game decisions every single day, and it’s an asset and ally. That transitional shift in your mind to seeing fear that way changes everything. Next thing, you’re not burnt-out years later. You can sleep at night. You can spend all your energy doing the things that matter most versus trying to fight something that lives in your body.
I love this conversation. You have a Fear and Anxiety Assessment on your website. Tell me a little bit about your assessment and what people can get from doing the assessment.
It’s a series of twenty fascinating questions that are geared to help you go inward and figure out what your unique relationship is with fear. Everybody is so different. At the end, you get your results and what kind of relationship you have with fear. Based on those results, you’ll learn what the next step is to turn that relationship around from a resistant relationship to an intimate relationship.
Here’s the process with my client that I was talking about or with anyone. If you want to be successful, still after many years, sleep at night, and still get along with other people because your undealt with fear can show up as judgments, blame, any number of projections, and all of that. “I don’t want to deal with my fear. I’m going to make you deal with it for me,” like a monkey throwing your poop.
I know you know what I’m talking about because other people do that to us. Nobody’s dealing with their fear. If you can learn how to deal with your fear, what that looks like is every day, acknowledge that you have it. It’s normal and natural. Find it. Feel it. There’s also the process of being willing to feel it and picture that comfort zone, that circle. If you’re in your circle of comfort zone, there’s no learning and growing there.
There’s fear if you do something. There’s fear if you ask for a job promotion, but there’s also fear if you don’t ask for the job promotion. There’s fear if you ski the moguls. There’s fear of what that means about you if you don’t ski the moguls. Know that no matter what you do, whether you do something or don’t do something, there’s still fear.
Always be aware of what the bigger fear is. “Am I in the mood for fear?” It’s a good question to ask yourself. It’s not going to be every day. Your kids that look fearless like feeling fear. The kid that doesn’t want to go on the water slide don’t want to feel fear. You can ask them, “Are you willing to feel fear?” Ask yourself, “Am I willing to feel fear?” Know that only with a willingness to feel fear will you step out of your comfort zone. Let’s see you do this again and again, day after day.
Like Alex Honnold, the guy that free-soloed El Capitan, there’s a rumor that he has no fear. It’s not true. His amygdalas are working fine. He’s a friend of mine. What he did is every year that he was in Yosemite, he just stepped out of his comfort zone for the first year. You put a dot outside your comfort zone, and then you, after a year, connect the dots, you’ve expanded your comfort zone. Next year, keep stepping out of your comfort zone. This is how I became a world-class fear, just a little bit. Connect the new dots, and the circle grows and grows.
When you’re out of your comfort zone, have that intimacy with fear. I spoke to a group of about 50 16-year-old girls, and I was showing them how to have an intimate relationship. You connect with it in an intimate way. One of them raised their hands and said, “Do you mean sex?” I’m like, “No.” I said, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever had an intimate experience with a dog.” Everybody raised their hand. I said, “Was it sexual?” The hands went down fast.
We know how to have intimacy with a dog, a spouse, or with a piece of cheesecake. Can we have intimacy with that uncomfortable feeling in our bodies? The answer is yes. You know exactly what it feels like when you have intimacy. It’s a physical experience. There are no thoughts involved. That’s it. Being willing to feel fear, stepping out of your comfort zone year after year. Magical numbers. You don’t want to step more than 4% out of your comfort zone. Otherwise, it’s too much.
Your first speech should not be in front of 10,000 people. We’ll just put it that way. Maybe the first speech is in front of 30, and then out of 100. Connect the dots until you expand. That’s how Alex Honnold free-soloed at El Capitan. After ten years in Yosemite, it wasn’t that big of a jump for him to step out of his comfort zone and do the thing that he did.
I love everything that you have said. As a reminder to the readers, go and take the Fear and Anxiety Assessment. By the way, on YouTube, if you’re looking, I am showing a picture of Kristen’s book, which is fantastic. I’ve been reading it, and everything here is awesome. It’s The Art of Fear with Kristen Ulmer. Kristen, I always have my guests summarize or come up with two things that you want people to take away from our conversation. Can you just summarize two things that you want the readers to hone in on from everything that we talked about?
Yes. Your unique relationship with fear is the most important relationship of your life because it’s the relationship that you have with yourself at your core and the relationship that you have with nature itself, so you want to make it the best possible. That’s the first one. It’s the most important personal work you can do, especially if you’re going to be a high achiever so that you don’t inadvertently wind up rigid, tough, controlling, and out-of-flow.
