Episode 77 – Kristen Ulmer | Fear Expert

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In this episode I chat with Kristen Ulmer, who is a thought leader on fear and anxiety. Kristen draws from her tenure as the most ‘fearless’ female extreme skier in the world, from intently studying Zen for 16 years and also from facilitating thousands of clients on flow and peak performance.

This chat was a deep dive into the philosophy of fear, how and where it shows it up and how you can respond to it with insightful anecdotes from Kristen’s extreme previous life and more recent interpersonal experiences with people whom you would consider ‘fearless’. We also cover exactly why some people struggle with anxiety and others don’t, fear and your flow state, and why calling people fearless sets our society up to live under an impossible ideal.
You will definitely want to take notes on this one! Especially around Kristen’s top three tips to start embracing your fear.

Key episode highlights include:

  • If you embrace fear, it just feels like excitement and presence
  • We can’t see what’s really going on in our undercurrent until we raise our antenna (our awareness)
  • You cannot have less fear by controlling it. The ONLY way you can have less fear is by taking risks and expanding your comfort zone.
  • Your unwillingness to feel fear is actually what’s holding you back – not fear itself.

If you are yearning for more then you can grab a copy of Kristen’s book here.
And the best place to connect with Kristen is via her website (don’t forget to take her quiz), Facebook or take up the opportunity to meet her in person at her ski camp in Alta, Utah.


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Murray Guest  00:01

Kristin, welcome to the podcast. I’m actually really excited to talk to you today about fear, and how it shows up in all the different ways. And I loved getting to meet you two years ago in Bali. Man, it feels like so long ago. But I’m really keen to talk to you about it today. You’ve got such an important message. And just before we started recording, I started to talk a bit about what 2020 has been like, and this fear that’s in community in society at the moment. But before we get into that, how are you? And I hope you’re well and healthy today?


Kristen Ulmer  00:40

Well, the reason why you feel excited is because fear is an exciting topic. You mentioned the word fear, and people perk right up. I’m doing well. I’m in Salt Lake City, I’m healthy, going through divorce, which was unexpected, because I was very happily married. And so this is a strange time for me. And it’s definitely cracking me open towards greater learning and growing on the subject of fear than ever before. Which is that’s the that’s the bonus. All this shit in here, there must be a pony somewhere. That’s the pony for me.


Murray Guest  01:15

I like that analogy. Well, I haven’t heard that one. But yeah, I get that. And fear can show up in so many different ways. I’m sure it’s showing up in lots of different ways in your life right now, shows up my life in lots of different ways. So what are you tapping into right now from a fear perspective?


Kristen Ulmer  01:34

Well, it’s not that fear shows up in many different ways. It’s more that it shows up in many different places in our life. Fear is just fear, it’s very, very simple. It’s just a feeling of discomfort, it’s proven by science to first show up in the body. It comes from the amygdala, the the oldest part of the brain, it’s the manufacturing plant for fear and data is run through the amygdala. And if there’s a threat, it produces the feeling of discomfort called fear that’s supposed to lead to immediate, you know, physical reaction without thought. And, right now, this is a scary time for us all, actually, you know, just life is scary in general. And life has gotten scarier, not even, you know, even before COVID just because more happens in 24 minutes than used to happen in 24 years, like in our great grandparents era, there’s just so much going on and the amygdalas producing a lot of fear. And then now there’s COVID and some of us are fleeing COVID you know, fear is helping us flee it and sequestering at home. And some of us are fighting COVID, you know, the the fight or flight response, the scientists and the doctors and all that. And so we’re right on target with our fear response. And just added yet one more thing to be afraid of, in this crazy ride called life, this COVID thing is one more thing on the list.


Murray Guest  03:00

So just to help us all get on the same page, how do you define fear at its very simple, simplest definition.


Kristen Ulmer  03:06

People have a very complicated relationship with fear. And so we think of fear as being very complicated. But fear is actually very, very simple. It’s a emotion, a primary emotion, from which a lot of your human experience is created. And there’s been studies done, there are five basic primary emotions. And similar to three primary colors, red, yellow, and blue. The entire color spectrum is created like an infinite number of colors. There are also primary emotions from which the entire human experience is created. And these five are fear, anger, sadness, and those three are kind of considered the bad emotions. And then there’s joy, which is considered a good emotion. And then sexuality is actually labeled an emotion. I think that actually I prefer eroticism as the emotion and that includes the sexual but isn’t limited by it. And for some people, you know, eroticism or sexuality is considered good. And for some people, it’s considered bad. But these are the emotional experiences that form our lives as humans. And what we tend to do is we tend to want to create positive emotional experiences. And when we feel negative emotion, sadness, what do we do we apologize, we try to stop crying as fast as possible. We’re embarrassed by it. Anger, you know, anger management courses, or like, put a lid on it, you know, lock it in the basement, do not let that out. Fear, where some people are in denial of it. Some people avoid it. They don’t want to do anything scary. Some people fight it, they want to conquer, overcome it. So we have these incredibly complex relationships with the so called negative emotions. That makes them very complicated and fear is one of them. But fear, my definition of it, is just it’s a simple emotion, it’s just in our bodies, like I said, proven by science, a feeling of discomfort that leads to action. But then when things go wrong, all of a sudden you have fearful thoughts, and then your racing mind in the middle of the night, and you have phobias, and obsessive compulsive disorder, and PTSD, and depression and anxiety disorders. All of these are a result of the way that we subsequently treat that very simple fear response in our bodies. And most of us are trying to get rid of it. Like I said, ignore it, avoid it, etc, etc. And it’s like ignoring the truth about the human experience. And that’s what causes problems with fear and causing it to appear complex. But really, at its core, it’s a very simple emotion.


Murray Guest  05:52

So what I’m thinking about also is around that safety mechanism that we have to try and keep us safe. And that fear emotion is saying, hang on, the perspective that I’m giving you right now that you’re tapping into is that that is going to hurt you in some way. And so react to that, and it’s like, help me out here, but it’s like a future emotion. It’s like, I’m thinking about, as a human, that this thing in the future is going to hurt me in some way. So protect myself by fight flight freeze.


