Kristen Ulmer

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O: Hi, welcome, welcome to Stellar Life podcast. Thank you for being here. Thank you for listening to this podcast. I appreciate you. You’re in for treats today. We’re going to speak about fear and how not to conquer it but love it, nourish it, accept it like you accept a little child. It’s not in the way but it just helps you move forward in your life, in your career, business, relationship, whatever. If you think that fear is blocking you, think again. With the right relationship with fear, it can be your greatest ally. Today’s guest is Kristen Ulmer. She was recognized as being the best woman big-mountain extreme skier in the world for 12 years and was also voted the most fearless woman athlete in North America. This, combined with 15 years of study in Zen and working with thousands of clients, her recent book The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Won’t Work and What to Do Instead seeks to radically challenge existing norms about what do with fear and anxiety. I hope you will enjoy it just as much as I did. Now, onto the show. Hi Kristen! Welcome to Stellar Life podcast.

K: Thank you. Happy to be here.

O: I’m very happy that you’re here. I had the pleasure of taking a workshop with you at the Bulletproof Conference last week. It was really fun. It was awesome. Thank you for that.

K: Thank you. It was an honor to be invited into the Bulletproof Conference. I was a speaker and I gave a breakaway session as well.

O: Let’s start by you just sharing a little bit about yourself.

K: I am a fear specialist. I have a really unique background. I’m not a psychologist or a doctor or a scientist, any of that. I did not learn about fear in college or in a laboratory. Instead I have 30 plus years of real-world, practical, in the dirt experience dealing with a lot of fear. I was a professional big-mountain extreme skier. I was the best woman big-mountain extreme skier in the world for 12 years.

O: Wow.

K: What that means is I risk my life on a pair of skis for a living. I was also voted the most fearless woman athlete in North America by the entire outdoor industry.

O: Oh, wow. That’s very cool. Wow.

K: My other credential is I’ve studied Zen for 15 years very intently. I work with thousands of clients helping them forge the best possible relationship with fear.

O: Yeah. I was checking out your book. You do incorporate a lot of Zen into your teachings. It’s really cool.

K: Yeah. I don’t mention Zen in the book so much. If you study Zen, then you’re going to recognize it. It’s going to be unmistakable that it’s in there.

O: Yeah. Why don’t we start by you describing the day you became famous?

K: I was a mogul skier. I was a very bad mogul skier.

O: What is a mogul skier?

K: Mogul, it’s these big lumps. You can see it in the Olympics. It’s the 30 second run with two airs and these guys are just pounding through these lumps of snow at high speeds. I was not a very good mogul skier but I was really good at manifesting opportunities. I talked to a cameraman who made very famous ski movies into auditioning my skiing for his film. I wound up on the top of a cliff band with a bunch of other famous male skiers. They started jumping off these cliffs. I’m like, “Well, if I want to get in this movie what I need to do is jump off one of these cliffs.” But I’d never done that cliff before. I picked one, about 25 feet, launched off the thing, landed it perfectly, skied away. Did it two more times. By the end of the day, everyone in Squaw Valley knew my name. I guess no girls were doing anything like that back then. Then by the end of the week, everyone in the ski industry knew my name. By the end of the month, I was fully sponsored and being called the best in the world at big-mountain dangerous skiing. It’s a title I kept for 12 years. It was a wild ride.

O: Yeah. You fearlessly jumped into the cliff. You didn’t maneuver that. You have never tried before.

K: Yeah, back scratcher.

O: Yeah, I don’t even know what it is. But it sounds really scary.

K: Yeah. If you’re a skier, a back scratcher is when a skier when they’re in the air arches their back and touches the back of their skis in between their shoulder blades. You tip the tips down.

O: You’ve never done it before.

K: No, I’ve never done it before. I didn’t feel fear back then. I felt fearless. I think a lot of people out there feel fearless. They feel no fear. I realized now after contemplating this all these many years later that I wasn’t fearless that day. I actually enjoyed feeling fear. My fear of not being special, of being invisible, of not being loved was what was motivating me actually to jump off this cliff and do this incredibly dangerous thing. Because I tell you what, you jump off a cliff and everybody loves you. You’re not invisible anymore. I was motivated by fear that day. I just couldn’t see it.

O: Oh, wow. That’s a very deep observation. Do you think that our relationship with fear change after our 20s?

K: I believe that what happens is because we’re a repressed society, we’re actually explicitly taught to conquer, overcome, let go of fear, rationalize it away by most fear experts, self-help gurus, psychologists, all that. It’s not so much that our relationship with fear changes. Because we just constantly repress it, don’t deal with it, push it away, avoid it, run from it, resist it. What happens is that undealt with fear starts to back up more and more and more as we get older. Next thing you know it just starts to affect our lives in new ways. But I don’t think our relationship with it changes. I think that our relationship with fear catches up with us. Does that make sense?

O: Yeah. Because when I look at myself today and when I was younger, I was really fearless. As a teenager, I was fearless. I went to Japan, it was my first trip out of the country. I just decided within two weeks, gave a notice, and went to Japan with $700 in my pocket, which was good for three days back then in Tokyo. I just went, completely fearless.

K: Hold on, because nobody’s fearless. If you went without fear, it would’ve been really boring. Part of what I teach is I’m really trying to change the way that people look at fear. You weren’t fearless in that day. You were just in the mood for fear. You enjoyed doing scary things. You enjoyed feeling fear. If you have that kind of relationship with fear, it doesn’t feel like fear at all. My guess is that you felt excited, focused, like you were having an adventure.

O: Yes.

K: There’s no adventure without fear.

O: Correct.

K: That’s what was actually really happening. It’s not that you don’t feel fear. You consciously chose it and so it didn’t show up as fear at all.

O: I guess I was more fear-loving or an adrenaline junkie.

