The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love

The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love

by Jaimal Yogis


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The Fear Project: What Our Most Primal Emotion Taught Me About Survival, Success, Surfing . . . and Love by Jaimal Yogis

An epic adventure full of incredible characters, death-defying athletic achievement, and bleeding edge science, THE FEAR PROJECT began with one question: how can we overcome our fears to reach our full potential?

Who among us has not been paralyzed by fear? In The Fear Project, award-winning journalist and surfer Jaimal Yogis sets out to better understand fear-why does it so often dominate our lives, what makes it tick, and is there even a way to use it to our advantage? In the process, he plunges readers into great white shark-infested waters, brings them along to surf 40+ foot waves in the dead of winter, and gives them access to some of the world's best neuroscience labs, psychologists, and extreme athletes. In this entertaining, often laugh-out-loud narrative, Yogis also treats himself like a guinea pig for all of his research, pushing his own fears repeatedly to the limits-in his sport, in his life, and in love. Ultimately, Yogis shares with his readers the best strategies to emerge triumphant from even the most paralyzing of fears.

THE FEAR PROJECT gives readers insight into the following:

- How fear evolved in the human brain
- How to tell the difference between "good fear" and "bad fear"
- How to use the latest neuroscience to transform fear memories
- Why fear spreads between us and how to counteract fearful "group think"
- How to turn fear into a performance enhancer - athletically and at work

In pursuing this terrifying-and often thrilling-journey with Yogis, we learn how to move through fear and unlock a sense of renewed possibility and a more rewarding life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609611750
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 01/08/2013
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 847,142
Product dimensions: 5.84(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.91(d)

About the Author

Jaimal Yogis is an award-winning journalist who has written for ESPN The Magazine, The Washington Post, The Surfer's Journal, The Chicago Tribune, AFAR, San Francisco Magazine and many others. His critically acclaimed first book, Saltwater Buddha, is currently being adapted into a film. Jaimal is an avid surfer and lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.

Read an Excerpt



"Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it."


I'm 7 years old. It's a blustery, foggy day and I'm on a school field trip. My classmates and I are standing in a single-file line down by the cell of Al Capone, jaws agape, while our guide--a squat, bald man with a world- weary face--is telling us about the history of Alcatraz as if we might someday be inmates. "So kids, you think you could escape from this place?" he asks. "Let me tell you, even if you made it out of your cell, past the armed guards, and over the barbed wire, then you'd have to deal with the sharks. And let me tell you kids--not a chance."

We learn that only one prisoner, John Paul Scott, survived the swim, and he was found unconscious under the Golden Gate Bridge, nearly dead from exhaustion and hypothermia. For years after this day, I have nightmares of toppling into a San Francisco Bay teeming with great whites and giant octopi, about to become fish food.

My Alcatraz nightmares are coming true. I'm swimming in the bay with three men--we're flopping upstream like salmon. The currents push at our faces and drag at our toes. We pull, dig, claw at the water, and we are going nowhere. Alcatraz looms behind us, and a police boat is on our heels as if we really are escapees. Men in black uniforms are scowling at us from on deck, holding big guns. Are they here to arrest us or rescue us?

The man leading this swim through the wild currents of the San Francisco Bay is not a convict. He's my cousin's husband, Jamie Patrick, one of the best ultra swimmers in the world. Large, blond, and loud, Jamie is one of the most friendly, enthusiastic people you'll ever meet: a responsible father, a good friend. And he's indisputably insane.

Jamie started swimming competitively at 7 years old, got serious about the sport at 12, and swam at Long Beach State and the University of Hawaii. After college, he fell in love with triathlons, and it wasn't long before he completed an Ironman and became a sponsored Ironman racer. For most triathletes, completing one Ironman is a dream, the hardest thing they will ever do. Jamie decided to do a triple: 7.2-mile swim, 336-mile bike, 78.6- mile run. The swim wasn't hard, Jamie told me, but during the bike ride, it rained for 20 hours. Around the 30th mile of running, at which point he hadn't slept for 24 hours, Jamie developed a blister half the size of his foot. He popped it, wrapped it up with duct tape, and kept going for the other 48.6 miles.

Jamie's idea of fun was to become the first swimmer ever to complete two crossings of Lake Tahoe, a distance of 44 miles at around 6,200-feet altitude. He wanted to use the swim to raise awareness about Tahoe's environmental problems. To prepare, the man woke at 4 a.m., trained for 4 hours, and worked a full day at Patrick and Co.--his family's San Francisco office supplies business--swimming some more on his lunch break. Then he came home to spend time with his wife and daughter. His training for the Tahoe swim included little jaunts like swimming 18 miles across Clear Lake, something else nobody had ever done.

The least I could do was confront my childhood nightmare and swim the 1.5 miles from Alcatraz back to shore. I asked Jamie if we could do the swim together.

