Whenever I’m about to board a plane, I always look around me to see if there are any babies in the departure lounge. If there are, I love observing the way they obliviously get carried onto an airplane with little to no understanding that they are about to be catapulted thousands of feet into the air in an aluminum tube. Like almost all infants, they are that beautiful blend of both helpless and carefree. They have such blind trust in their parents or carers and thus, have no reason to think that they might be led into something they should fear.
When I have clients who fear flying, as I often do, I encourage them to engage in this observational exercise too. Examining how babies behave in certain circumstances where adults struggle is instructive in so many ways. The reason for that is that babies still have something we were all born with, but often lose: the birthright of confidence. Unless they are in direct pain or discomfort, babies don’t cry. They don’t create false realities, project about what the future will bring, or feel fearful of things that haven’t happened yet, be it a plane crash, an exam, or a presentation at work, they don’t stress about their appearance. They simply judge their feelings by exactly what’s happening to them in the present moment. Here’s a secret for you, one that might just change your life: You can be that way too.
It’s so simple, but everything you’ve ever felt about anything, past, present or future in your life is down to two things: the pictures you make in your head and the words you say to yourself. What most people don’t realize is that you are free to choose better words and pictures, whether you’re thinking about boarding a plane, giving a presentation at work, or how you look in the mirror. But to do so, you first have to understand you already have the power to create those words and pictures—you’re doing it without even realizing it.
Often, when a person is afraid of flying, it’s because they are afraid of being out of control. The fact that they daily engage in other activities that involve risk (like driving a car or crossing the road ) doesn’t matter to them. Fear is not a logical thought process for most people, so even the most convincing statistics don’t apply here. The lack of control triggers a raft of negative mental images in their mind. I’ve heard clients who are fearful flyers refer to a plane as a “flying coffin” and a “death trap.” With words and mental imagery as strong and specific as that, it’s no wonder that they fear boarding the plane!
I also often have clients and readers who say “Sure, Marisa, changing beliefs through visualizing different pictures may work for other people, but it doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried it.” To those people, I say: “Well lucky you! That means you are free of fear, anxiety, and shame. As all of those emotions come from negative visualizations.”
Of course, they quickly realize that they are visualizing realities all day in their lives— “I’m going to mess that up, this job is so stressful, my children are badly behaved, this plane is going to crash”—they just don’t even realize those visualizations are affecting them negatively. Just like we learn from the carefree departure lounge: you can’t worry if you don’t first visualize negative pictures in your head.