As my birthday quickly approached, I began to dread it more each day. Not because I have a serious qualm about getting older, but because I had plans on my birthday. Not just any plans though--plans to jump out of plane at 14,000 feet high.  My friend Jared had bravely and stupidly agreed to jump with me, and we were both petrified. Sure signing up to skydive sounds great and exciting at the time, but as the day quickly approached I began inventing every excuse possible.  

Although most people assume skydiving is a physical activity because you must physically climb into a plane and jump out, parachuting is much more of a mental activity. When you are staring at the ground thousands of feet below, you have to literally force your body to do the one thing your brain is begging it not to.

To save you from sleepless nights, upset stomachs, and overall dread, here are the top 5 ways to mentally prepare yourself to accomplish this great feat:  

1. Choose a Reputable Skydiving Center

This is by far the most important. It not only ensures a safer and more enjoyable experience, but will give you reassurance knowing hundreds have gone before you and made it out alive. If possible knowing someone who has jumped there before will give you a great insider’s tip on what it is really like.

Also make sure you check out the United States Parachute Association (USPA). Only jump from a facility that is a USPA drop zone member. This means that the facility has pledged to follow the highest safety regulations and policies. The site allows you to see which organizations are enrolled in your state (Note: It also offers other great free resources including skydiving terminology to make you sound cool).

2. Talk to Someone Who has Skydived Before

Talking to someone who has jumped before can be incredibly helpful. People who have never gone will only discourage or scare you more. You need someone to pump you up! The night before my big day I talked with a fellow skydiver comrade and hearing his experience took away my last minute jitters.

3. Get Rid of Irrational Fears

Weeks before my birthday, I began imagining every worst case scenario. Anxieties about the chute malfunctioning, the propellers sucking me in, or even hitting a bird kept me awake at night. Signing the death waiver the day of also did nothing to squash my worries.

 When the fears start creeping in, it is important to stop, breathe, and realize the irrational thoughts are just that—IRRATIONAL. Sure skydiving poses risks, but remind yourself that you chose a safe facility (again, don’t forget that #1 is the most important) and statistically speaking you are more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the skydiving facility than you are while skydiving.  If all else fails, smoke a couple of cigarettes and refuse to let your mind dwell on any negative thoughts.

4. Remember Why You Signed Up

There must have been a reason besides sheer insanity that made you sign up initially. To check it off your bucket list? Overcome your fear of heights? Prove to yourself that you can do anything?  Whatever it was, hold onto it and envision how good it will feel when you are done. What will it be like to experience something most people are too afraid to try?

5. Tell Everyone—So You Can’t Back Out

This one is the clincher. Shout it from the rooftops so you are accountable to everyone. At a certain point death is really a better option than disappointing all your friends and family who will forever taunt you for chickening out.  For me the person who would have been most disappointed was my little brother. Impressing 14 year olds is pretty hard to do these days, so backing out was not an option when he began bragging about me to all his friends.

There you have it—the top five ways to keep your mental stamina as you prepare for the biggest adrenaline rush of your life. And how did my dive go, you ask? Amazing! Could not have loved it more! So be brave, live big, and follow Nike’s advice and “just do it.”