This book charts the story of how Ant Middleton climbed Everest. It also details Middleton’s philosophy on fear and positivity. And he goes deep. It’s one of the most honest books I’ve read. He tells us about all the times he’s failed. His flaws. All the times he’s messed up. But it’s his upbeat philosophy and views on attacking life with positivity that really shines through.
It all stems from a realisation that he had whilst on operations. He used to feel almost overwhelming fear long before a mission and for a long time after it finished, and he realised that he couldn’t continue like this for the long term. He deconstructed where he should really feel fear and he realised it should be where it was justified: right before the bullets started flying until the time when he was out of immediate danger. This window of time, he called the “fear bubble”.
Over time, he began to look forward to stepping into fear bubbles and enjoying the satisfying ‘pop’ of exiting the fear bubble. His contention is that the opposite of fear is not courage but instead ‘growth’ or ‘personal growth’. Not doing something becuase it involves a fear bubble stops us from stepping through new doors of opportunity and impedes personal growth.
He identifies three types of fear:
- Fear of suffering – manifested as the fight or flight response from deep in the amygdala. Solved by reframing the fear you feel in the pit of your stomach as your body as your body telling you to “Get Ready!”
- Fear of failure – Middleton says this is the Ego getting in the way. Eg Bench who didn’t want to leave his current level as a sniper to go for Special Forces selection because he feared failing and having to go back to his unit having failed. Middleton calls this having ‘sticky boots’. This is driven by the Ego and not by the healthier driver of ‘pride’. Ego is for caring about what others think. Pride is about what you think internally; you want to impress yourself and not others.
- Fear of conflict – “one of the greatest human fears of all is the fear of upsetting other people.” “If you fail to harness it, it will shrink you.” Middleton recommends practicing brutal honesty on yourself and your flaws and weaknesses. This will innoculate you against criticism. “There’s no way of smashing through those doors of opportunity without putting a few noses out of joint…Show me a person without enemies and I’ll show you a person whose boots are soaked in glue – a shrinking violet, a victim, a failing person, paralysed by fear“
Middleton contends that all of these fears can be boiled down to the fundamental fear: the fear of not being worthy or not being good enough. Deep AF. “I’m not good enough” is the deepest human fear. “The simple fact is you don’t know if you’re not good enough until you open that door” Keep smashing down those doors. Keep learning, keep growing.
Middleton’s leaves us with one final idea: that the opposite of fear isn’t courage; it’s growth, specifically personal growth. Carrying on down the path of popping fear bubbles, opening doors, learning will create a sense of ‘godlike’ personal responsibility, where “you’ll feel like the god of your own fate and treat everything that happens to you as if you caused it. And I do mean everything.” He gives the hypothetical example of being beaten up after a night out. Instead of looking for fault and blame (which he says is part of the ‘victim mindset’, take responsibility and respond to it as if you caused it. Think about how you can make sure it never happens again. Could you have fought back better? etc.
This is a great book. It’s full of wisdom about harnessing fear for our own growth as well as giving us a deeper understanding of what fear really is. Highly recommended.