K: Yes. People call people like me adrenaline junkies. Really what we should be called is fear junkies. I was addicted to feeling fear. Just like a heroin addict is addicted to heroin. It actually became really unhealthy for me. Because if I didn’t feel fear, if I wasn’t doing something scary at least weekly then I would just need my fix. I’d have to go out and artificially create some scary situation in order to get my fix. I’m really lucky to be alive actually, as a result.

O: Wow. Yeah, that really resonates. You’re describing somebody that is very close to me, me.

K: Wow. You love feeling fear.

O: Yes I do. It’s good and it’s bad. Sometimes if I don’t have that excitement or rush, I will create drama in my life just to feel it.

K: Absolutely. We’ll find it one way or another. We become like smokers. We’re like, “Where’s a cigarette?” Like, “Where’s fear? Where’s drama?” Just so that we can feel that discomfort.

O: Right.

K: Other people are the exact opposite. They avoid feeling fear. They avoid discomfort. They run away from fear. Then they run away from their lives. You can have a pathology if you run towards fear. But you can also have a pathology if you run away from fear. The key is to finding the right healthy relationship with fear, which is I guess what we’re discussing today.

O: Right. Let’s start by you sharing a little bit about what is fear. How would you describe fear? I know that you didn’t like false evidence appearing real.

K: Right. That’s absolutely not true.

O: This is not true.

K: Right. Fear has the right to exist. It’s not false, it’s absolutely real. A lot of people think that fear’s in their heads. The reason why is because we’ve gotten into the bad habit that’s supported by society. We’re actually taught that emotional intelligence is our ability to understand our emotions and control them. Fear is just a sensation of discomfort in the body. It’s very unpleasant. We start to think about it and it’s supposed to lead to thought-free action like in animals. We have the shot of fear in the body, fight or flight, Bambi runs away from the tiger. That’s flee. Or maybe the T-Rex fights the tiger, I don’t know. Then it runs its course and helps Bambi be more sharp, live, focused, all that. But human beings, we have this whole complicated extra step. We feel the sensation of discomfort in our body, that’s what fear is. Then we start to think about it. It was explicitly taught to think about it, to rationalize it away. It’s just false, it’s not real. Mom says there’s nothing to be afraid of. I call it fear shaming. We then try to control the fear. Next thing you know instead of fighting or fleeing the situation, we’re now fighting or fleeing the fear itself. Fear is like, “Okay. I have to give a speech.” Of course fear is going to be there. Then the fear shows up and I can’t stand it. I’m running away from the fear. Like in relationships, we run away from the fear. Fear is the bigger problem than the scary relationship. We start to see fear as something that’s in our heads. But really what happens is in this whole extra step, we’re thinking about the fear instead of feeling it, we’re pushing it down. It’s then going covert in our systems and it’s hijacking our minds when our guard is dropped and running its agenda in our minds. Next thing you know, fear seems super, super complicated. But just taking it back to the core of what it is, it’s just a sensation of discomfort in our bodies. That’s it.

O: So many people are disconnected from their bodies. It goes straight to the mind. They don’t even make that connection.

K: Right. We try to deal with our emotions intellectually. That creates problems. Whereas I’m more into emotional intelligence as our ability to feel our emotions in an honest way. That’s the first part. Then use them as a tool to help us come alive. If we deal with our emotions emotionally, what we do is we are more in our bodies. We’re willing to feel this discomfort. Then things get super simple from there.

O: How do you deal with fear of rejection? Because it seems like that was your biggest fear. It’s like I’m going to risk my life and that will be okay as long as people will see that I’m valuable, that I’m seen, that I’m there, even though I’m a woman and nobody really knows me I can compete like the guys.

K: We blame fear of rejection for holding us back, from putting ourselves out there, let’s say in relationships. But really it’s our unwillingness to feel our fear is what’s holding us back. Fear of rejection can actually be very motivating. Fear of rejection can make me bring my A game and not say something stupid or say something that wouldn’t warrant rejection. Even in this podcast, I have a fear of being rejected by the audience. I’m going to show up in a more focused way so that I say smart things, so that you guys won’t reject me. Do you follow?

O: Yeah. You have to be really smart on this podcast or, yeah. I have to tell you. So far you said many smart things. You’re on the right path.

K: Oh, thank goodness. Right. That fear of failure for example, motivates some people.

O: Right.

K: Like Bill Gates is entirely motivated by fear of failure. Other people that claim fear of failure is what holds them back. Fear of failure makes somebody give everything they have to their business so that they won’t fail. That’s how fear can be a motivator. It’s actually the unwillingness to feel fear that actually holds us back rather than the fear of failure. Then you stay firmly planted on the couch, getting a flat spot on your butt. We blame fear of rejection for holding us back when really we should be blaming ourselves for our unwillingness to feel our fear of rejection. We are supposed to be afraid of being rejected by each other. Other people are scary. They could say one just mean thing and just ruin my whole day, maybe even ruin my whole life if it’s the right person.

O: Right. I think that for me fear of rejection is one of the biggest, I guess, motivator. It’s both a motivator but it also blocks me. I know that with everything that I do, I could be light years ahead if I didn’t have that fear of what if that’s holding me back. It took me years to conquer my fear of actually speaking on stage, especially in English which is my second language, and also doing this podcast. It took a lot. But it’s still like that thing, that fear of rejection is still there. How can I handle it?

K: You said you want to conquer your fear.

O: I know, I know, I know. Your book is The Art of Fear. The subtitle is against conquering fear.

K: Right. Why conquering fear won’t work and what to do instead.

O: I don’t want to conquer it.

K: Right. It’s like you take out a sword, you want to fight it, you overcome it.

O: You slay it. Destroy it. Step on it.

K: I like to personify fear. Let’s see fear as a roommate in your life. Next thing you know, you have this super combative relationship with the roommate that’s never going to go away. Trust me, fear is going to win every time. It’s an unwinnable war that you’re now fighting in your unconscious mind that you’re never going to win. That’s why it’s really important, if your audience gets nothing out of this, all of us talking here today, we’ve got to stop using the words conquering and overcoming in the same sentence with fear. What we want to do is we want to merge with our fear. You’re supposed to be afraid. Other people are scary. Life is scary. Fear is with us every moment of every single day in almost every single interaction we have. Either fear is going to help you be more sharp and focused and expand who you are and help you rise to the occasion or if you’re avoiding the fear, it’s going to hold you back. It’s actually not fear that’s holding you back. It’s your unwillingness to be with fear, feel your fear, deal with your fear in an honest way. That’s what’s holding you back.