Kristen Ulmer  06:25

Right. And so what you’re referring to is just when people start to project in the future of things that they’re afraid of. You know, if people are in their heads around fear, you know, your body isn’t living in the future, it’s not living in the past, it’s just living in the moment. And so long as your fear response, you know, you’re just staying in your body and dealing with your emotions, emotionally, there’s no projection on the past or future or any of that. But the second, you start thinking about fear, and you’re in your head, and your head is always thinking about the past, projecting the future, you know, which is that also is a sign that something has gone wrong. And, I mean, there’s four basic ways that people deal with fear. And just as I outline these, you know, I want everybody to just notice which one are they, and I’m going to rank them from worse way to deal with fear, to the best way to deal with fear. The worst way to deal with fear – level one – is resistance to it. And don’t get too caught up on the word resistance, there’s many different ways to resist fear, but any kind of like, trying to get rid of it or denying it, probably the biggest form of resistance I see is being in your head, trying to understand it and think about it as a way to not have to feel it, like with a therapist or something. And then there’s acceptance, which is a step in the right direction, but it’s still kind of dealing with your emotions intellectually, like, Oh, you know, it is not a sign of personal weakness, it’s supposed to be here. Level three is where you start dealing with emotions emotionally, where you embrace it. And then level four is where you have intimacy with your emotion. And if you can learn to do level three and level four, then it’ll never wind up, fear will never wind up in your thoughts. And you’ll never be thinking about future fear or projecting, you know, thoughts into the future about things you might be afraid of. I’m like in relationships, for example, like, Oh, my gosh, I’ve met this guy, he’s really cute. But the last time, you know, I got in a relationship, it was a disaster, and I don’t want to fall in love with them. And then he could hurt me. And you know, next thing, you know, you’re in your head. That is usually the result of dealing with fear intellectually, and also being in resistance to it. And then it’s just going to persist and show up in wacky weird ways, as fearful thoughts.


Murray Guest  08:43

And even in that very quick example, I could picture someone’s mind jumping to the past, bring that emotional template framework around it, and then jumping to the future – what’s going to happen – as opposed to being in the present, and living in that emotion and embracing the emotion as you said.


Kristen Ulmer  08:59

Yeah, and let me just say, we’re starting off running like I’m introducing some really complex information like in the first five minutes of the podcast, I mean, we can simplify this and back way up if you want.


Murray Guest  09:16

Well, I’m loving this.


Kristen Ulmer  09:17

Going down this rabbithole. Like I said, I don’t expect people to really understand because there may be some missing pieces. But you know, it’s really interesting. Being a fear expert. It’s like I can just meet somebody. And when they start to say, Oh, yeah, this is my issue with fear. I’ll be like, Oh, yeah, I’ve seen it before. You know, that’s probably what’s happening.


Murray Guest  09:40

So let me just tap into something there. Why a fear expert? So obviously, there was the over 20 films that you’re a part of, and all these amazing jumps and experiences you had. At which point that how’d it lead you to going, you know what I’m going to really tap into and explore and help others around fear.


Kristen Ulmer  10:03

Being a professional skier was a very strange experience. I mean, it was very hedonistic. I had a massive ego trip. I mean, it was fun, fun, fun and dangerous and exciting and all of that. And I realized now, the whole time I was a professional skier, something felt off. Like I remember being on a chairlift at least five times looking at my skis saying, What am I doing? This is stupid. And, you know, I was the best in the world at a very dangerous, exciting sport. Nothing stupid about that from the outside looking in, but from the inside looking at them, like there’s, What is this? Why am i doing this, this doesn’t feel right. And I realized now that it was just part of my education, to be able to look at fear and anxiety from a new lens, from a different angle. You know, like be a fear and anxiety expert. My training didn’t come from a master’s degree or a PhD in college, I’m not like, kind of parroting things I learned from a professor or from another self help guru, like, I have come up with some really unique concepts and ideas that are actually the radical opposite of most of all of what’s out there. And I came to it just through 33 years now of just real life experience. You know, first, I mean, what is extreme skiing, it means that I was risking my life for a living, you know, the definition of extreme is the consequences of failure, and certainly in the context of extreme skiing, are death. And so I was making life or death decisions on a daily basis for 15 years, you know, dealing with a tremendous amount of fear, far more than the average public and I learned you don’t learn from experience, you learn from reflecting on the experience. I had enough of a curiosity sparked during those times, because I was considered fearless, to really reflect on those 15 years and figure out exactly what I did right by fear and what I did wrong by fear. And then studying is an approach to fear and then working with 10,000 clients now, like I have basically come up with exactly why people struggle with fear and anxiety and other people don’t. And what to do about it. That is currently not being taught by pretty much anyone. So this is, this is really new, super sexy information that comes from a, you know, from I mean, I’m, like, groomed by the universe for 33 years now to bring this message. And, and I see my ski career as just an education.


Murray Guest  12:40

Yeah, so I think, so my definition here that I thought I had as you’re talking about extreme skiing, or extreme sport, I think if the average person let’s just say anybody watches a sport and thinks, ‘I can do that’, that’s skiing, or that’s mountain biking, or that’s, you know, motorbike riding. But then when we add the word extreme to it, it’s like, straightaway, I can’t do that. I just, the average person can’t see themselves. So I watched a number of videos of what you were doing. I mean, the front flip in Wyoming. That was in Wyoming, wasn’t it? Yeah?


Kristen Ulmer  13:19

That was in Alaska.


Murray Guest  13:21

Yeah. And I, I’m, I’m watching that thinking, I hope she lands this. Of course, she lands it but I’m gonna hope she lands this and it’s just but it’s just magical, you know, landscape that you’re playing in as well. Like, just just beautiful as well. So this is popping into my head right now, how did you balance the ‘I’m appreciating this magical landscape, that’s just you know, that only I get to see and experience’, and at the same time thinking, ‘Oh, shit, this is pretty fearful stuff.’


Kristen Ulmer  13:52

Back in my ski career, I didn’t feel fear.


