You Have a Magical Key to Overcoming Fear
(And it’s no Illusion)    

Does fear ever hold you back from pursuing or accomplishing your dreams?  It’s been said that the word “fear” can be better understood when translated into the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real.  Fear is our body’s natural defense mechanism designed to protect us from real danger. But all too often we create self-inflicted fearful thoughts of imagined threats.  And those thoughts can, at times, bring about self-fulfilling prophecies that negatively affect our lives.

This is a story of one of my childhood fears.  And how our thoughts – negative or positive – can affect real outcomes that, in turn, determine what we get out of life.

I love ice cream.  Not like I love my wife and kids, of course, but it’s not all that far behind them on the love continuum.   Okay, seriously, exaggeration, but I could eat it all day, every day. That’s why we don’t have it around the house much.  If we did I’d be twice my size by now. Or dead. And I can’t do that to my wife and kids. Because I love them.

But as a kid with a metabolism and activity level that burned calories like a raging forest fire I could indulge my passion.  And that’s why having ice cream when visiting my grandparents in Indianapolis, where I spent a week each summer, was problematic.  

They always had ice cream.  But they kept it in a chest freezer at the far end of their haunted basement.  It’s wasn’t really haunted by ghosts, of course, but it was profoundly haunted by my imagination.  And that illusion of my mind most definitely convinced me that there were ghosts down there. And those malevolent specters, unfortunately, guarded the ice cream.  Thus my dilemma.

From time to time my grandparents would ask me if I’d like “a little ice cream.”  No, I would not like a little ice cream. I would like a lot of ice cream.  But I’d settle for a little if that was the only option.  However, there was a catch. I would need to fetch the frozen elixir of the gods myself.  And so, for the sake of my passion for ice cream, I would willingly if hesitantly embark upon the hero’s journey into the magical yet dreaded underworld that was my grandparents’ basement.  

Behind a closed door just off of the kitchen was a very steep set of stairs that led to their basement.  The door was opened by a skeleton key…aptly named. The steps were made of wooden planks with no vertical backs so that if something lurked beneath the staircase – and I was pretty sure it did – it could easily reach up and grab my ankles.  And I half believed it would.

The ceiling was low and the lighting dim.  An ancient coal-burning furnace with long, gangly arm-like ducts extended from its massive belly.  My grandfather’s workbench was down there too. Attached to it was a circular grinder that when turned uttered an unearthly moan not unlike Ebenezer Scrooge’s deceased friend Jacob Marley.  My fear was that if I escaped the staircase troll’s grasp the grinder would begin turning on its own before I could reach the chest freezer, open the lid, reach in, grab the frost-encased container of ice cream, sprint back to the staircase, and bound to the top like an Olympic champion.

But, despite the terrors of my imagination, each summer I got ice cream.  And each summer I overcame my fears one illusion at a time. Looking back, I suspect that my grandparents knew of my fears, and in their wisdom also knew that sending me down there to get my own ice cream would be a life-lesson that would serve me for years to come.

Just a few years ago my family and I drove by the old house now owned by the same man who purchased it from my widowed grandmother almost a half-century ago.  He happened to be in the front yard. I explained who I was and asked if I could show my wife and kids through the house. He was gracious and said, “Of course.”

I can’t begin to adequately describe what it was like walking through the house as long-forgotten memories flooded in to my conscience and emotions from whatever deep corners memories seep into over the ensuing years.  It was exhilarating.

Of course, I had to see the basement. The staircase was the same.  But no trolls. My grandfather’s workbench and grinder were still there.  I cranked the handle so my kids could hear “Jacob Marley’s” moan. But somehow it didn’t sound quite the same.  The giant furnace and the chest freezer had long been hauled away.

The skeleton key that opened the door to the basement and to the door of my over-active imagination was gone, the lock having been replaced by something more secure.  Much like my own childhood insecurity had been. But I’ve since purchased an old skeleton key to help remind me of that basement and what facing my own fears taught me.  

Overcoming fear or other barriers to achieving our desired outcomes is largely determined by the incentives at the other side of those barriers.  In my case, it was a simple childhood desire to enjoy some ice cream. To a more mature me or you it might be a more fulfilling career, an improved relationship, or other incentive worth facing down the fears to achieve.  And we find as we face those fears they almost always diminish like an imagined troll beneath a staircase. Or a circular grinder with no real power to intimidate. We only give those fear-inducing illusions power ourselves. And, therefore, we can take that power away from them.

In my show Mentallusions I use my skeleton key to demonstrate to audiences the power each one of us has to overcome our fears.  There is a phenomenon known as the ideomotor response that everyone has to one degree or another. It’s not anything supernatural or paranormal.  It’s simply the power of our minds to effect physical change. “Ideo” refers to our thoughts or ideas while “motor” refers to physical movement or action. In other words, an involuntary activity caused by an idea.  A simple demonstration anyone can do is to make a pendulum from a length of string or chain with a weight secured at the end. Actually, a skeleton or other type of key will do. Pinch the other end of the string or chain between your index finger and thumb, dangling the pendulum.  Focus intently on the thought “circle” without purposely trying to make it move and for most people the weight will eventually begin swinging in a circle.

The demonstration of the ideomotor response I perform in my mentalism and illusion show Mentallusions uses my skeleton key without a string or chain attached.  I place the key in my open palm then invite a spectator to grasp my wrist and concentrate on the thought “turn, turn, turn.” Inevitably, the key will begin to mysteriously, magically turn over in my hand.  No, it’s not a mechanical, electrical, or magnetic skeleton key. The effect is spooky to say the least and spectators’ eyes widen in disbelief. But it’s also an indelible demonstration of how our thoughts can affect our actions even subconsciously and, yes, even our outcomes in life.

So, what good thing in life do you desire that your fears are holding back from you?  They have no power other than the power you give them. You’ve been given the key. Now use it to open the door.  

Rod Robison’s Mentallusions programs offer humor, audience interaction, and stunning mentalism and illusions.  They’re perfect for making your corporate or organizational events remember-a-lifetime experiences for your guests. Click below to book Rod Robison or to learn more about Mentallusions.