O: Okay.

K: Right? It’s a really important distinction in our language, it’s very important. Here’s the language: fear is not the problem in your life. If you feel like fear is holding you back, that’s actually not the problem. Your resistance to fear is what the problem is. Because of course you’re going to have fear of rejection when you’re talking to another human being, always. It’s never going to go away.

O: Yeah. I see those celebrities. I don’t know how they do it. They go, they speak on TV in front of so many people, millions of people. How do they do it? How did you do it as the most celebrated woman in your field? How did you deal with the rejection for example?

K: Here’s the thing. Smart people learn from mistakes. Really smart people learn from people who have learned from their mistakes. It looks like what I did regarding fear was the ideal. I got to be the best woman skier in the world. But actually what I was doing is I was trying to conquer, overcome fear. I was really, really good at controlling it. My guess at these celebrities in Hollywood are really good at controlling and managing their fear too. The thing is you can get away with that for about 10 years and things start to go south. Like you’re saying, oh you start to have a different relationship with fear as you get older. Actually, no. It’s just that the relationship that you have with fear starts to catch up with you after about 10 years. We start to see some of these Hollywood celebrities just checking out for a few years and going into hiding. It’s a scary experience if you’re going to do something that big with your life where you’re going to be in the public eye that much. It was very scary for me to jump off these cliffs and risk my life. I was really good at conquering it, overcoming it. What happened after 10 years is I had PTSD because I saw a lot of my friends die in the mountains and I had a lot of near death experiences. What PTSD is, is you go through a really traumatic experience that invokes a lot of emotions. But if you just don’t deal with the emotion in an honest way, you push it down, then it’s just stuck in your system and is covertly now sabotaging your life as you continue to not deal with it over time. I also had a lot of injuries because I was very rigid, stoic person to not deal with fear. What do we know about rigid trees and a heavy wind?

O: They can break.

K: Yeah. Then I also was burnt out on skiing. I started to dread winter. Because it was so exhausting for me to deal with all this repression of fear. I had to finally quit. For other people when they don’t deal with fear, we see a lot of people in Hollywood who have anxiety disorders, they drink a lot of alcohol, do a lot of drugs. That’s another way to not deal with their fear.

O: Suppressants.

K: Yeah. We have all these coping mechanisms to just block out fear. For other people, it always shows up differently. Maybe it shows up as depression. We see a lot of people in Hollywood who are depressed. 100% of the cause of depression if it’s not some sort of hereditary, physiological thing is repressed emotion, in particular fear. It shows up as panic attack, anxiety disorders, insomnia and on and on and on. It shows up differently for everyone.

O: Yeah. I know that you have a very unique way of dealing with fear. It’s almost like you have fear archetypes. I really resonate with that. I never thought about doing that for fear. I actually do this with my clients where we go into a deep meditative state and I work with some aspect of themselves, like a shadow, personalities that they try to suppress. Then we bring those personalities to the light. We love on them. We integrate them. Then they become a source of power rather than a source of weakness.

K: Oh, yes. To avoid is weakness, to own is power. We’re in the same business. Have you done this much with your clients regarding fear?

O: No, not really. I guess I never gave it a name. But I guess fear is the base of everything, right?

K: It is. The second there is life, there is fear. If we could go back in time and look at the first single cell amoeba that ever appeared on the planet, if exposed to fire, that amoeba moves away from the fire in order to save itself even though it has no arms, no legs, no spinal column, no brain, nothing. That’s the origination of our safe versus not safe mechanism. Our amygdala which is the manufacturing plant for fear is the oldest part of the brain. We’re trying to move past it. It’s crazy. We have to invite it along for the ride. For sure at the very, very core of who we are, life itself, we’re going to find fear. We’ve got to bring it along as we move boldly into the 21st century.

O: What are your fear archetypes or some of them? I have about 10,000 of them.

K: When you say archetypes, tell me more of what you mean.

O: I use the word archetype to describe different types. Maybe there are a few main ones and then there are others that are combination of the main ones with something else.

K: Right, okay. Just a simple five things.

O: Please.

K: There aren’t different types of fear.

O: Okay.

K: There are different situations that warrant more fear than most. Fear is very, very simple. It’s just a sensation of discomfort in your body. There’s no such thing as good or bad fear. It’s just fear. There’s only fear. But our minds interpret it as good or bad. For the most part because it’s uncomfortable, we dub it as feeling bad. As humans have a long history of anything unpleasant. When we start to think of fear versus fears, two totally different things. Fear is just that discomfort in your body. But the second it becomes something in the mind where it’s afraid of something, then that’s a combination of fear plus the mind thinking about it. In that case, it takes on a different form, a different life. When it starts to become some obsessive compulsive fear, irrational or it becomes persistent chronic anxiety, anxiety is just another name for fear but specifically it’s for undealt with fear. Those kinds of things are not to be blamed on fear. They’re to be blamed on our resistance to fear. Whenever you have any kind of resistance to that discomfort in your body or if you start to think about it instead of feel it, then things get wonky really fast. It starts to seem super complicated.

O: How do you help people to deal with fears?

K: Well, the first thing I do is help them understand that if you feel fear is just a sign that you’re human, it’s not a sign of personal weakness or character flaw. I think that we all get that. It’s like, “Oh, yeah. Yeah. That’s right, okay.” But we don’t. We really single ourselves out for abuse when we start to think, “Well, I’m the only one that feels this way.” First of all, try to get it out of your heads. Emotional intelligence should not be our ability to understand our emotions. We put our intellect on a job for so many things. You should not be solving emotional problems intellectually. We need to solve emotional problems emotionally by meeting them where they are in our bodies. Close your eyes right now. Locate the sensation of discomfort in your body that you might label fear. It could show up as just anxiety, stress, nerves, worry. It could come out sideways as sadness or anger because the emotions are all intimately tied together. Fear locked in the basement may feel angry or may feel sad. 95% of what we know as modern anger is just undealt with anger. But tell me where you feel that sensation in your body now. For me I feel it in my throat.