Murray Guest  13:56



Kristen Ulmer  13:57

And as beautiful as the landscape was for me, that wasn’t the draw for me. For me, the draw was radical self expression. You know, yes, I noticed landscape, but it really wasn’t that big of a deal to me, you know, it was the self expression. I want to address if somebody feels fearless, like I did, what actually is going on. Like if they have a kid who seems to be fearless, you know, what’s the difference between that one kid versus the other kid that you know has a lot of fear. The difference is that that kid enjoys feeling fear, they’re not fearless. Neurochemically fear and excitement are exactly the same thing. And if you have, and I talked about the four levels, if you embrace fear, and if you have an intimate relationship with fear, it just feels like excitement and presence. It actually takes you into the zone and little else does, like extreme sports are notorious for taking people into the zone. It’s like you have to be in an altered state to survive some of these things, you know, and just be tapped into some intuition or instinct, because you know, you have to make instant reactions that will save your life or not save your life.


Murray Guest  15:13

So what’s the impact of calling someone fearless?


Kristen Ulmer  15:19

It sets our society up to live under an impossible ideal. Like, people would look at somebody like me and say, Oh, she’s fearless. I wasn’t fearless. You know, I was motivated by fear of not being special, fear of not being loved. That’s what had me do all these super sketchy things. The fear was the draw. I loved feeling fear, you know, I was addicted to it. It actually became an unhealthy addiction to me like a heroin addict. You know, I became a fear addict. And I mean that I was absolutely not fearless. It’s just that I, the part of me that became a world class athlete, I was having an intimate relationship with fear. And keep in mind, I have confirmed this with pretty much you name it, name the athlete I’ve talked to them. I interviewed 26 World Class professional, extreme athletes in the last year and a half for probably two hours each just on fear. And they didn’t even know that this is what was going on. But by the end of the couple of hours, they’re nodding their head so hard I thought their neck was gonna break like Alex Honnold who free solo’d El Capitan. Laird Hamilton, arguably the best big wave surfer in the world. What we are, we’re not fearless. And there’s a rumor going around that Alex Honnold had a damaged amygdala. That’s not the case. He thought that test that was done on him was not realistic and very stupid. What we are tapping into and make no mistake, this is not just with athletes, this is also with business men and women, people who you admire who are doing amazing things. What they are, is they’re having an intimate relationship with fear. And as a result, they come across as fearless. The people who come across as very, very fearful, actually, what they are, is they’re afraid of fear, which is different. Like they, they don’t want to feel fear, they are in resistance to it. And actually the awful feeling that we associate with fear, that’s not fear. Fear is actually I mean, it’s uncomfortable. But it’s, it feels more like excitement when you’re having an intimate relationship with it. The awful feeling we associate with fear is actually our resistance to feeling it. It’s I don’t want this I don’t want to feel this. What’s wrong with me? This is an awful feeling. It’s that resistance that feels so awful, not the fear itself.


Murray Guest  17:45

So at that resistance level, we’re fighting it, we’re pushing it away, or trying to run from it.


Kristen Ulmer  17:50

Right. And we’re actually taught to do this in our culture. Like, that’s where all the language comes from. You want to conquer and overcome fear. Well, look at that language triumph over it, it suggests a war, a mighty battle against this huge enemy. And that puts you at war with fear, which means it puts you at war with your own body, where the fear is, it puts you at war with the amygdala, you do not want to pick a fight with fear and you do not want to pick a fight with the amygdala, they will win every time.


Murray Guest  18:19

So fear’s good as well. And I’m not telling you, I’m just thinking this through.


Kristen Ulmer  18:26

Let me just adjust that before you move on. Fear’s not good ‘as well’. Fear is good, period. Like, I do not see good fear, bad fear. Like there’s good stuff, bad stuff about it. If you embrace fear, the good stuff is all you get. If you’re intimate with fear, it actually takes you into a spiritual place, an altered state, it’s a gorgeous experience. And the fear becomes one of the best parts of your life. If you are in resistance to fear, only the good stuff shows up. Like whatever your relationship is, with fear determines whether it’s like one of the best parts of your life or one or one of the worst parts of your life.


Murray Guest  19:07

For the listeners, how do they then determine where their relationship sits with fear?


Kristen Ulmer  19:15

I love that question. You know, I’ve done hundreds of podcasts, nobody has ever asked me that. That’s an excellent question. So how does one determine.. Well, you know, I bought a sat radio and went out to the mountains once, I bought it at REI, this is back in the 90s, the damn thing wouldn’t work. And I turned it on, it’s just static, just, you know, white noise. I brought it back to REI. I’m like, What the hell this thing didn’t work? And they said, Well, did you raise the antenna? I’m like, Ohh. It’s like our life is just static, like we can’t see or tell anything about what’s going on in our undercurrent unless we raise our antenna. And it used to be said that knowledge is power. But the guy who said that said that in like the late 1400s, when we also believe the world was flat, right? It’s kind of outdated. What’s more true in today’s world is that knowledge is power or awareness is power. And so it starts with just having an awareness practice, like, what’s my deal with fear? I mean, we are mostly living in denial about fear, like, we do not want to believe that fear is as big a part of our lives as it is. And actually, the amygdala is manufacturing fear all the time, it’s to the point where it’s actually with us every moment of every single day, in pretty much every interaction we have, I feel it right now. You know, because I’m aware of it. And, and so just becoming aware of the fear itself to start with, and then become aware of your relationship with that fear. Like I like to personify it, see it as a person in our lives, like a roommate that you live with all the time, like, what is my relationship with it? Am I in denial of this roommate? Do I ignore this roommate? Am I in a war with this roommate? Do I hate this roommate and wish he would go away? Like, just getting to know your relationship with fear is absolutely the crucial first step towards having a healthy relationship with it. Because you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. You may think that fear is the problem. But you may actually learn by having an awareness practice that you are the problem, you’re actually picking a fight with fear. And then that leaves fear no choice but to retaliate. I mean, all gets revealed once you raise your antenna.


Murray Guest  21:35

Hmm, gotcha. And once taking the time to actually understand that relationship. And then let’s say I’ve realized, I’m actually resisting my feeling, I’m at level one. If there’s a simple technique to help me start to really accept my fear, to then move to that next level, what could I do?


