Executive Search. Recruitment. Career Coaching.
Last Thursday night could’ve been the second time I walked across hot coals in my life, only the first time, which was 17 years ago, I wimped out.
Back in 1998 I was a Corporate and Government Account Manager with Australian Associated Press Telecommunications (AAPT) and at one of their sales training courses I had the option to fire walk with my colleagues. At that time the fear took over and I pulled out – I remember thinking the firewalkers were crazy risk takers who were sure the burn their feet! I rationalised the risk and gave up before trying. This year I was determined not to make the same choice.
Unleash the Power Within (UPW) Sydney 2015 wasn’t just about conquering my old firewalking fears, I was there to learn about how to be successful in all areas of my life from one of the best in the world – Tony Robbins.
Firewalking is part of UPW as a way of learning what our bodies are capable of. I’m ecstatic (and relieved!) to say I walked across the red coals without injury. It was an unforgettable life lesson.
Question: How did I and 5000 other people walk across red-hot burning coals without burning our feet (although a few people did)?
Answer: We were in a peak state.
To prepare us for a non flesh-burning firewalk Tony came on stage about 12.30pm – nine hours later we were in a peak state and ready to walk on fire.
Tony explained fire walking isn’t about positive thinking. He said you can’t look at a garden bed full of weeds and say “no more weeds, no more weeds”: the weeds will still be there unless you pull them out! Positive thinking can be delusional at times, and getting into a peak state requires physicality, focus and language. He has a model for this, it’s called the triad.
During those hours of training prior to the fire walk Tony educated us by taking a deep dive into practical psychology. To enter into a peak state we went through a series of exercises, a guided meditation and practice visualisations. He taught us how to face our fears by controlling the three aspects of the triad – Physiology, Focus and Language (we attach meaning and emotion to language).
We learned that what stops us every day from taking risks is the same thing that stopped me 17 years ago – FEAR. Fear I’m not strong enough, fear I won’t be safe, fears derived from self-imposed and societal norms about what my body can handle. Our minds override our physical capabilities every day however during fire walking my mind elevated my physical capability to a level I’ve never experienced before.
Tony explained that the stories we tell ourselves become breaker switches, our decision making muscles become weak and we settle for ok or good. The stories we tell ourselves and others define who we are. Achieving a peak state and a peak life requires conditioning.
To break through our inner stories Tony gave insights into what he has learned over the past 25-30 years and distilled it down. We did emotional heavy lifting and we also learned to celebrate! We celebrated visually, physically and verbally with dancing, moving, high-fives, hugs and compliments to each other such as “you rock”.
As it was getting closer to the walk I looked across the crowd to see fellow Australian Turia Pitt, a mining engineer who had been severely burned during an outback ultra-marathon a few years ago; I thought to myself, if she is going to fire walk there is no excuse for me not to. Her courage was inspirational. Compassionately Tony coached Turia individually to commence the fire walk.
Tony talked about how fire walking has been practiced by humans for thousands of years, and is a part of ancient Indian and Fijian cultures. They have proven the mind can be trained to be in a peak state that prevents the body from burning.
As the evening continued Tony gave more specific instructions about the walk. He joked about not running because that’s a possible way to trip and go face down into the coals: only some of the crowd laughed at that.
His other instructions were:
PHYSICALITY – Walk straight and at a normal pace. Look ahead and slightly up, don’t look down at the red coals. Don’t run (I had to change my visualisation after this advice as I had pictured myself like a cartoon character running so fast I was above the coals).
LANGUAGE – Chant “Cool moss”, “Cool moss” with each step, or, as I did, “YES YES, YES, YES”.
FOCUS – Focus on where you are going and keep chanting the words in the peak state.
Waiting in line to walk wasn’t easy as I was in the last group. I watched a couple of people change their minds and leave. Another woman came past in a wheel chair with her foot sticking out as if she had been burned, I looked away and went back to chanting “YES, YES, YES”.
Inching forward, ready for my turn I heard Tony say a few times “fresh coals”. There were 30 lanes going for the 5000 people to get through and they kept refilling the lanes with fresh coals at regular intervals.
I stepped up to the grass patch, looked at one of the crew, we locked eyes and she ensured I was “in state”. I was clapping and saying “YES, YES, YES”.
I turned to the lead crew member, he nodded, said “go”, I faced the red coals and walked.
I didn’t feel anything, not a thing. I looked at the two crew members at the end of the lane, I had tunnel vision and kept walking.
I remember about half way through the walk my conscious mind tried to switch on and say “hey what are you doing?!” – I felt a slight tingle in my right foot and then another voice said FOCUS.
I finished the walk with such force it took two people to slow me down, then they hosed down my feet (in case any coals got stuck in my toes).
Then the celebration began! I jumped for joy, I was elated, relieved, in a state of belief and disbelief at the same time, proud and bristling with energy. I came back into conscious thought by looking down the fire lane again to watch my partner who was commencing determinedly.
Going back into the Sydney Arena along a line of high fives I had to stop and look at my feet because I was shocked at what I’d just done and that my feet didn’t burn! Not a scratch, no burns, my feet were fine.
The only way I was able to safely walk over those hot coals is because of the immense energy within me, which protected my feet as I took each step.
There is a beautiful quote in Tony’s book by Ralph Waldo Emerson which now resonates with me, it is: “What lies before us, what lies behind us, is nothing compared to what lies within us”.
Question: Having conquered the fire walk 17 years after I chickened out, what would I say to twenty something year old me?
The fire walk was a lesson about my potential, my capability and about managing my “state”. I don’t need to be in a peak state every minute of the day, but I can tap into and control my energy rather than being at the mercy of my emotions or thoughts.
As Tony said: Where focus goes, energy flows.
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About the Firewalker
I’m an executive recruiter and career coach. My passion is assisting companies to hire outstanding talent and helping individuals go further faster in their careers.
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