O: Yeah, me too. A little bit in my throat.

K: It’s interesting. Even if somebody’s been through a 9-day retreat, I will ask them, “Locate the sensation of discomfort in your body.” They will be able to find it because it’s always there. It is such a huge part of our human experience. First of all you got to locate where it is in your body. Then you just have to spend let’s say 15 seconds just acknowledging that it’s perfectly natural and normal to feel this way. Sometimes I do an exercise with clients where I’ll say, “What are you afraid of?” “I’m afraid of rejection.” I’ll say, “You realize it’s natural and normal to feel that way. You’re never going to get rid of that feeling.” Then they say, “Yes, it’s true.” “Hey, what else are you afraid of?” “I’m afraid of saying something stupid in a speech I’m giving next week.” “Okay, you realize it’s natural and normal to feel this way. You’re never going to get rid of that feeling.” “Yes, it’s true.” It’s such a relief to just own that this is not something to be conquered or overcome. We’re not looking to get rid of it. It’s natural and normal. Of course we’re supposed to feel this way. That’s the first step. How’s that going for you?

O: It’s going well. The first step is feel that in my body and acknowledging it and being okay with having it.

K: Yeah. Yeah, being okay and knowing that you’re never going to get rid of it.

O: Oh, no.

K: So much of what’s taught out there is we want you to get rid of this fear, right?

O: Yeah.

K: But it’s like you might as well go and get rid of your eyeballs and your liver and your spleen while you’re at it. Imagine a man sitting on a park bench and a bird walks up to him. He looks down and he’s like, “No. You’re not the bird you’re supposed to be.” He picks up the bird, takes out some clippers and clips off the tail feathers, trims the wing feathers and clips off the front inch of the bird’s feet. Puts the bird back down and say, “There. Now you’re the bird you’re supposed to be.” Isn’t that awful?

O: It’s a horrible example. Awful.

K: Right. But that’s what we’re trying to do with fear. It’s ridiculous.

O: Right.

K: We’re just the bird. We’re not not the bird we’re supposed to be, we’re just the bird. We’re just human.

O: Yeah.

K: We’re not going to get rid of this. It’s part of our lives from start to finish.

O: I’m from Israel. We’re dealing with fear everyday. There are bombs, terror attacks, stabbing, wars, missiles. It looks like people, in a way, got numb to their fear. Just so they can go on and live their lives. It’s really surprising how prosper Israel is technologically with the economy, with everything that Israel produces and how lively and not only surviving but striving it is regardless of all those constant threats of being annihilated. I think a part of my culture, the toughness that I can just go through the fear and I’m fearless and I can do whatever, is almost like something that is embedded in me since I’m a child and the reason that idea of conquering the fear or almost like ignoring it. Because if you were there and you live there and there is a series of terror attacks and you got to start feeling your fear, I don’t know, that might not be the easiest coping mechanism.

K: Yeah. We deaden ourselves in the phase of our fear or anger over what’s happening, our sadness about the state of the country, the world. We deaden ourselves to not deal with our emotions. But why are we here on this planet Earth? We’re here to be alive, to feel alive. We’re not here to feel good or to feel bad but to just feel. By deadening our feelings, we’re only half alive. We’re not really here to be what we’re supposed to be which is feeling human beings. It’s unpleasant. Life can be really unpleasant. For most of the world, they live under horrible circumstances. It’s sad. If you look at it from another light, okay something scary happens. Look at what happened in Vegas recently. It’s scary what’s going on. ISIS is scary. That fear, if we don’t want to deal with it, it shuts us down. Our unwillingness to deal with our fear is what shuts us down. Fear doesn’t shut us down. Our unwillingness to feel it is what shuts us down. But if we’re willing to feel it and all of a sudden we come alive and seek to protect me and mine, you and yours, the fear is actually here supposed to make us more alive, more sharp, more focused, more looking for problems. It’s supposed to lead us into action. Emotions are energy and motion. It’s supposed to lead to fight or flight. But now we’re fighting or fleeing not the situation but we’re fighting or fleeing the fear itself. The fear is the bigger problem than ISIS at this point. The fear is the bigger problem than what’s going on in Israel. Look at anger. We are actually supposed to be angry about these things. Anger, if you’re fully owning and honoring your anger, is supposed to right a wrong. Draw a line in the sand, I’m not going to put up with this anymore. Our sadness is the birthplace of human compassion and caring. Sad movies do really well in the box office for a reason. Because we want to tap into this heartfelt caring that we all have. By not dealing with our emotions, by numbing out, we lose all of these incredibly positive qualities that come from these emotions if you’re not dealing with them. We’re explicitly taught to deal with our emotions by conquering and overcoming them and controlling them and understanding them rather than feeling them. That’s what I seek to change.

O: Yeah. I resonate with everything that you said. I’m going to Israel next week. I know that when I’m there, there are a lot of emotions. Israel is very emotional. They’re like Italian, the anger is anger, the love is love, everything is really big. I guess this is just the result of yes, people do feel fear and sadness. It’s not like I didn’t want to give the impression to people like completely ignoring their feelings because actually it’s the opposite. People are very expressive with their fear, with the family ties, with the connection, with the community. People are super tight, super connected, super expressive sometimes in your face a little too much. But also I guess that what drove the country to be successful in 68 years where it just evolved above and beyond what anybody could’ve expected, where territories around it are still the same years behind. I guess that it’s also the driven of, “We’re so tiny and we’re going to prove ourselves, we’re going to prove that we can.” I guess.

