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‘Overcoming Fear of Heights’ by Martin M. Anthony & Karen Rowa

February 21, 2012

I have a height phobia. I’m ok with the airplane but hates the glass elevators. I have no problem working on the 16th floor but am scared changing a ceiling light bulb on a ladder.

One of my scariest experience was on Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas, where thrill-thirst crazy people built a roller coaster on the perimeter of the observation deck almost 300 meters above the ground. The coaster “High Roller,” which was closed in 2005, was the highest roller coaster in the world and the scariest for anyone who hates heights. I would have refused to even go close to the coaster if I hadn’t had a jumbo margarita. But the excitement of Las Vegas gave me unusual courage to get on the ride. The forty seconds on the ride was one of the most fearful but also the most beautiful moment of my life.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine told me about the cognitive approach to the height phobia. This was the book then I searched online and downloaded to my Amazon Kindle. The book offered me three insights, eye-opening to those who believed height phobia is genetic and incurable like me.

Is the Risk Clear and Present?

Fear is a biological mechanism that we have developed along the evolution to avoid a risk. Fear of the heights prevents us from falling off a tree or a cliff and dying. The problem of the height phobia, or acrophobia in medical term, lays in the patients’ risk assessment capability. The people with this phobia overestimate the risk – they are irrationally risk averse. For example, the roller coaster on the Stratosphere Tower has had zero accident for nine years. What is the probability that the coaster derails and throws me into the void 300 meters above the neon-lit Las Vegas? That probability must be smaller than the one that I would get a car accident on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Is the Reward Worth the Risk?

The flip side of risk is benefit. Your risk tolerance should become greater if expected reward is more. It would have been a once-in-the-lifetime scenery if I had been able to enjoy the panoramic view of Vegas. Should I have given up the experience to avoid the relatively small risk? Probably not. When you face clear and present fear, however, your ability to assess the benefit too would become deteriorated. Before giving in to your fear, you should run a risk-benefit analysis with the same rigor that you put when you pick an investment option.

How Can I Fix It?

A treatment proposed in the book is to expose yourself to height. You can overcome fear only by facing the fear. That sounds logical. You grow when you feel uncomfortable. You grow when you face a problem. You grow when you feel pain. The challenging part is that you need to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, seek for a problem, and feel the pain. The modern world is not built for that. You are offered comfort, provided a solution to avoid problems, and remedied to relieve physical and mental pain. How heard the world is to seek for your growth!

Today’s Quote

‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear’ – Ambrose Redmoon

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