Kristen Ulmer  22:01

The the first, well, it’s interesting how we’re just organically leaning towards my top three tips for people. The first tip is just become aware of your relationship with fear. The second Hot Tip is to change your language around how you talk about fear and less, view fear. And back to being a roommate, you know, if you’re used to saying, Oh, my gosh, fear is holding me back from doing the things I want to do. It’s not true. My unwillingness to feel fear is holding me back from doing the things I want to do. It’s like, okay, your fear is next to you. And your fear is only here to help. I’m going to say that, again, your fear is only here to help, like nature did not get this wrong. Fear is like the perfect design. Not only does it keep you safe, but it perks you up, makes you sharp, focused, helps you bring your A game to everything you do. It makes you feel alive. You know, it’s very exciting. If you’re ever bored, go and do something that scares you. And you’ll see, it’ll be the highlight of your day, maybe even of your year, like fear is only here as a resource, of source of motivation, all of that. It’s wonderful. And so, here you have this roommate, who’s like here to support you. And you’re like, you’re holding me back. It’s like, oh, wait a second. No, he’s not holding me back. I’m holding me back, because I’m unwilling to kind of see this roommate that I have is somebody that’s here to help me. So change your language about that roommate, like start talking about fear in a positive way.


Murray Guest  23:42

Our words shape our world, don’t they? Yeah, I totally agree.


Kristen Ulmer  23:48

Yeah, there’s just so much that comes from switching from a pessimistic or negative view of fear, to seeing fear as a positive and then changing the way you think about it and talk about it accordingly. It’s just like, you’d make that one simple shift. And you can’t even believe how much your life starts to become magic. You work through issues, scary things faster, like I’m going through a divorce right now. It’s a very dark, emotional time for me, a lot of fear, a lot of anger, a lot of sadness, you know, because I’m embracing it all. I’m in flow with it all. I’m moving through this difficult time much faster. I’m learning incredible lessons from it. You know, you don’t get stuck in a war with your own body and your own self. And it’s just, I don’t know, just having that kind of optimistic and positive view of fear will also get you taking more risks. You know, and then when you take the risks, like, ask me about Alex Honnold at some point, and I’ll tell you what we explored because I think that people are going to be very surprised by what he and I came up with is happening with him. 


Murray Guest  25:00

And can I just say if you haven’t watched free solo, it is such a fantastic documentary. I really enjoyed it. Well, it’s funny because as you were talking about the language and the words we use and how we describe our fear, I wondered if that was a theme that came out of your conversations with the athletes you’ve spoken to in the last 18 months? Did they consciously choose or were they consciously aware of how they describe their internal dialogue towards their fears? Or was that something that came out of some of those conversations?


Kristen Ulmer  25:38

What I found was, I interviewed 26 World Class extreme athletes, the best in the world at their sports, multiple sports. Similar to when I was going through my ski career, and people called me fearless. I believed my own hype. I felt fearless, I acted fearless. I wasn’t aware that fear was playing any part of my life. And I was also, you know, if you’d interviewed me when I was 24 years old, I would have had no clue what my relationship was with fear. And a lot of these athletes I interviewed who were in their 30s, 40s, or 50s, and they basically, they are the poster children, for people that do scary things with their life. And you think that they would have some sort of understanding of what their relationship was with fear. 23 of the 26 had no clue. Even when they were in their 50s, Alex Honnold had no clue what his relationship was with fear. And usually what they would start off the interview with would be just parroting stuff that they’ve heard from self help gurus, like, Oh, I don’t let fear get in my way, you know, I put it out of my mind, I’m, you know, I am able to conquer my fear. And so it doesn’t hold me back. Or, or they’ll say something like, I’m a scaredy cat. But I feel the fear and do it anyway. You know, like, the, the cliches were profound. It’s like, okay, everybody’s the same old, you know, that, that they’ve heard. But then I would say, Well, have you ever thought about it this way? And do you think that this might be going on? And what do you think about this? And, and I would, some of them, I would facilitate a conversation broker, that conversation between them and their fear. And, and one by one, we found out some similarities here that people were eventually were like, Oh, my gosh, that’s, I think that’s it. That’s it. That’s what’s going on. And that’s where I came up with the intimacy thing. And so Alex Honnold, you know, seemingly the poster child for what to do about fear. What we came up with is two things, basically. And so this is a great segue into that. He’s not fearless. And if he was fearless, he said he would have just tried to free solo El Capitan the first year he was in Yosemite, and in his words, he would have died for sure. Because we concurred that anybody that’s fearless just dies, you know, or perceives himself. And a lot of these extreme athletes do die. And most of the ones who die, walk around all cocky saying, Yeah, I’m not afraid of anything. You know that those people are super dangerous.


Murray Guest  28:17

Not just dangerous to themselves, but dangerous to the people around them as well.


Kristen Ulmer  28:21

Absolutely. Well put, and what was really going on with Alex, I mean, he spent 10 years before he free solo’d El Capitan, is that he is just willing to feel fear. He even enjoys feeling fear. And so he’s willing to step out of his comfort zone, where there exists fear. And so this is a podcast about business, it’s like, you know, the, the people who are willing to take risks and step out of their comfort zone, are also willing to have fear. Because where there’s risk, there’s fear. And so you, you know, like, imagine a circle, this is your comfort zone, you’re still gonna feel fear within your comfort zone. But if you’re willing to take on more fear, you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone. And you do that often enough, you know, put a dot outside your comfort zone, each time you take a risk, eventually connect the new dots, you have a bigger comfort zone. And so that’s what Alex did, every year is in Yosemite kept taking little risks, you know, the magical number is 4%, 4% out of your comfort zone, studied by science, right? Is the optimal flow state because then the fear takes you into a flow state, if you’re in flow with it, that is, if you’re intimate with it. And then so he just kept expanding his comfort zone bigger and bigger and bigger until the day he free solo’d El Cap. It wasn’t that big of a stretch for him to step out of his very expanded comfort zone and do what he did. And so that’s the secret of success with anyone who finds out their greatest potential. You don’t find out your greatest potential by just thinking about it. You find out your greatest potential by taking risks. So willingness to feel fear actually supports you figuring out what your greatest capabilities are. And so there’s a lot of people that are fear avoiders, which is a form of resistance to fear.


Murray Guest  30:12

Yep. Back to level one then.