K: Yeah. Fear there and emotions, anger, sadness are motivators. But we also all know somebody that’s overly emotional or their fear seems really irrational like what is that about? I love to personify fear as being a person. Like maybe a roommate in your life or a child or an employee in your corporation like I started to talk about.

O: I think I would have more compassion if it was a child. If it was a roommate, I just imagine my old roommates from New York City and I’m like, no compassion there.

K: Alright.

O: If it was a child, I would totally resonate.

K: Alright. Let’s go with child.

O: Okay.

K: Imagine that you have a bunch of children. Half of your children you named Joy, Love, Gratitude. The other half of your children you named Fear, Anger, Sadness. Despite your best intention, would you be able to treat them all the same way?

O: No.

K: No. What we do is we tend to show off and love and nurture the joy, the love, the beautiful children. What do we do with the other children? Well, we put duct tape over their mouths. We lock them in the basement, we throw away the key.

O: No.

K: They’re down there with no food, no water, no love, no sunshine.

O: I feel evil.

K: Yes. We would win worst parent. Every single one of us who repress fear, which is all of us, we would win worst parent award. From whatever age, mom first said there’s nothing to be afraid of. I call it fear shaming, actually. We start locking away fear. We hide our fear from others. We’re ashamed of it, we hate it. We see it as a weakness. We put it in a cage in the basement. Imagine a child that’s been down in the basement. How old are you?

O: 39.

K: 39.

O: I just look 12. Just kidding.

K: Let’s say you first started repressing fear 33 years ago when you’re 6 years old. Now that fear has only developed to the age of a 6 year old. It’s down there. What would you do if you were fear, you will not be denied, you’re very strong, you’re a huge part of her life. All of this has not left the building you’re still there but you’re in the basement. Under these circumstances, how would you start acting?

O: I shall rise and go to war.

K: Yes. You will scream and yell. You will burn the house down. Any time her guard is dropped, you’re going to come out with a roar. That’s what we now know as modern fear. We see fear as this problem in our lives when really we’re the problem for locking it away in the basement. That’s not the way fear is supposed to be behaving. When you see somebody with overwhelming fear or irrational fear, that’s just fear coming out from the basement locked in this cage that’s now coming out in a weird pathological way. Either as a rampant, excessive, emotional fear or it could be coming out covertly in another way as maybe blame or overeating or overcompensating, underperforming, depression, anger. Anger feels a lot more powerful than feeling fear. There are a lot of children in the basement. Jealousy is down there, unworthiness, powerlessness. All of these voices are down there working together. They’re part of a mutiny factory trying in any way to get out and do what they’re supposed to do which is just be themselves.

O: It sounds like an X-Men movie.

K: In the X-Men movie of course, the hero conquers and overcomes these awful evil demons. I have a saying: our demons don’t know why we don’t love them.

O: Oh, wow.

K: Fear doesn’t know why you don’t love him. It’s just that we’ve started abusing fear. We’re just avoiding it. We don’t want to deal with it. As a result, we only live half our lives. We’re spending almost all our energy just fighting fear, trying to get rid of fear, not dealing with fear. If fear is locked in the basement, it will shrink you. You will be shrunk just trying to spend all the energy conquering or overcoming it. Fear also will try to hold you back. It will be desperate. It will show up as OCD or paranoia or whatever. Back to what we’re talking about before to avoid this weakness, next thing you know you’re so weak. You have this incredible resource called fear that’s here to make you more powerful, sharp and focused. You’re instead devoting your lives to fighting a war against it. But to own is powerful. That’s where we’re going next.

O: I love what you’re saying. It really resonates with something that I heard in Oneness University when I went there in India. The monks were saying, “Let the tiger devour you.” If you feel a feeling of anger, emotion, sadness, depression you want to let the tiger devour you. Really feel it, be with it. But then don’t stay in it. At some point you gotta let it go. They said don’t stay there for more than 10 minutes. I can see the extreme value that you are offering by sharing that. I can also see people taking this on and saying, “Oh, I feel my fear. I feel my anger,” and just staying there and getting into a victim mentality without taking ownership of their part of whatever the situation is.

K: Right. You start to feel like you’re a victim of this screaming child that’s locked in the basement. But guess what? You’re the one that put him there. That acknowledgment can be very powerful. Like, “Oh. I’m the one that put fear in the basement which means I also have the ability to take it out.” Now just to address what you were saying let the tiger devour you. Imagine you’re my child, Fear, in the basement. I say, “Okay. I’m just going to let you devour me.” Is that what we’re going for? Then maybe you’ll shut the hell up. How does that make you feel if I say that to you?

O: Not that great.

K: Then some other teachers may say, “Okay. I need to accept you. I just need to accept that you’re a part of my life. There’s nothing I can do about it. Maybe I even need to spend some time with you and feel you.” Then will you shut the hell up. How does that make you feel?

O: Manipulative.

K: Yeah. Or if I say, “Okay. I’m willing to have you around some of the time. But at some point I’m still going to have to put you back in the basement. Because we can’t let you out for too long or else you’re just going to bite the heads off of every hope or dream I ever have.” Again, how does that make you feel?

O: Still rejected.

K: Right. Why don’t you talk to me like you’re talking to your child called Fear? Why don’t you give it your best shot? What would an award winning mother say to her Fear?

O: I don’t know. I feel under pressure.

K: Oh. You want me to give it a try?

O: Yes.

K: Alright. Here’s what we should be doing with Fear. You really pay attention now because this is very different from anything you’ve ever considered before. It’s so counterintuitive especially if we’ve been feeling like really fear has been the problem. Fear, first of all, I am so sorry. I have really gotten off track with you. I have been abusing you. I’m the one that took this fight. I don’t blame you for acting out like you have. I would’ve done the same thing. I’m so sorry. It first takes a step to just acknowledge what the problem is. That can be huge. I’ve been the problem, I’ve been fighting fear. I realize that you’re perfectly normal, natural part of my life. The second I’m here, you’re here too. It’s not like you’re ever going to go away. How can we come up with the best possible relationship? Such that I can thrive, you can thrive. We can be friends together. Together we can be greater than apart. Me plus fear equals super me. How can we make it so that you feel welcomed, honored and that you feel expanded, I feel expanded? But it’s not like you’re going to now show up as that enemy anymore but instead as an asset and an ally? How can I help you do your best fear job, you’ll be the best you possible? Do you see what I’m getting at?

