Survival Signals

Hi Steph,
I recently watched an interview with you. I was very intrigued by your approach to fear. You mentioned you felt afraid on one of your climbs and you actually re-did the climb so you could do it unafraid. I gather that there is no room for any fear in your life. I have issues with fear myself that I am constantly working to overcome, which is a bit ironic because I am in law enforcement. Then again, our head trainer has encouraged us to read the book “The Gift of Fear” in the context of a survival signal (I haven’t read this book). Something seems wrong with this to me yet I know we must know our limitations, whether it’s in the context of approaching a hostile situation or in the context of a difficult rock climb or whatever. My question to you is how do you enter a dangerous situation without fear and yet avoid going beyond your limitations since fear is not a “survival signal” in your life? You obviously to have a freedom from fear that I want for myself. I know you must be a very busy person, however I would be very grateful for any insight or feedback you may have.
Thank you!

Steph Davis: Fear // Inside Game Episode 2 from Prana Living on Vimeo.

Hi Mike,
I appreciate what you said about having to constantly work to overcome fear: I certainly wouldn’t say that I am never afraid. Like you, I am always dealing with fear. So at times I am able to reach a place where I am bothered so little by fear that I don’t notice it at all. At other times, I really feel it and am working to avoid being controlled by it, and that is probably the most useful skill to practice since there will always be times when you are afraid and need to do things anyway.

I think understanding fear is something that takes a lifetime. My feelings about how to deal with fear and what it does and what it means have certainly evolved since I started paying very close attention to it about 20 years ago just out of a desire to enjoy climbing more. I think fear is the root of all negative emotion and behavior, just as love is the root of all positivity, so this is really important stuff. Fear can take away all freedom and happiness. I think the freedom comes not in never feeling any fear at all, but in learning how to do the things you want to do even in its presence, and how to do them well–rather than being stopped by it. This is real freedom.

With that being said, one thing that scares me the most is the idea of having “no fear,” in extreme environments, and “just going for it.” I strongly believe you have to pay attention to everything, all the time. When something feels wrong, sometimes it is, and it’s a really delicate balance between pushing past fear and pushing past your capabilities or what the environment will permit. This for me is a lifetime study–it’s part of why I free solo and why I base jump. The real key here is the idea of respect. As much as I want to not be controlled by fear, I want very much to be ruled by respect.

Thanks Mike, for an interesting conversation and for your service–I’m happy to know that a lot of soul searching informs your approach.

  • Sarah Z

    Thank you both for taking the time to look at this topic. It’s so important in both our every day lives and in our recreational pursuits to take the time to truly understand our fears. It has such an incredible power to simultaneously push us forward and tear us down.

    “I want very much to be ruled by respect” — that’s a brilliant way to look at things.

  • Chris de Serres

    I can imagine there’s always presssure to offer a magic pill in interviews like this. But, as usual, well spoken and concisely to the point. Thanks.

  • Lori

    I read your blog almost daily for continued inspiration and guidence. I am now reading your book and it is helping me get through a rough patch by renewing my love for climbing. Sometimes I feel that my thoughts somehow got translated onto the pages of your book. You are amazing. Thank you for sharing your life experiences.

  • Thank you Lori 🙂


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