Kristen Ulmer  30:14

Yeah, right, right. So willing to feel fear, embracing fear, you will take risks, you will step out of your comfort zone. And here’s the clincher with this, this is the bonus. Not only is there no learning and growing, without a willingness to feel fear, you know, because fear is very expensive for the body to manufacture. It requires a lot of energy, you actually support the amygdala and the body by expanding who you are, and and, you know, expanding your comfort zone, because then it doesn’t have to manufacture fear anymore. So here’s the conclusion of that – you cannot have less fear by controlling it. The only way you can have less fear is by taking risks, and expanding your comfort zone. And that comes from a willingness to feel fear. So the only way you can have less fear is found by a willingness to feel fear in the first place.


Murray Guest  31:11

That’s that’s gold, right there. Yeah, I love that.


Kristen Ulmer  31:15

Not just for business, anything, relationships, I mean, life, just finding out your greatest potential as a human being. And then while you’re out of your comfort zone, how do you deal with the fear? Well, you have an intimacy with it. And so it takes you into that altered state called flow or the zone. That was the second secret of Alex.


Murray Guest  31:34

Well, the thing I’m thinking about here, whether that’s what you were doing as an extreme skier, or Alex, free soloing El Capitan, that there’s it’s not like, as you said, this is bravado of just going in and doing it. And tell me if I’m wrong here. But the planning, the preparation, which actually sets for success. So I haven’t seen a video of you, because I haven’t watched all the videos of you and your preparation. But what I’m thinking about when I saw Alex, was all the preparation he did to make sure, yes, he’s embracing the fear. He’s intimate with it. And he knows how he can set himself for success. And the analogy I’m drawing here is, let’s say someone’s listening to this, and they’ve got to do a presentation. And they’re really fearful about that. Or they want to have a conversation with another leader within the business. And they’re fearful about that. It’s not like just pushing the fear aside and running in there. But there’s, How do I embrace that and actually prepare for success to actually achieve what I’m trying to do?


Kristen Ulmer  32:32

Right, it’s, it’s like, there’s two ways to deal with a speech, you know, or presentation or a job interview. You know, you’re slightly under prepared her or, anyway, anything that you’re going to do in business, you have two basic ways of dealing with it. And look at you as Batman and your fear as Robin. You could either punch Robin in the face, and feel powerful, and he’s laid out on the floor and just, you know, crumpled, and you go in there and you give the speech, right? And you think, ah ha! But guess what. Now, Robin’s pissed off, he’s gonna come back, and he’s gonna terrorize your life and seek vicious revenge, which is what fear does. The other thing is, you can bring Robin on stage with you, and you’re stronger together than apart. What that looks like, in practical terms, and this is gonna really shock some people. Because what most people do, if they’re about to give a speech, or have a difficult conversation, is the punching Robin in the face. And what that looks like is they rationalize fear away, there’s nothing to be afraid of, I’ve got this, I’m totally prepared. They take three deep breaths, they breathe in calm, they breathe out their fear. They just block it out by maybe cognitive behavioral therapy, you know, more positive, they replace it with something more positive. Like, all these things that we’re taught to do regarding fear, are just forms of resistance. And they work. They’re proven by science to work. In fact, scientifically, they work, they calm you down in about four minutes. And that’s why they’re taught. You know, that’s why everybody teaches this kind of thing. And they rationalize there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just false evidence appearing real. It’s just all in my head. That is absolutely not true. It is very scary to give a speech. So and then you start to distrust yourself. So there’s long term consequences of that. And there’s Carl Jung, whatever you resist persists. So yes, it works. But then the next time you give a speech, you have to do it for four and a half minutes. And then the next time it takes five minutes, and the next thing you know, you go home and you have an anxiety disorder, that seems unrelated. You’re like What’s up with this? I just had a panic attack or you’re picking fights with your wife. You know, because you haven’t dealt with your fear at work, and you’re just kind of throwing it at her when you get home, or you can’t sleep, you have insomnia because you didn’t deal with your fear during the day. It gets very clever. It hijacks your mind in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep and runs its agenda in your thoughts in the middle of the night, or you have PTSD from giving the speech, on and on. I mean, you eventually wind up with some form of weird depression or anxiety disorder. It’s like, next thing you know, there’s some part of your life that just doesn’t make sense. So that’s the first choice. You know, that’s the punching Robin in the face. The second choice is what I teach is a four step process of I mean, I feel like I’ve been talking for a long time. Do you have any questions before I move on to that? 


Murray Guest  35:47

No this is great. I’d love to. Well, the second choice is bringing Robin on stage.


Kristen Ulmer  35:51

Yeah. And it’s a little more nuanced than that. It’s more about honoring Robin. So that Robin isn’t hysterical. You know?


Murray Guest  36:01

Yeah. I’m seeing old Batman TV show here with a POW and a Wham. And that’s what I’m seeing.


Kristen Ulmer  36:11

Yeah, but usually they’re fighting enemies you know. Fear’s not an enemy, fear’s your Robin. So it’s how you treat Robin. How I deal with fear, when I’m about to give a speech is I go find, of course, I’m always super nervous before I go on stage and the word anxiety, nerves, worry, are just other names for fear. You know, we don’t like to call it fear anymore. We call it anxiety. Like nobody calls it fear. Like the guy on Wall Street, he’s like, Oh, my gosh, I’m pickled in anxiety. And we’re like, oh, yeah, yeah, that makes sense. But if he says, Oh, I’m pickled in fear, they’re like, Oh, my gosh, what’s wrong with you?


Murray Guest  36:49



Kristen Ulmer  36:50

It’s the same exact thing! Specifically anxiety is recirculating fear that’s stuck in your body. And it’s there because you’ve blocked fear from being in flow, and it’s stuck in your body and recirculating.


Murray Guest  37:04

Can I just say, and the bit that you said before, which I absolutely loved, and I want to make sure that people didn’t miss it is, if we push it aside, we don’t discuss it, we don’t embrace it. We don’t, you know, welcome it in some area, it’s going to show up and recycle and get, you know, like a volcano and show up in some other way in our life. And I think it’s so powerful.