O: Exactly. Yeah, totally.

K: Yeah. We’re long ways away from talking to fear that way though, aren’t we?

O: Oh, yeah. It sounds so nice when you’re under the guidance of somebody else. But when you’re just alone in your room thinking about the future or something that might be scary, it’s pretty difficult to come and have this very civilized and kind, nurturing conversation with that part of you.

K: It is. That’s why I always say that the way that you talk about fear is one of the most important shifts that you can make in order to have a better relationship with fear. In my book I have a whole dictionary. I have things like, we say that fear is a prison. Well, fear is in prison is what you should say instead. I put him there, right? Or moms are saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Instead mom should be saying, “The world is a scary place, isn’t it?” You see how inclusive that is to fear?

O: Completely.

K: Right. “Don’t let fear control your life,” we say. When we should be saying, “Don’t let the avoidance of fear control your life.” Here’s one where we transition into seeing fear as a positive. We would normally say, “Do it despite the fear.”

O: Feel the fear and do it anyways.

K: Right. Get rid of the word anyway. That’s disrespectful to fear. You want to do it because of the fear. Because if we’re feeling fear, that means that we’re taking a chance. It’s like we’re looking to expand ourselves. If we stay in our comfort zone, there’s very little fear. But if you want to do big things with your life, be in Hollywood, do a podcast, jump off cliffs, there’s going to be a fear. You have this circle, it’s your comfort zone. You step out of the circle, you’re going to feel fear. Then you step out of the circle often enough, be willing to feel fear. Like in relationships, take a risk. Ask a guy out, go on a date, have a difficult conversation with your husband that you’ve been avoiding, you’re going to feel fear every time you step out of your comfort zone. Now connect the new dots that are outside of the comfort zone. Now your comfort zone is an expanded circle. You’re a bigger version of yourself. That’s where we’re headed. But first we got to get people to stop avoiding fear.

O: Right. How do you come up with your methodology? What type of methodologies did you try in your life? What worked? What didn’t work?

K: What I did at the end of my ski career, I had no idea why I had PTSD, burnout, I had injuries, all that. I quit. I had to quit. I didn’t have to ski anymore. I had done so well. All I had to do was show up at the parties and drink a can of Red Bull and I’d still get paid. But I’m just so desperately in need of trying to figure out what had gone wrong in my life. I didn’t make this association with fear. I met a Zen master and he asked to speak to my voice of fear. It makes sense, maybe it doesn’t. I couldn’t locate it. It was so buried deep in the basement, under 10 ft of concrete. Mind you, we take medication to not deal with our fear and lock it under 10 ft of concrete in the basement. I wasn’t taking medication but I was just so good at repressing it. The Zen master asked to speak to fear. I couldn’t find it. He said, “That’s what I thought.” He started talking, saying some of the things that I’m saying right now. All of a sudden, all my problems made sense. I’ve been repressing fear. Got it. Then I spent the next 15 years healing my own relationship with fear in order to heal my problems. In the process I started working with athletes, recreational and professional athletes to help them have a more intimate relationship and honest relationship with fear as a way to solve their underperforming problems in sports, in business, and just in life in general. The repression of fear shows that differently for everyone. It can show up as depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, PTSD, insomnia, indecisiveness and on and on. I started noticing, and I say this with big bold letters, our relationship with fear is the most important relationship of our lives because it’s a relationship that we have with our core selves. If you heal that relationship, if you make it a better, stronger, more considerate relationship then either our problem’s completely resolved, just when that one action which only takes a few hours. It could be physical, even it could be emotional, it could be psychological, spiritual, it didn’t matter. There was either a full resolution or partial resolution of that problem. I just started becoming a fear specialist. When I work with clients, it didn’t matter what the problem was. That’s what I would help them address. Then I wrote this book and here I sit today.

O: What made you write this book? It’s a big book. It probably took a long time to write.

K: It is a big book. It challenges radically existing norms about what to do about fear. It’s definitely pushing up against a lot of the advice that’s out there from doctors, psychologists, self-help gurus and on and on. It’s a scary thing to do. I’m inherently lazy. I didn’t want to take on a project this huge. Really having a clear grasp of the cause of underlying problems like anxiety, panic attacks, depression. Most of the resources available to people were just symptom relief. I’m sitting on this. I’m like, how can I not just be of service to the world? Make a point, write this book, get it out there, do whatever it takes to get this message out especially if it has the capability of helping people. In this world where there are more methods and modalities and pills and all that to manage fear, anxiety, depression and all that but it’s not going away. You think that it’d be going away, it’s only getting worse and worse and worse. I just felt like I needed to do it or else I couldn’t live with myself.

O: That’s beautiful. I love that. I just came back from India. I spent some time in Dharamshala. I’ve been to the Dalai Lama Temple. I actually saw the Dalai Lama which was a moment of bliss. I know that you had a story in your book about smuggling yourself to the Chinese side or something like that and running for your life.

K: Yeah. I was a fear junkie. I really like feeling fear. But what she’s referring to is I snuck into Tibet over a 20,000 foot pass to try and illegally climb and ski the sixth highest mountain in the world, Cho Oyu, and almost got arrested by the Chinese authorities. I also have another story that’s not in the book where I rode my bike from Kathmandu to Dharamshala to meet the Dalai Lama. I’m an American. It took me two months to get there.

O: Wow.

K: I found out that he was in New York City at that time. It’s like, don’t!

O: Don’t!

K: But yeah, that was a scary adventure.

O: Of course, especially with the way they drive there. There is like one little road on the side of the mountain and three cars coming from different directions alongside five scooters. It’s pretty dangerous to bike there.