"Sure," he said, as if I'd asked him to meet me for coffee. "We'll make a morning of it."

Jamie said he would bring his friend Greg Larson, a former member of the US Olympic swim team. I told my surfing buddy Mark Lukach--a fellow journalist and possibly the only person in the world with more energy than Jamie-- about the swim, and he almost jumped on top of me. "I can't even tell you how long I've wanted to do that!" Mark said. "When do we leave?"

My nerves kicked in about 8 p.m. the night before, when Mark called me with a sudden hesitant tone in his voice. "This is a serious freaking swim, you realize that? It's not like swimming 1.5 miles in a pool. Where are we meeting Jamie? Are we going to take a boat out there?"

I didn't know. I figured we would take a ferry to Alcatraz, then--who knows?--jump off the island? I called Jamie to get the details.

"No, no," Jamie said. "You can't do that. We'll just swim out and back."

Our 1.5-mile swim had just doubled to 3 miles.

We arrived the next morning at Aquatic Park, the bay like green glass. The Headlands to the north were vivid in the crisp air. Pelicans splashed down, looking for breakfast, and swimmers in bright rubber caps knocked off their morning laps inside a sheltered inlet. Out beyond this shelter, the water flowed into the bulbous bay, bottlenecking at the Golden Gate, before dumping into the Pacific. I knew that when the tides changed and water flooded in or out of the bay, that bottleneck created extra suction; currents can sweep in or out at up to 8 knots. Jamie's dad, a lifelong sailor, had calculated the best times for us to swim out and back. If we left at around 8 a.m. on a slack tide, we would have a semineutral current on our way toward the island. Then the tide would start to flood, and we would be pushed back to shore at an angle.

Mark and I suited up quickly, hurrying over to meet the real swimmers. We laughed as we jogged in our rubber outfits: We felt like superheroes, how cool.

Jamie and Greg looked serene as we stretched. Mark bounced around like Tigger, human solar panel that he is. I was oddly chilly, even though the morning air was warm--it crackled with electricity. "Isn't this beautiful!" Jamie proclaimed.

Yeah, I could feel it. Even with my nerves, I was excited. And I felt fairly confident as we entered the icy green soup, beginning a relaxed crawl north. Alcatraz sat low on the horizon. It didn't look that far. We could do this. But when we got to the end of the rip-rap jetty, about to enter the open bay, the currents balked. They were clearly pushing southeast, away from Alcatraz, right in our faces.

I looked at Jamie. "What's this about?"

Jamie looked confused too. He asked a man in a wooden skiff, who was overseeing the Dolphin Club's lap swimmers (a group who do the Alcatraz swim regularly but who, curiously, weren't swimming today), if now was a good time for, you know, a little swim to the prison out there. "Sure, if you want to end up in Berkeley," the man said dismissively. "There's a full flood right now." This meant that the tide would push us 6 miles east instead of letting us swim in a line.

We huddled to reassess. Jamie and Greg still thought the swim was doable. Mark and I looked at each other and shrugged. I nervously peed in my wetsuit, but I nodded yes when they asked if I was willing to try. We would swim west of Alcatraz toward the bridge, overshooting, hoping the current would carry us down toward the island. It would mean swimming in an arch, so now we were looking at more like 3.5 or 4 miles. Great.

Jamie led the pack, and once we got going, I felt surprisingly loose and strong. Surfing, my usual form of exercise, had kept me in fair swimming shape. The farther we got from shore, the more supple and free I swam. Sure, I heard the Jaws intro music a few times, and it was a tad eerie looking into the endless murky green. But now that I was actually swimming, I felt good. Why had these waters plagued my imagination for so many years? Why didn't I do more open-water swimming with Jamie? All I had to focus on were the elements, and the rhythm of my breath. We were making good headway. The current was strong, but we swam wide and already looked to be about halfway to the island after what seemed like just 15 minutes. I thought of that old Alcatraz guide scaring me as a kid. If he could see me now. What a--

I heard a motor.

"How you guys doin'?" The man in the wooden skiff had returned.

"Good, thanks. Yep, we're pretty good."

"Let me ask you something: What are you gonna do if a freighter comes through?"

Oh, come on. He followed us out here to tell us this? We were doing fine. We were with Jamie Patrick, world-class Ironman!

I looked at Jamie, hoping for a professional response. Jamie said, "Um . . ."

"You guys have a radio?" the man asked.

We didn't have a radio.

"Well, I'm not going to tell you to turn back," the man said, "but we work hard to keep this swim safe so we can keep doing it. We notify the Coast Guard before our swims, and we carry radios so we can communicate with the freighters. A 400-foot steel ship isn't going to be able to stop for something they can't see or hear."