Kristen Ulmer  37:29

It could show up as anger issues too, like, classic example is somebody that, like a kid that has a really scary home life. And fear makes him feel powerless, but he has to feel something. And so he feels anger instead. Because it makes him feel powerful. But fear and anger are very closely tied. In fact, when I mentioned getting the primary emotions, in some studies, anger isn’t even a primary emotion. Anger is mostly made up of fear. So yeah, like for for fight, it’s anger, for flee, it’s fear. Yeah, so anyway, it’s just God, it’s such a bad idea to resist fear. And yet, every single self help guru or psychologist or doctor will help you do that. Cause it works. Right.


Murray Guest  38:24

Yeah, but I think the bit that you’ve you’ve very clearly articulated is it works for a period of time, for a moment in time.


Kristen Ulmer  38:31

Yeah right. Right. And then, of course, people ultimately medicate their fear away. And 20 to 40% of their aliveness in the process.


Murray Guest  38:41

I have a question. Do you think you would have done anything differently when you were extreme skiing, if you knew what you know now, back then.


Kristen Ulmer  38:56

Yes, absolutely. And just bookmark the four steps. I will say that the reason why I know all this is because I did some things right by fear. And I did some things wrong by fear during my ski career. And what I’m explaining, you know, that people do wrong by fear I myself did. I was one of those really clueless, stupid athletes that walked around all cocky and arrogant, saying, I’m not afraid of anything. I’m lucky to be alive. I also burned out. You know, I thought I burnt out on the skiing but really, I burnt out on how much effort and energy it took me to block out fear, a tremendous amount of fear and I I crashed my adrenals, I wound up also having PTSD because I saw a lot of friends die and didn’t know how to handle the emotions there for my ski career. Another thing is I became such a rigid person in order to not feel fear and after about 10 years, like I was just in a sport as violent as extreme skiing, you need to be more slinky-like, and like we look at ski racers, for example, and they’re in their 30s. And they start having an injury after injury after injury. What is that? It’s not because they’re getting older. It’s because they’re very rigid in order to be quote, fearless, and you throw a tin can against a brick wall, it’s gonna break, right? Yeah, you throw a slinky against a brick wall, it’s gonna be just fine. They just become so rigid that the slightest, you know, issue, you break. So I had a lot of injuries. And it almost got to the point where every time I went skiing, and I did something difficult or dangerous, that required an impact, I wound up having at least a little injury from it. Not because of my age, but because of my compromised relationship with fear. But the things that I did right by fear is what made me a world class athlete in an incredibly difficult sport. So I had a real paradox going on, I both radically did what should be done regarding fear. And that’s what made me so great. And I radically did what shouldn’t be done regarding fear. And that’s what caused a lot of problems for me. And when I retired, I set to figure out what the heck had gone wrong. And that’s what led me to the conclusions that I’ve come up with today that have been tried and true with, you know, a lot of like, probably 10,000 people now. So.


Murray Guest  41:22

Yeah, and as you’ve said a number of times, and I totally agree, this is a human thing. It’s not an athlete thing.


Kristen Ulmer  41:29

Yes. Yes, it is. I mean, look at the statistics of anxiety disorders. They’re, they’re only getting worse and worse and worse, despite all these methods and modalities, you know, to punch Robin in the face, like, we’re only getting more and more afraid we’re only having greater anxiety, greater depression, greater PTSD. It’s like, one in five people in America have an anxiety disorder. One in four Europeans struggle with either anxiety or depression. Like it’s crazy. And the numbers are just getting worse every year. Despite all these meditation apps and breathing exercises and cognitive behavioral therapy, it’s not working. Right? Let me tell you what does work though.


Murray Guest  42:14

So I’m on stage with, I’m Batman, I’ve got Robin, I haven’t punched him. You know, we’re a partnership. What am I doing next?


Kristen Ulmer  42:26

Okay, so let’s back up. I was recently asked to give a speech, and it was in front of 10,000 people, it was last weekend. And it’s a lot of people. It’s very scary. And for me, I’m on the phone, they’re like, do you want to do this? They’re gonna pay me a lot of money. And I thought, well, the question isn’t, you know, do I want to do this, or make that kind of money? The question is, am I in the mood for fear right now? A lot of fear, because it’s going to be super scary. And the answer was..


Murray Guest  42:58

Can I just pause, because there’s a really good lesson here, which is, it’s not like tick, I’m done with fear. Because here I am talking to you. And you’re very open and vulnerable that it is an ongoing conversation relationship. And I think that’s really important that people don’t look at you or someone else and go, Oh they’ve got it sorted, they’re done. And I think this is really important that it’s actually an ongoing, help me if I’m getting this incorrectly, but it’s an ongoing relationship with our fear. And that ongoing self awareness.


Kristen Ulmer  43:31

Yes. And, you know, when my book came out three years ago, I googled it, you know, people that are fear experts anxiety, you know, fear. Everybody has an opinion about what to do about fear, but nobody on the planet that I could find anywhere. I mean, I spent days searching, was willing to call themself a fear expert. And why is that? Because I think that we expect our fear experts to a) be fearless and b) teach other people how to be fearless. It’s impossible. And it’s undesirable. Nobody’s willing to claim that they’re fearless. That’s just, you know, ridiculous. So yes, I’m a fear and anxiety expert. And I’m like, Oh, my gosh, this is gonna be terrifying. 10,000 people. And, and it’s way out of my comfort zone. Like the most i’d spoken to was 1500 people when I got the phone call. So then I hang up the phone. And I said, Yes, of course. Because feeling fear is my thing, right?