That leads to the second one. Dōgen Zenji is a very famous Zen master that lived hundreds of years ago. He’s famous for saying, “Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.” We don’t use the word enlightenment anymore. What we use is flow. Everybody wants to be in flow. If you’re going to be a business leader, that’s what we want. We want to be in a flow state because then it takes us into this altered state, highly productive. We can get more done in 2 hours in a flow state than we can in 2 weeks if we’re just in our heads hammering away.
Let’s redo this quote to fit this modern world. “Flow is intimacy with all things.” That’s what I had during my ski career. I was in flow with my fear. Back to where we started, the analogy of all those 10,000 children in the basement, we believe that Zen is about being aligned with love, joy, gratitude, and all that. That’s the new age movement. That is not Zen at all. You’ve heard of the, “What does the Zen master say to the hotdog vendor? Make me one with everything.”
Flow is taking the fear, anger, sadness, and despair children out of the basement and having intimacy with them as well. Becoming one with them with the hotdog analogy. That is ultimately what’s going to take us in a flow state. It’s not the radical denial of anything negative but the radical inclusion and radical intimacy with that. That’s what’s going to make us the most productive achievers that we can be. That’s what I did during my ski career, where the magic lay, and how I got to be the best in the world at my sport for many years, and not wind up just completely destroyed afterward.
That’s awesome. I want to thank you, Kristen. I want to just point out one fact. I started this show by ranking all the things that I could possibly focus on in my business. When I was working with my business coach, they said, “Rank everything, and where is the show?” I said, “Show is all the way at the bottom. It’s the last thing I want to do.” She said, “Start there.” That is how I have come to have incredible conversations, this one included, with people because my mission is to eradicate the gender gap in the corporate world.
These types of conversations are the conversations that light me up because the fact of us talking about creating intimacy with fear is so perfect for those women that, again, are trying to become business entrepreneurs or to become more improved in their corporate life or in the executive life, whatever. I just want to thank you so much for pointing all this up because I started with fear with my show and now it’s cool, it’s fun, and it’s exciting. I feel like I’m serving and giving back to my readers and having incredible conversations with people like yourself. Thank you so much, Kristen, for this time.
The last thing I’ll say to that is that if there weren’t fear involved, you would be bored out of your mind, and the second there’s no more fear involved, you will stop doing this because there’s no challenge left.
Thank you so much for everything that you shared with us, Kristen. This was one of the most incredible conversations, which is why I reached out to you and I was like, “Please come on my show.” Thank you so much for being here on the show.
My goal in having Kristen on this episode is to point out that there is a relationship with fear. I can bet you that a lot of us have never thought about our relationship with fear. Are you the type of person that resists fear and you don’t want to feel fear or are you the type of person that embraces fear and you are trying to build that intimate relationship with fear?
I have The Art of Fear book in hand, and I wanted to read a couple of testimonials from the back of the book because they’re quite insightful. The first one is from Bob Roll. He says, “What to do about fear alluded me until I met Kristen. I now use her advice daily, especially when my life is intense and busy to take the pit out of my stomach, do a better job at work, and get much-needed sleep. You are going to love this book.”
The second one is from Sally Kempton. She says, “The Art of Fear is an authentic, original, and deeply helpful guide for turning fear to your advantage. Kristen Ulmer offers us a manual for living with freedom and joy in the midst of all the competing voices that arise to derail us on the journey. This book comes directly from a courageous heart and should inspire you to live with the same radical courage.” I couldn’t agree more with all of that.
Finally, I’m going to recap Kristen’s two tips. Tip Number 1) Your unique relationship with fear is the most important one of your life. She also talks about doing that important work so that you, especially if you’re a high achiever, don’t wind up rigid, tough, and controlling. That is so key because I have known and seen women, especially in the C-Suite levels, that feel that they have to be that rigid and controlling person when the fact is that you can still be a female leader in the C-Suite and be compassionate and loving towards your team.
Tip Number 2) Flow is intimacy with all things. Flow is taking fear, anger, sadness, and having that intimacy with all of those feelings. That is how you get more done in 2 hours than in 2 weeks. That’s what’s going to make us the most productive achievers that we can be. Those two tips are fantastic.
Don’t forget to go to her website and take the Fear and Anxiety Assessment. That’s going to be a great assessment if you have those types of feelings or if you’re dealing with fear and anxiety. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Kristen Ulmer. She is a TEDx speaker as well, so you can go and look at her TED Talk as well. The last thing I will say is, always remember to be brave, be bold, and take action.
About Kristen Ulmer
Formerly named the best female extreme freeskier in the world for 12 years, Kristen Ulmer is now a high-performance facilitator and author of: The Art of Fear, a book which radically challenges existing norms about what to do about fear and anxiety. Working with groups and individuals all over the world, some of her clients and keynotes include Google, Citigroup, Olympic athletes, and the US Air Force.