The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Secret #3: Fear Removal

So here's the next one of the Seven Secrets: Fear Removal ("The Spider Technique")

Created by Coach Scott Sonnon ( , and based on his work in martial arts and Soviet research into human performance, this one is a corker. The main reason its so important is that FEAR stops more people than practical considerations, by a long shot. There are several basic pieces to the puzzle that have to be linked together.

1) You have to have an aerobic activity to use this. It can be anything, really: jumping rope, rowing, running, walking, biking. An aerobic activity is one where you are exerting yourself enough that you can't sing, but you can still talk.
2) You have to be able to keep going until you reach "Second Wind". The technical term for this is the Neuro-Immuno-Endocrine Response. If you are aerobically fit, you know this: you are getting tired, tired...and then suddenly you have more energy. Most people will hit this "Wall" between 14-17 minutes of a steady-state activity. So...your sessions should probably last 20 mintues, just to be sure.
3) The technique works on Fear, Anger, Anxiety, and Grief. At least. Maybe more, but these have been tested. If you have a clinical situation, or are under a therapist's care, ABSOLUTELY share this technique with them. We've had great success having clients work with therapists.
4) If you have an issue that is too huge to confront directly (say, childhood abuse) you can work on smaller issues, and still get relief. The technique "generalizes"--i.e., it teaches your brain how to deal with fear more efficiently.
5) The Spider Technique can be done about once a week. I don't recommend you do it more often than this: you don't want to anchor pain to exercise.


Let's say that your issue was fear of spiders. And that the chosen exercise is walking on a treadmill. Great. You probably don't want to do this at a public gym.
1) Sit next to the treadmill, and imagine spiders crawling on your body. Do this for at least 10 minutes, until the fear is fully present in your body. "Until you are crying out of your nose."
2) IMMEDIATELY AFTERWARDS Get on the treadmill and begin to exercise. It doesn't matter if you continue thinking of spiders or not.
3) Between 14-17 minutes of walking, you should hit "second wind."
4) As soon as you've done this, you are done. Continue exercising, quit and get a shower--it's up to you. Yoga would be good, but not necessary.

The next time you see a spider, you'll notice your fear response diminishing by 15-25%. And will continue to do so every time you perform the exercise, until you have little discernable fear. The symptoms will creep back--so it is useful to continue to do this from time to time.

As far as we can tell...
1) If instead of calling it "second wind" you called it "second gear" it would be a little clearer what was going on. The Neuro-Immuno_Endocrine response is an aspect of "Neuro Plasticity", the ability of the brain to compensate for stress to enhance survival. YOu are placing your body under cardio respiratory distress, and it responds by panicking. If you keep going (for about 14-17 minutes) your body "upshifts" to a better, more efficient gear.
2) Here's the giant joke: the brain doesn't know the difference between "Fear" and "Cardio respiratory distress." The hormone dumps are VERY similar: cortisol, norepinephrine, etc.
3) In other words, if you "front load" your body with fear, and the hormones associated with it, and then push yourself through the NIE barrier, your brain is learning to deal with the chemicals more efficiently...and the fear response diminishes.
You have GOT to try this. It's like magic, I swear to God.
So...What questions would you need answered to use this technique effectively?


Anonymous said...

if I had
a disabling fear
I'd certainly give it a try

but none
(with plenty of
dispassionate introspection)
come to mind

Steve Perry said...

I have one, just off the top of my head: Could this be used to get rid of a healthy fear, instead of one that is not so healthy?

I mean, if I were terrified of being, say, trampled by an elephant, that's not a particularly useful fear since the chances of it happening are slim.

If this kept me awake at night, I could lose it. (It doesn't, but just for argument's sake.)

But if I lived in an area that was replete with say, black widows and brown recluse spiders, might losing that spider-fear be less useful, on a pragmatic level?

Yeah, yeah, I know, a fear that paralyzes you is not the same as a healthy caution about real danger, but I'm wondering -- could this technique be mis-used to get rid of something useful?

Just asking, in the vein of don't-try-this-at-home-we-are-
trained-experts warnings ...

Kai Jones said...

This technique reminds me of EMDR.

Mark Jones said...

Kai--what's EMDR?

Steve--the question I'd ask is, is there any scientific support for this approach? It sounds like Coach Sonnon's people have lots of anecdotal stories and some theories about why they think it works, but do they have hard evidence? It doesn't seem so.

Which is not to say that it doesn't work, and I'd certainly be willing to try it. But something to suggest that it's more than just another gimmick would be good.

Kai Jones said...