Murray Guest  44:29



Kristen Ulmer  44:30

I’m not a fear avoider. I embrace fear. I know that it’s gonna expand who I am as a person. And I figured, okay, either I’ll do a great speech, and then I’ll feel amazing afterwards, and feel the cortisol high and all of that. And I’ll have felt connection to the audience and gotten my message out there. Or I’ll crash and burn. Right, humiliate myself and have another growth opportunity to know what not to do next time. So either way, it’s a win. So I say yes. And then I have three months with fear just nagging me, you know, Robin’s like, Hey, you better stop watching Netflix, you better get your butt off the couch and write that speech and memorize that speech, or else you’re going to be really embarrassed. So it motivates me, you know, there’s a saying in Zen, a good horse moves even the crack of a whip. So it was like cracking me like you got to get off your butt. So then I prepared, prepared, prepared, and I like to be just a little underprepared the day of so that the fear can be with me to help keep me sharp and focused. If I have the speech to memorize, I just blank out and just blah blah blah, right, and repeat it like a robot. So the fear, I know it’s going to keep me sharp and focused and on point when I give the talk. So I’m a little underprepared. So it’s 10 minutes before I’m going to go on, last weekend. And I’m terrified. I’m shaking, you know, I’m about to talk about fear and anxiety, and I’m practically having a panic attack. So this is what I did. And I went and found a quiet place to be by myself. And I did four steps, I closed my eyes, and I acknowledged that it’s normal and natural for me to feel fear. Of course, I feel fear, you know, I’m about to give a speech. It’s not a sign of personal weakness, it’s not a character flaw. It’s just a sign that I’m human. And that’s the acceptance part. You know, the second step is I found the fear in my body, like, Where was it, it was in my chest and in my throat. And I put my hand on it, and I noticed how strong it is. And then the third step is I then looked into whether I was in resistance to this fear. You know, I don’t after teaching what I teach for a really long time, I’m very rarely in resistance to my fear anymore. But certainly when I was just putting these concepts together, I was still in resistance to it. I didn’t want to feel it. And the resistance actually is the awful feeling, not the fear itself. So I then notice, am I in resistance to this fear? And what if it was there, what it would look like is I don’t want to feel this, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be here. This sucks. I hate this feeling. I hate this feeling. You know, it involves thoughts, but it wasn’t there, right. But you want to check in on the resistance, because you want to have that antenna up, you want to have that awareness. Suffering equals discomfort times resistance, if your discomfort of fear is a level 10. And your resistance is a level 10. 10 times 10. That’s a whole lot of suffering. But if your discomfort is a level 10, which you’re going to feel innately you know, and your resistance, which is, you know, is taught in our culture. Let’s say you get it from a 10 down to a one, what’s 10 times one, not a lot of suffering, you get the resistance down to a zero, there’s no suffering. And it’s that way with anything hot, cold… Wim Hof, like, you don’t resist the cold, it takes you into an altered state. You go into a sweat lodge, you don’t resist the heat, it takes you into an altered state. With fear, if you don’t resist the fear, it takes you into an altered state. Same with pain. That’s the reason why people love getting tattoos, half of them, they don’t resist the pain, it takes them into, like any kind of lack of resistance. It just takes you into a flow state. And then level four. And this is where the science comes in. I mentioned before that if you rationalize it away, you know, if you take breathing exercises, the fear calms down in four minutes. If you do step four, it’s been proven by science, the fear calms down in four seconds. And there’s no long term effects. Which is level four or step four. I just had an intimate experience with my fear. So I just put my hand on my chest where the fear was, and I just had kind of a like, put the Barry White on, right. It’s not sexual. You hear intimacy. It’s more like, like, have you ever had an intimate experience with a piece of cheesecake?


Murray Guest  49:12

Oh, yeah. Yeah, blueberry cheesecake.


Kristen Ulmer  49:16

Oh, yeah. So imagine putting your hand on wherever your fear is and having an intimate experience with that fear. And it calms right down. And anyone that has a child, if their child’s upset and has a lot to say, if you just spend some quality time with them, and just completely love on them. They always calm right down. It’s the same with your fear. And then I went on stage and I was very reasonable and Robin was there with me to keep me sharp and focused because I was a little underprepared and he wasn’t screaming or yelling, and it was a really beautiful practice.


Murray Guest  49:54

Yeah, well, and I’m sure you knocked it out of the park. The bit that I think I also take from that, as you said that underprepared bit is that level of underprepared keeps you on your toes, keeps you focused, keeps you aware. Keeps you curious, I would say.


Kristen Ulmer  50:09

And why is that, is the question. Well, because the fear is the very thing, that little extra drop of fear. It’s like the secret sauce to great performance.


Murray Guest  50:24

Wow, this has been so good. Thank you. This is awesome. And those four tips, those four tips, I think, whatever you are facing as a person in your life right now, I’ve got a mountain bike trail that I go to regularly and as you know, I ride, still. And there’s a name of this part of the trail called ‘the drop off’. That name, when I hear it, I can feel it in my gut straightaway. I’m like, it’s the drop off. And I’ve seen someone go over the handlebars down the drop off. And so I can now have a better way to approach the drop off, which I’ve been avoiding every time I get there. There’s the A line, there’s the B line. We want to take the A line. But you know, I’ll be taking the B line now. So how do I now prepare myself and actually stop future projecting myself into that situation? And and pushing the fear? As opposed to right, how do I prepare myself and be having an intimate relationship to where I feel that fear in my guts. I’ll get back to you on that one.


Kristen Ulmer  51:35

Okay, well, I’ll just real quick, you know, like anything, it takes practice, do the four steps before you go out on the mountain bike trail. So that you’re prepared.


Murray Guest  51:44

Yeah. But as you talked us through that journey of your presentation, this is a four step process you could apply to a difficult conversation or presentation. You know, facilitating a discussion in a meeting, you know, the list could go on. Because any of those situations, because I think, here’s a part that I think that I think you’ve mentioned, but I just want to make sure that we sort of mentioned it in that is that the level of fear that someone feels no matter what they’re doing, it’s their level of fear. It’s not, I’ve got to feel the same level of fear as someone else. Like it’s a very unique and personal thing, isn’t it?


Kristen Ulmer  52:26

It is and it isn’t. You know, other people are just really good at pretending they don’t feel fear. Like I think that I think that everyone comes with a basic kind of general comfort zone. Like Alex probably started with a bigger comfort zone than most and other people are, you know, maybe innately born to be more fear avoidant. But I think that pretty much all of us feel fear every moment of every single day in nearly every interaction we have. And there’s no exceptions to that. There’s one woman that had a damaged amygdala. And they were worried she wasn’t going to live for very long, like, imagine an animal that had no fear response, out on a freeway, like they don’t live very long. So no, we’re we’re all, like, if you’re ever wondering if you feel more fear than other people, I don’t think you are. You know, it’s all determined by how we deal with the fear. That makes all the difference in the world.


