How to Cure Your Fear of Heights

I’ve never been afraid of heights. As I’ve talked about before, one of the fun things I do every time I go to a new city is to locate the tallest skyscraper and go hang out at the top floor.

Every time I fly on an airplane, which is all the time, I always get a window seat. Always. During takeoff and landing, I always stop whatever I’m doing and watch out the window to see everything. I love it. It goes back to the days when I was young and poor and wasn’t able to fly on planes because my parents couldn’t afford it. To this very day, even though I fly all the time, the six year-old in me is still there, still getting excited to get on a plane.

When it comes to great heights, I’m not only not scared, but I’m a huge fan.

However, aging is weird. The last time I went to China and hit the highest floor of the Shanghai Financial Center (the 7th tallest building in the world), I suddenly had a wave of vertigo as I looked out of the windows. It was very strange. I had been to tall places all my life, had never experienced even a hint of fear of heights or vertigo…yet here it was. It didn’t make any sense.

I was able to deal with it, but the feeling was strong. It really hit me hard for several minutes.

I quickly decided that this would not do, so I made a goal to cure it. Here’s what I did:

1. As most of you already know, I go to Vegas three or four times a year. There’s a reasonably new attraction there called the High Roller. It’s the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, taller than even the iconic Singapore Flyer. At the highest point, you’re actually taller than even the tallest buildings down there, and that’s saying something. Even better, you stand (or sit) inside a dome that is 100% glass, 360 degrees around. This dome is the size of a small room, and it actually wobbles back and forth as the wheel rises, falls, and pauses. If you have even a smidgen of acrophobia, you’ll have a serious panic attack inside this thing.

I figured that this would be the perfect mechanism to cure my strange new fear of heights.

2. Coming up with a specific battle plan, I went to the High Roller on one of my Vegas trips, alone. I made sure to do it on a day where the sunlight was greatest with minimal clouds (pretty easy in Vegas) so I could see absolutely everything from high above. I wanted to ensure my vertigo would manifest as strongly as possible so I could crush it.

3. Once inside the glass dome, I forced myself to stand, not sit. I also forced myself to not touch anything to help steady myself if I became dizzy or scared. The wheel takes a full 30 minutes to make one rotation, so I stood in the dome as it rose. For a while I was fine, feeling nothing. At about 30% to the top of the wheel, suddenly the vertigo hit, a wave of completely irrational fear hitting my chest and head.

4. I was prepared. I started breathing very deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth, making sure to fill my lungs from the bottom of my diaphragm (deep breathing, to best oxygenate the blood) rather than from my chest (shallow breathing). As I breathed, I counted the inhales and exhales. One, two, one, two. I also kept my eyes open and stared at the ground far below while I breathed. I wanted to breathe while feeling the height.

5. After a few minutes, 80% of the fear went away. 80% isn’t good enough, so my job was not done. While standing in the middle of the dome, I walked out to the edge, where you are on the curvature of the glass, staring down, with “nothing” between you and hundreds of feet of air. Instantly, the vertigo wave returned.

6. I kept breathing, kept counting, kept focused on my breath and the height. I also started to mentally repeat to myself “I am completely safe. This fear is completely irrational. This fear is false. I am completely safe.”

7. I did this for about 20 minutes, even as I crested the top. The vertigo become smaller and smaller. By the time I was 50% down the other side, it was completely gone.

8. A few days later, I went back to the High Roller and repeated the exercise. I still felt some twinges, but it was about 20% the power it was before. Then I flew back home.

9. On my last trip to Vegas in May, I took some time out of my visit to do the High Roller again, to see how much vertigo I felt. I was shocked to feel…none. It was all gone. I was back to my normal self. I couldn’t believe the difference.

I’m going to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia in October. You can bet I’ll be hitting some tall buildings in all three places. We’ll see if the vertigo really is gone, or if I have to repeat the exercise. But so far, it looks like it’s worked.

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