K: Yeah. I almost died in Dharamshala actually. I got such severe food poisoning. I was in somebody’s basement in this cot. There was nobody coming to check on me. I lost 20lbs in four days. I was so sick out in both ends and didn’t take a sip of water for four days. I laid in it. I was too weak to even get out of bed. There were other beds in the room that were clean. I couldn’t even get out of the one bed I was in. Finally the second I have enough energy, I crawled up the flight of stairs and just laid in the hallway until somebody noticed me. It was crazy.

O: Oh my God.

K: Anyway, that’s on the side.

O: My tummy was horrible in India. It was like I have a good day today, I have a bad day today. I used half of my entire diarrhea medicine. We had luxury travel where we spent time in very nice places. It wasn’t like the backpacking in India. I used to do backpacking but this one was a luxury travel. But still, you can’t avoid getting sick in India. No.

K: Here’s the thing if you’re thinking of going to India. You have to just ask yourself, am I in the mood for fear right now?

O: Yeah. Yes, always, always. Just give me adventure. Give me fear.

K: Right.

O: I rode an elephant. She was a big elephant, her name is Tar which means star. We spent a few hours with her. I fell in love like oh my God, my heart just opened and I just felt this connection to this beautiful, gentle giant. But the first moments, it was scary. But then it was like hugging her legs and jumping on her and hugging her head. But, yeah I love fear. I love adventure.

K: Oh, that’s so gorgeous. Back to the am I in the mood for fear, when you have a month off, whoever has a month off, but let’s say you have a month off. You could have a staycation and just hide. That’s because you’re not in the mood for fear. Or you may go to the beach, you’re in the mood for joy or serenity. But you go to India and you go ride an elephant if you’re in the mood for fear. If you choose joy, it’s nice. I went for a walk the other day. I was running a fear camp, freedom from chronic anxiety and irrational fear. It just ended yesterday, actually it was just yesterday. It’s like okay, I could go walking through the park. I took my clients to this park. We could just be in a state of joy and love and gratitude. It’s really nice. That’s a great choice. But you’re not going to learn anything.

O: Right.

K: If you go and take fear for a walk, if you actually go out and do something that scares you or if you’re just even willing at your home just sit instead of have a gratitude practice you have a fear practice and shine your light and be curious about fear. You’re not looking to turn off the dial on it, you just want to feel it. That’s another gorgeous step after acknowledging that it’s natural and normal is just to notice that you’ve been resisting it. Then spend some time just feeling it, that sensation of discomfort in your body. All of a sudden you’re going to learn something.

O: Yeah.

K: If you’re willing to feel your fear, you’re always going to learn something new.

O: Right.

K: But if you’re unwilling to feel fear, you’re going to stay the same. Taking it into relationships, if you’re in the mood for fear, you’re going to put yourself out there. Yes you might be rejected but you’re going to learn something. You’re going to have an adventure. You’re going to have a cool experience that is going to expand who you are. But if you’re always not in the mood for fear, I don’t want to deal with fear of rejection, I don’t want to feel fear at all day after day after day. You’re never going to expand who you are. You’re not going to put yourself out there to learning and growing from other people. It’s not a life. A beautiful life includes fear.

O: Yeah. I did a process with my client. She was afraid to break up with a toxic relationship. I kept inquiring. What will happen if this will happen? It will happen if this will happen. After 30 minutes, we got to the conclusion that if she’s going to break up this relationship, she’s going to die. That was an eye opener for her. It’s like if you break up with me I’ll feel this way and that will happen, that will happen. We do that so quickly in our head where we’re just jumping to the worst conclusion and the worst thing that can happen.

K: One thing that I teach too is if somebody is having a hard time making a difficult decision, that’s a clear sign that they’re not dealing with their fear in an honest way.

O: That’s true.

K: What happens is people coo-coo fear-based decision making. But if we don’t invite fear into the decision making process, we’re blind in one eye and we have no depth to perception. We don’t trust our decisions. What I would do if somebody, let’s say a woman in an abusive relationship and she’s contemplating leaving. It’s scary to leave. What would I do without money? What if he comes and stalks me? What am I going to do about the kids? I have no way of making a living. I don’t know. Let’s say on a scale of 1 to 10, your fear of leaving is a level 8 which is high. Then maybe your fear of staying, more abuse, being 10 years older, 20 years older still stuck, how embarrassed you are around your friends. What’s your fear of staying on a scale of 1 to 10? Well maybe it’s a 6. Your fear of going is higher than your fear of staying, so you stay. Because whatever is the lesser fear wins. But if you continue to keep checking in with your fear, one day all of a sudden your fear of staying goes up to a level 10 and all that implies oh my gosh, my whole life is going to pass me by. Then you leave. Fear which once made you stay now makes you leave. If you have a fear practice, you can pay attention and you can make clear, wise decisions. Because here’s the key: we all want to be tapped into intuition and instinct. Well, that’s what fear is. If we’re willing to tap into that wisdom, be willing to feel our fear we will have all the intuition and instinct and just gut, physical reaction to fight or flee or whatever. That’s one of the many gifts that fear offers us.

O: I love everything that you just said. Let’s say the person is in a toxic relationship, they want to get out of it. They learned to get in touch with their fear. What’s the next step?