Murray Guest  53:26

Yeah. I’ve just thought of something. I’m gonna throw this out there. Have you seen the new trailer for the new Dune movie that’s coming out?


Kristen Ulmer  53:35

I haven’t.


Murray Guest  53:37

So I haven’t read the book. But my wife tells me I need to read the book. There’s a statement at the end of the movie, which is fear is the mind killer.


Kristen Ulmer  53:49

The writer of Dune is one of my, I mean, his quotes about fear are my least favorite. Almost.


Murray Guest  53:56

Yeah, and I’m just thinking, and I’m taking this way out of context, but I’m wondering what the intent of that is.


Kristen Ulmer  54:05

It’s just wrapped up in the same message that everybody is saying out there that fear is the enemy. I would modify. I’m really good at modifying quotes. I would modify that quote to say the unwillingness to feel fear is the soul killer. Or let me try it. Let me see. Thinking about fear rather than feeling it will kill your mind. I don’t like that one. 


Murray Guest  54:37

I like the first one. Yeah, that was good. That was good.


Kristen Ulmer  54:43



Murray Guest  54:44

So to wrap this up, I got a couple of last questions to ask and I asked some people this question and you’ve reminded me of the power of getting our message out because you’ve got so much to share. If I gave you a billboard on the side of the freeway that everyone’s going to drive past and see, everyone in the world, all 7 billion of us going to see this billboard. What’s your message on that billboard? Let’s just think we can travel by the way, because right now travel is a bit of a difficult thing, but you know.


Kristen Ulmer  55:25

Resist well, geez, your relationship with fear is the most important relationship of your life. So make sure it’s a great one.


Murray Guest  55:35

Love that. Love that. Yeah, I think, and I heard that from you in Bali, and that has stuck with me. And that I think takes us full circle with what we’ve talked about today around how important that self awareness is and how your relationship is, and we’re not punching our fear in the face. But you know, or that roommate of fear. But yeah, having that healthy relationship. Yeah.


Kristen Ulmer  56:00

And maybe the where we can leave it too because it we’re in times of COVID right now, right now, it’s really, really clear what people’s relationships with fear are. Like the people that ignore fear, ignore the Coronavirus. It’s like, it’s really becoming clear, like I can see everywhere what people’s relationship is with fear, if they’re, you know, resistance like I said, comes in many different forms. And the most common ways that I see people deal with fear or not deal with fear, are, they ignore it, they avoid it, they run away from it. Like one of the current techniques that people do, you know, to deal with anxiety or fear is they exercise a lot, you know, or go do yoga. And they see it as a way to deal with their fear. But I see it as their way for them to continue to not deal with fear, because then it makes their life tolerable, so that they, you know, can get by it’s like they get by another, I actually have a couple of friends that have to exercise like four or five times a day, you know, like four or five hours a day just to be able to sleep at night. They’re just, it’s just, it’s not helping them, it’s actually giving them just a band aid so that they don’t ultimately ever deal with the issue at hand, which is they’re not dealing with their fear in an honest way. And so right now, because it’s scary time, and we have the time like this would be a perfect opportunity to start a fear practice, and learn how to be intimate with your fear, and even just spend a moment to just be honest about how afraid you are of getting the Coronavirus. It’s not even the deaths, but it does incredible damage to your brain and your lungs and your taste buds like and on and on. It’s just, also somebody who’s losing their business that they’ve developed for 30 years, like, it’s a super scary time for them, can they just sit with their fear, instead of trying to drink it away or, like can we all just take a moment now that we have a pause, to learn how to find our fear in our bodies, notice if we’re resisting it, touch that spot and maybe not resist it this time, but embrace it, like give it a hug. Give it some love. If you learn how to love your fear, it’s self love practice, you know at its finest, and then learn how to be intimate with it. It’s like being intimate with the nature of life itself. And then just see what where that river takes you like, just be in flow with it. Until drop by drop by drop, you become a mighty river.


Murray Guest  58:40

Thank you so much. Thank you for your time, for your wisdom, for your your vulnerability of just your journey of understanding and exploring and helping us understand fear. And I’ll make sure there’s a link to your book, The Art of Fear, why conquering fear won’t work and what to do instead. Because it’s a fantastic book, and I’ll make sure there’s a link in that in our notes so people can check that out as well. It’s been so, so inspiring to have this conversation. So thank you Kristen, for your time. I do need to ask you, as this is the inspired energy podcast, what is your definition of inspired energy?


Kristen Ulmer  59:26

Well, if I were to keep on theme, the day that I am no longer interested in saying yes to scary things is the day that I lose my inspiration. It’s like fear is energy in motion. And by choosing to do things that scare me. It creates a lot of energy for me and it inspires me and it helps me expand to my greatest potential. And so the tie in for inspired energy and fear, it’s not at the denial of fear. It’s the inclusion of fear and you’ll find your greatest energy and your greatest inspiration.


Murray Guest  1:00:14

I think that’s going near, well, the top of the list of definitions. Thank you so much. Love it. Love it.


Kristen Ulmer  1:00:20

Last thing. I have a free fear and anxiety assessment on my website KristenUlmer.com. And if people want to start raising their antenna, it’s totally free. It’s 20 really fascinating questions and you can find out what your unique relationship is with fear that you may not be aware of.


Murray Guest  1:00:38

So I’ll make sure there’s a link to that because that is awesome. Also, the book plus also you run ski camps, the art of fear ski camps in Utah. So I hope that with all COVID and what’s happening and moving forward, you’re still getting to do those in the in the near future.


Kristen Ulmer  1:00:58

I am with safety precautions in place, of course.


Murray Guest  1:01:01

Yeah. Great. So I’ll make sure that’s all linked in our show notes for people to check all that out. And honestly, if you’ve got something from this conversation, as you’re listening to this, please make sure you tag Kristen and myself on social media and share that. And if you didn’t get something out of this, you weren’t listening. There was so much gold. What Kristen had to share. So thank you again so much. I really appreciate your time, your knowledge and your openness for all that you are doing to help us reframe and understand fear better.


Kristen Ulmer  1:01:33

Thank you, Murray.


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