“The Fear Bubble” (2019) was written by Ant Middleton, a former operative in the British special forces. In his book, Middleton explains the ‘Fear Bubble’ concept he developed during his time in the military that would enable him to thrive in the most physically and mentally challenging situations characteristic of modern warfare.
Ant Middleton “The Fear Bubble” Summary
- “My experiences fighting in Afghanistan with the Marines and serving as ‘point man’ as a member of the Special Boat Service, the first man in as part of an elite team that was charged with capturing some of the world’s most dangerous men, taught me that fear is like a wild horse. You can let it trample all over you, or you can put a harness on it and let it carry you forwards, blasting you unscathed through the finish line.”
- “There are many different levels of fear, but ‘life or death’ is surely the worst of them all. Most people never experience the feeling that when they step around the next corner there’s a decent chance they’ll take a bullet in the skull. I had to deal with that time and time again.”
- “When I was in the Special Forces, I’d be dropped off in a war zone in some grim and dusty back-end of the planet, and then for six interminable months it would feel as if I were utterly trapped in this enormous bubble of constant, crushing dread.”
- “As soon as I left the theatre of operations and my plane touched down in the UK, the bubble would suddenly burst and life would be great again. But when I began counting down the days until the start of the next tour, I started to experience that gut-wrenching feeling all over again. I didn’t want to go back.”
- “I didn’t know what to do. How could I ever solve the problem of experiencing intense fear on the battlefield? Of course you’re going to be scared when the air is filled with bullets and the ground is filled with IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Surely this was an impossible task?”
- “It then occurred to me that if I couldn’t get rid of fear completely, perhaps I could break it down into smaller packets so that it was a little less all-consuming and relentless. So that’s what I did.”
- “After giving it some thought, I realised I needed to adopt a coldly rational view of why I was feeling scared and, even more importantly, when I was feeling scared. From my very next mission onwards I put this coldly rational approach to fear into practice.”
- “I tried to make it a cast-iron rule. The proper time to feel scared was when we were inside the process of an active operation. At all other times, I told myself, the fear was irrational. Pointless. So shake it off.”
- “And it worked. Kind of. As soon as we hit the target, the fear would take me. I’d be inside that bubble, gripped with absolutely gut-wrenching dread until we were done. After the completion of the mission, I’d run on to the helicopter, and the moment the door had closed and we’d lifted off to a safe altitude I’d be out of the bubble. Happy. Elated. Delirious. Thank God. And I wouldn’t allow myself to feel fear again until the next mission was in play.”
- “But after a couple of months of this, the old feeling started to return. As much as I genuinely loved being a Special Forces operator, the grinding, bubbling sensation in the pit of my stomach when I thought about getting on that helicopter came back. Brutal honesty. I was shit scared. Again.”
- “Although I’d managed to break the fear down into a much smaller and more rational chunk, I realised that even that was too much for me to handle. An active operation could last many hours – and sometimes stretch into days, depending on how bad the situation became. That was too long to spend inside a fear bubble.”
- “It was on the next operation that I had my huge breakthrough. We’d entered a terrorist compound at just gone four in the morning. I knew there was an armed combatant just around the corner of a mud and rock wall that I was approaching.
- I could see the smoke from his cigarette and the black steel barrel-tip of his AK47 in the green static blur of my night-vision goggles.”
- “I looked at the corner and told myself, ‘That is where the fear bubble is.’ And then I did something new. I visualised the bubble. I could actually see the fear, right there at the place where my life would be in danger. Not where I was standing, ten metres away from it, but over there where the threat actually, truly was. And nor was that fear happening right now, at this moment. I would feel it a few seconds later when I made the conscious decision to go over there and step into the bubble.”
- “That visualisation changed everything. Fear was no longer a vague, fuzzy concept with the power to utterly overwhelm me like an endless storm. Fear was a place. And fear was a time. That place was not here. And that time was not now. It was over there. I could see it. Shimmering and glinting and throbbing and grinding, and waiting patiently for my arrival. Now all I had to do was step into it.”
- “I girded myself with a deep breath. And then I took a few paces forwards and walked into it. There it was. The fear hit me like a wave. I was so close to the enemy combatant I could practically smell the stale camel milk on his breath. Now I was in the bubble, I had to act. I made the conscious decision to do what needed to be done.”
- By reducing fear-inducing situations into manageable packets, Middleton changed his relationship with fear – from an all-consuming feeling to a completely rational and functional approach.
- He adds: “I realised that while it was surely impossible not to feel fear, it was certainly possible to contain it.”
- For Middleton, it was just a case of working out precisely where that fear was, visualizing the bubble, before consciously deciding to step into it.
- “What is the opposite of fear? If you look in the dictionary you’ll probably be informed that it’s courage. But I believe that the true opposite of fear is growth.”
- “Without fear, there’s no challenge. Without challenge, there’s no growth. Without growth, there’s no life.”
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