K: Close your eyes. Find the sensation of discomfort in your body. It may show up as frustration, it may show up as anger or sadness, fear, whatever it is. Identify where it is. For me now it feels more on my solar plexus. I just want you to spend a moment acknowledging it’s perfectly natural and normal to feel this way. The second step is to notice your resistance to it, “I don’t want to feel this way.” Acknowledge your resistance to it which is also normal and natural, “I don’t want to deal with this discomfort.” But if you start to notice, it’s almost like the relationship is the problem but the discomfort has become a bigger problem than even the relationship. This is the noticing phase, what is my relationship with this discomfort? Am I resisting it? How is the resistance causing problems for me, even more so than the fear itself? Suffering equals discomfort times resistance. Write that down. Let’s say my discomfort is a level 8 and my resistance, I don’t want to feel this way, is a level 10. 8 times 10 is 80. That’s a lot. Can we lower the resistance? Which is a lot easier than lowering the discomfort. My discomfort is a level 8 and my resistance I can get it down to a 2. 8 times 2, it’s a lot less suffering. Spend some time just acknowledging the resistance. The third step is to just spend some time feeling your fear. The key is you do this without trying to get rid of it. I say if you’ve been resisting it for a long time, you want to take at least 10 minutes to just feel your fear. Not think about feeling your fear but just feel it. This is a body practice. This is not a head intellect process. This is happening to the wisdom of your body. Because your mind can lie about what to do but your body doesn’t. As you’re feeling your fear, notice the percolation of energy in it. Notice the intuition, the instinct. Notice the aliveness down there. Just be curious about what kind of message it’s here to offer you. Usually the message if it seems excessive is that, “Hey. You need to start paying attention to me. You got to stop repressing me.” Or it may be, “Okay, you need to leave this relationship or you’re going to die.” Or, “If you leave this relationship, you’re going to die.” Just start listening to fear. But not listening in an intellectual way but more in an intuitive way. Just listening to the energy and why has it been trying to get your attention and what have you been ignoring?

O: That’s powerful.

K: It’s called the fear practice. I do this everyday. I’m trying to do something pretty big with launching this book. It’s so different than anything else out there. I’m pushing up against doctors, scientists, psychologists, self-help gurus. It’s a very scary experience to do this. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. I’m so busy. I’m giving keynote speeches every other day. It’s like oh my gosh. First of all, I like to be a little under prepared for my talks so that the fear can help me be more sharp and focused. But let’s say I’m way too underprepared and I didn’t get much sleep the night before. I just go outside. I just allow myself to feel the resistance. I don’t want to do this. I wish this weren’t here. I wish this anxiety weren’t here. Acknowledging that, just letting that be. We’re not letting it go. We’re going to let it be. Then I spend another minute just feeling the fear. Like that child that’s in the basement that we’ve been ignoring that’s now screaming and yelling, you give any individual or any child your undivided focus and attention like that for a minute. They’re going to calm right down.

O: Yes.

K: Yeah. That’s what I do. It’s called the fear practice. I recommend that people have a fear practice. Let’s put it this way. Whatever you’re not willing to look at is the key to freedom. Become willing to look at the thing that you won’t look at. It’ll be the key to freedom.

O: Yeah. Thank you for sharing this beautiful practice. I’ve done many things in my life to conquer fear. I walked on fire, I broke arrows, I broke board, I walked on glass, I did the Tough Mudder. Every time I dealt with fear, it was a good thing. It was powerful. I love your daily practice with fear.

K: You’re going through these things like Tough Mudder. You’re going there to feel fear.

O: Yeah. I did it.

K: Like skiing. People say I want to feel less fear while on skiing. Why would you want to do that? Skiing would be really boring, right?

O: Right.

K: It’s really important that we change our language on fear. You’re doing these things because you enjoy feeling fear. You’re not going there to conquer fear. You’re going there to enjoy your fear.

O: Right. Again I used the word conquer, I didn’t even notice.

K: Yeah, I know.

O: Oh my God. I’m so embedded.

K: We can’t help ourselves, it’s so embedded. You’re right.

O: There’s a quote from your book: in the Zen tradition, the word hail in Japanese means no space. The word heaven translates spaciousness. Meaning that if you open up space in your life for fear or any other basement voice to come out and do it’s thing, you’ll be living in heaven.

K: I’m thinking of another story of a famous samurai that lived in the South of Japan and wanted to visit this famous Zen master that lived in the North. He got rid of all his worldly possessions except for a begging bowl, a loincloth, and his samurai sword. Spent six months on this holy quest walking to meet the Zen master and ask him about heaven and hell. He gets there. He says, “Oh my God. I’ve come so far to ask you. Please teach me about heaven and hell.” The Zen master took one look at him and he’s covered in lice and he’s filthy and he’s emaciated. The Zen master said, “Absolutely not, you’re disgusting. Get away from me. I wouldn’t teach you anything.” The samurai was just gobsmacked. He took out his sword, he’s about to cut the head off of the Zen master. The Zen master said, “That was hell.” The samurai was just stunned. He dropped his sword. He felt uneasy, he start kissing the Zen master’s feet. The Zen master said, “That was heaven.” We’ve living in hell whenever we try to cut the heads off of anything that’s hurting us or insulting us. But if we’re kissing the feet of it, we’re living in heaven. We actually have the capability of learning something from our fear in the process. Fear is not here to hold us back. We got that wrong. It’s just that our repressant nature with fear is what is holding us back, our unwillingness to deal with fear in an honest way. But if you deal with fear in an honest way, you’ll be living in heaven. Only its beauty, its asset, its ally that it is will be revealed. Fear is actually one of the most magnificent experiences we get to have here on planet Earth. I’m sure if you look on your life and you think about the times when you felt most alive, you’ll find that fear had something to do with it.

O: Amazing. What are your three top tips to living a stellar life? Where can people find you?

K: My three top tips are to have a fear practice, to become aware of resistance to anything unpleasant. There’s always choose love or fear. You always choose love. I say that take your love and wrap it around fear. You’re that child. Have a gratitude practice for fear. Have a love practice for fear. Have a forgiveness practice for fear. Where you can find me is kristenulmer.com. I do one-on-ones, I do live webinars, live courses and events, I do ski camps, I give keynote speeches. I am just super passionate about this work. I want to help people. I do a lot of work with corporate events too. Especially if fear, anxiety is holding somebody back instead of propelling them forward. This work is really powerful to help people be more successful and be complete bad asses in their lives instead of having fear that holds them back. That’s me. I’m devoted to this work. I’m devoted to helping people.

O: Thank you so much, Kristen.

K: Thank you.