And with that, the man motored off. Apparently our radio had been lost or was unavailable that morning. And although Jamie had done this swim dozens of times before (without a radio), now he was responsible for us. Getting chopped up in the giant propellers of a 400-foot steel boat seemed like a legitimate concern. "The guy's right," said Greg. "Let's head back."

Yes, let's. It felt fine to heed the man's advice. They were a nice group, the Dolphin Club, and we didn't want to mess things up for them. Besides, we'd made it more than halfway to Alcatraz, a respectable swim. This was legit. Had we been trying to escape the prison, we'd have made it, and this is basically what my inner 7-year-old wanted to know.

The San Francisco skyline looked sharp and jagged and clear on the horizon. We swam hard but happily toward the mouth of Aquatic Park, a fairly small entrance, trying to overshoot it to the west again. I looked up occasionally and could tell we were being dragged way off course toward-- surprise!--Berkeley, a good half-mile from the only entrance back to land. To get back, we had to swim directly west, up current. As soon as we started, we were going backward.

Backward, like salmon flopping upstream. What is that police boat doing on our heels? We're like cartoon characters, windmilling their legs furiously and going nowhere. Well, at least Mark and I are. Jamie and Greg are gaining distance. They stay steady and just keep heaving themselves upstream. Mark and I are falling back. What are we doing? This is just . . . dumb. We are obviously unprepared.

I'm angry with Jamie. This is really uncool. I think of all the dumb stunts he's pulled, how pained he looked during the last leg of the Ironman when we went to cheer him on in Hawaii. He looked as if he was dying. Why does he put himself through such grueling masochistic acts? Why is he such a-- why am I falling so far behind?

Spontaneously--and I swear, I have never done this before--I start chanting "Eye of the Tiger" in my head. Eye of the tiger--hands thrust deeper--it's the thrill of the fight--feet butterfly. Rising up. I am fast. To the challenge. I am faster than fast. Of our rival. And I must believe this even if it's not true.

It all seems a tad pathetic. But, oddly enough, it works. There are a few moments when I want to stop. But when I push through, it's like someone has plugged in my batteries. Maybe it's Mark next to me, turning up the heat. Maybe it's my ego not wanting to be left in the dust. Maybe I'm channeling Jamie's superhero qualities. The harder I swim, the more I am glad this is hard. I want to earn this. I suddenly feel life in my arms. I could go farther now. I could do it all again! Before I am even aware that it is done, it is done. It's over. We round the corner into Aquatic Park, high- fiving and hooting like a bunch of drunken cowboys.

Then we hear a megaphone.

"Don't ever pull a stunt like this again," a Darth Vader voice says. We turn and see the police boat, men scowling with arms crossed. "We don't know what the hell you guys were thinking, but you have to get a permit from the Coast Guard and the police department to swim in the bay. Next time we won't let you off."

We apologize. We wave to the nice policemen, ruefully crawling onto the beach. Should we feel bad? Will the Dolphin Club be punished? These feelings pass quickly when we realize, wait--what better ending for an escape to Alcatraz swim than being chased down by the law? And we won.

Even if it's just a piddly thing from childhood, overcoming fear feels good. It makes you feel as if all the other fears and stresses in life might not actually be real. They might just be illusions you can shatter, a scary story on television you can just turn off.

A few months before my Alcatraz swim, I became driven by the need for this feeling. I wish I could say that it stemmed from an overwhelming sense of compassion for the 40 million people who suffer anxiety disorders in the United States every year, or that I'd fought bravely at war and was now trying to understand my post-traumatic stress disorder. But I was obsessed for a far more selfish (and, I thought, tragic) reason: Sara had broken up with me.

I hadn't been looking for a serious relationship in my early twenties. But when a friend introduced me to Sara--an artist with sprightly green-blue eyes and a fantastically silly sense of humor--I was afraid a woman this beautiful and quirky and creative wouldn't come along again. I fell for her. She fell for me. We ran off to Mexico together in love, but officially broke up a few months later when I went to journalism school in New York. I flip-flopped, not sure what I wanted. We got back together when I moved back to San Francisco, then sort of moved in together, then sort of broke up again. We got back together again and definitely moved in together. The final stretch lasted 2 solid years in our very own loft apartment on the western fringe of San Francisco. It was a decent 2 years, and we talked about marriage and children. But something just wasn't right.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Chapter 1 How I Got Here 1

Chapter 2 Of Fright and Courage: A Tale of Two Brains 17

Chapter 3 In Praise of Movement 47

Chapter 4 Know Your Monsters 73

Chapter 5 The Good, the Bad, and the Brain 91

Chapter 6 Practice, Practice, Practice 117

Chapter 7 Hello Darkness, My Old Friend 139

Chapter 8 Feel-Good Fear 157

Chapter 9 Investigating the Elephant's Footprint 183

Chapter 10 The Paradox of Having a Big Head 203

Acknowledgments 223

Endnotes 228

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