Olympic Champ Silken Laumann is Using Virtual Reality to Help People Overcome their Fears


We all have them (and if you don’t, you’re probably lying).

Of course, it’s fear that often limits us from reaching our full potential. So, it’s in our best interest to overcome them – or, at least, try to.

That’s where Virtual Reality (VR) comes in.

Samsung has recently launched #BeFearless – a new program developed to help Canadians master their fears of things like public speaking (an essential business skill) or fear of heights (which limits your business travel experience and opportunities) using VR.

Front and centre to the campaign is Olympic medalist and world champion rower come life coach, Silken Laumann.

Laumann knows all about overcoming the seemingly impossible.

After a devastating boat collision, she famously came back just 10 weeks and multiple operations later to win a bronze medal for Canada at the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992. Channeling her current experience as a passionate life coach, Silken is now supporting a select group of Canadians participating in the #BeFearless program (and the rest of us can download it for free).

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 5.40.40 PM

What was the greatest obstacle you’ve overcome and how did you mentally prepare to tackle that?
The greatest obstacle I’ve overcome is, without a doubt, coming back from the unexpected training injury I suffered in 1992 before the Olympic games. It was devastating, and left me with 200 pieces of wood in my shattered leg with a shredded muscle. I feared I would never row again, never mind participate in the Olympics just 10 weeks later. Sometimes I did have moments of doubt; I would think: My leg is shredded, how can I possibly win an Olympic medal? I would remember how much I had trained over the past 10 years, and imagined the first time when I was 11-years-old and dreamt of being an Olympic champion for the first time.

Coming back from that injury required me to release any fear or hesitation as I set out on the road to recovery. I knew it was going to be the most arduous, painful experience of my life to come back in time for The Games, but I knew it was something that mentally, I could achieve.

What inspired your life coach route?
This was a natural progression on what I was already doing as a speaker and a spokesperson. I have spent most of my life encouraging and supporting other people in my inspirational talks, my writing and my interviews. Getting licensed as a coach and investing in my leadership skills seemed a natural progression for me. My NLP Master Practitioner certification, my Heart Math certification, my Master Hypnosis certification—they are tools in the toolbox I use to help people get the most out of their life.

I look at the Samsung VR and the #BeRearless app as a tool for my clients. Through the use of this app and the GearVR, a person is practicing ways to master their fear of heights or their fear of public speaking over and over, in an incredibly realistic environment. I help them identify their goals, stay focused on positive thinking, and understand how their inner chatter may be hindering their progress. The chance to help people overcome and master their own fears through positive thought, training and development—to reach their full potential, essentially—is something I’ve always wanted to help others achieve. I like to think it comes naturally for me; I refuse to quit, and I won’t let others quit either if something is stopping them from living their life to the level of happiness they deserve and desire.

One of the things I value most is personal growth and development. In sport, this meant always pushing to better myself, to perfect my technique, to hone my racing skills.  My chosen profession as a speaker, a writer and a life coach has been a natural extension of this passion for self-development.  I am deeply curious about what motivates people, how people can overcome the beliefs and doubts that block their progress and how personal transformation happens.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 5.41.45 PM

What makes VR, in your opinion so effective in overcoming fears? Do you think people fear VR itself?
I think it’s interesting how coaching, technology and personal growth can intersect. The #BeFearless campaign from Samsung is a great example of how those three things can work together in an effort to help someone overcome their fears.

I don’t think people fear VR itself. It is so realistic though—honestly, when I tried it myself and turned around for the first time in VR, I couldn’t believe it! The way it transports you is definitely something that pushes people to new experiences, and with #BeFearless, it might be something they’re not completely used to or slightly outside their comfort zone. They can take the head set off whenever they want though, of course.

What are the common barriers to overcoming fear and obstacles in the people you coach?
One of the common barriers is self-doubt; the thinking that you can’t overcome your fears and what is holding you back. The thing about that is that fear can also be looked at as a good thing—making fear your friend, essentially. I had a coach early in my career who taught me the positives of fear—that if you’re afraid, it means you’re there, in that moment, and ready to perform. To take that next step in your journey of reaching your full potential. That’s something that has always stuck with me, and it’s something I return to in my role as a professional life coach.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 5.40.59 PM

What’s the one thing everyone should do each day to add value to their lives?
I don’t know if there’s just one thing, but what I would say is that everyone has fears that limit their lives— remember that you can overcome them by setting a goal and implying a daily dose of a ‘can do’ attitude. Envisioning what you would feel like when you achieve your goal and reach your full potential—that constant, daily reminder will help Canadians overcome their fears.

What advice do you have for anyone struggling with mental health issues?
I’m not a physician nor do I give clinical help of course, but I would say to talk to someone. It is absolutely key to talk out our issues—and it will be tough. It will be scary. But you can, and should, share this.

Do you have any phobias?
I can’t believe I’m letting you guys in on my secret—but yes, I do—I hate rats!

What are your three most joyous moments in life?
Holding my baby in my arms for the very first time; Winning the World Championship in 1991 and marrying my husband David Patchell.

[ninja_form id=104]