In learning new skills those of us who struggle with anxiety often prolong the "research" phase as long as we can before trusting ourselves to perform them solo. Consulting experts, taking classes, watching instructional YouTube clips, reading about it, talking about it—and yes, worrying about it—all count as preparation, and being well prepared is a great way to combat fear, right? Yes, unless the preparation itself takes you to more "what if" scenarios that cause more fear and require more preparation in a never-ending loop. Sometimes, actually doing what you fear can teach you what you need to know.
For example, as a beginner bicyclist who somewhat impulsively declared over New Years that I would ride the TD Five Boro Bike Tour (a 40-mile ride around New York City on May 4) as a way to face my fears of speed, crashes, and potholes, I legitimately have a lot to learn. I took Bike New York classes for how to buy a bike, ride a bike, maintain a bike. I hit the gym to develop core strength, organized a Team #SomeNerve for moral support, did a group training ride to build stamina. I joked that I wanted to ride with my own mobile pit crew with a doctor, a therapist, a masseuse, and bike mechanic. Actually, it wasn't a joke—as someone who'd rather rely on others when I'm outside my comfort zone, one of the scariest parts of riding a bike is having to sit with my own thoughts (I'm losing control! I'm going to crash!) and having to talk myself out of panicking constantly (nice and easy on the brakes, look you got around that debris, good job!).
But the more people I spoke to the more things I was finding to worry about—who knew your wheel could get caught in a grate?—which is why, after another night of catastrophizing and dread, I took the bike out to the bike path by myself and rode. It was 30 degrees out and perhaps I should have prepared better for that because at the end of my 1 hour ride my nose, fingers and toes were numb, but I was flushed with happiness and relief.
After a recent Bike New York class I was invited to go for a quick ride around Brooklyn in the rain (the scene of my anxiety attack on wheels just weeks earlier - see "How to Put the Brakes on an Anxiety Attack"), and my first thought was "What if I skid? I'm not ready to ride in the rain!" But recognizing that the 40-mile Tour will be full of situations I've never encountered (like 31,999 other riders) but that I could prepare for rain, I decided to go for it. The first spray of cold water in my eyes made me laugh—of all the things I'd worried about while biking, I'd never considered not being able to see. I squeezed water out of my eyes over and over, and somehow the rest of the bicycling took care of itself—I could maneuver without crashing even in the rain. Something I never thought I could do.
In life, sometimes circumstances—a job change, a divorce, a death—push you before you feel ready to go solo. Other times you are the one that needs to shake things up. Preparation is important. But remember, the times that you do more than you ever thought you could happen when you take a leap of faith in yourself, in what you've learned, in your capacity to perform under pressure and your ability to improvise as you go. And once you know this about yourself, you can apply it in different situations and you'll never forget it. It's just like riding a bike.