Mark: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Used to treat PTSD. I've done it a couple of times, with two different therapists.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Steve. I have a question. I want to be anon, since it might sound a bit odd, but you might know who I am. I read here a lot, but it is only once in a while that I say anything.

Q: How could I modify this to 'fit' for me? I almost never would be able to feel the fear in my body anymore or be overwhelmed by it, but it is still in there and it DOES inhibit. I don't feel it because a strange thing happens now since I gave up anxiety pills. It's what used to happen a long time ago. I 'remove myself' automatically from the fear being able to threaten me with overwhelm. The fear and it's confining power still exist, but it can't get into my body. This probably sounds great and like I am 'cured' from axiety disorders, but not so. What I experience around the stimuli, is various degrees of numb. Like my consciousness can automatically constrict itself temporarily to protect me. If the inability to really feel the fear was as 'curing' as it might sound from my description, then I think I would now be able to do things that I was unable to with the anxiety, but that hasn't happened for me and I can't seem to MAKE it happen and I don't yet know know to prevent the numbing 'veil'. Is there a way to make your technique work if the fear is an 'idea', instead of a real feeling? Of course, anything you offer up, I will run it by the therapist first, so please don't worry that I might use something irresponsibly.

Steven Barnes said...

1)Anonymous: Work with your therapist to find an appropriate fear--there's something about the way you phrased that that set my alarms off.
2) Steve: I'm sure it's possible to use it inappropriately. But you don't need to feel terror of snakes to avoid being bitten. The Hawaiian Huna principle suggests that when you learn the lesson, it is safe to release the negative emotion. Because you're not AFRAID to be hit, doesn't mean you let someone hit you, right?
3)Mark: I have no scientific research. I have, however, personal and anecdotal evidence up the yin-yang, and lectured on the subject at a Neurofeedback conference filled with doctors, and they were flabberghasted: they saw exactly how it could work, and were astonished that they'd never thought of it. Try it with something relatively small, and see for yourself!

Unknown said...

A couple of things that would bother me - that would, probably, if I were browsing through a book by an unknown author in a bookstore, cause me to decide not to buy the book:

First, the lesser of my beefs:
If you bring up research, if you say that something is based partially on Soviet research, for example, then please cite the research. I think, with something like this, if you can't cite it, maybe you shouldn't mention it. To mention it without citing it, smells to me like pseudo-scientific marketing. Simply mentioning "soviet research" seems to lend the claims both weight and mystery - but without really providing any evidence. Perhaps you are able to cite the research, and were already planning on doing so in the book, in which case I apologize. But if not, why bring it up at all?

And then there are the dubious statistics - which again, I think, constitute pseudo-scientific rhetoric. This method lowers one's fear 15 to 25%? That claim stopped me in my tracks. How exactly does one quantify fear in the first place? How is that measured?
Pounds? Square footage? Volts? How would one then calculate the reduction? (And so precisely!) In fact, I suspect one really can't - it's kind of a figure of speech, right? A ploy that one uses to lend one's argument the veneer of hard data, where there is none?

Neither of these might be stopping points for others; they can be for me. They bug me, and set off my bullshit detector. In your case, because I'm familiar with your writing and thinking, I would ignore my irritation and the alarm bells, but if I didn't know you...On the other hand, I would guess that magician's numbers and unsubstantiated rumours about research sell books, which is why one sees this kind of thing a lot. I'm sure at least part of this is just me being picky and peevish. But I thought that I would mention it, as someone who's bothered by it. It would - maybe - be something of a derailer for me.

So, questions that I would want answered: What soviet research, exactly? How do you quantify fear, exactly?

No offense meant by any of the above: really. And this isn't meant to disparage the technique itself, which certainly sounds interesting and valuable and doable. If there hasn't been any research done on it, there should be.

Anonymous said...

Similar in some ways to a previous question:

What if your fear doesn't have you "crying out the nose" but still inhibits you?

Like a lot of people, I'm afraid of performing in front of a crowd. I don't have nightmares about it, I can get up and perform if I have to, but when I get up, I tend to choke, and perform very badly.

So, when I imagine a crowd, I don't get much of an adrenaline dump. The idea of a crowd doesn't scare me. But I'd sure like to be less frightened of an actual crowd. How can I make that work?

Anonymous said...

It just occured to me today that by fear, you don't mean just fear as people normally think of it. I have a fear of sharks, and there's no big need to lessen it. On the other hand, I have had anxiety/stress issues in the last two years, and while I dont think of it as fear, I could see how it'd work the same with this method.