In our daily lives, courage doesn’t get very much attention. Courage is a virtue mainly associated with soldiers, law enforcement, firefighters, and others who perform heroic acts. Security is what matters to most people today. You may have been taught to avoid too much boldness or bravery because it is too dangerous. You may have been told not to take any unnecessary risks or taught not to draw any attention to yourself when in public. There are family traditions taught to many children such as never talking to strangers, watching out for anyone who appears suspicious, being sure to always stay safe.
The downside of the overemphasis of personal safety is that you may end up living reactively. Rather than setting your own goals and making your own plans to achieve those goals, reaching for your dreams with gusto, you may feel you have to play it safe. You may find yourself seeking only safe, secure jobs even thought the work doesn’t satisfy you spiritually or emotionally. You may stay in a passionless relationship simply because it provides security and safety. After all, you were taught not to buck the ‘normal’ system. You tend to accept your life and try to make the most of it while sticking with the traditions of safety and security. You probably never rock the boat and simply go with the general flow, hoping that the currents of that life flow will take you in favorable directions.
Of course, there are very real dangers in life which sensible people do avoid but there is a big difference between having courage and being reckless. The type of courage I mean is not bravery to put your life on the line while saving someone from a flaming inferno. The sort of courage you need is courage to put away imaginary fears and claim the powerful life you have been denying yourself. You need the courage to put aside fear of failure, rejection, of becoming broke, of loneliness, humiliation, fear of speaking in public, fear of not being accepted by family and friends, fear of physical pain, fear or regret and fear of success.
Are you allowing fears like these to hold you back? What would your life be like if you had no such fears at all? You’d have intelligence and common sense to guide you around real dangers but no longer experience the emotion of fear so that you could take risks, especially when the worst case scenario would not actually harm you at all. You’d probably speak up often, talk to more strangers and make them into friends, close more sales, grab ambitious projects you’ve dreamed about and learn to enjoy things which currently cause you fear. This could make a huge difference in your life!
Perhaps you have sometimes convinced yourself that you really aren’t afraid of anything and that you have good, logical reasons why you avoid certain things. You may use the excuse that it is rude to talk up to a strange and introduce yourself. You may think you avoid public speaking because you have nothing important to say. You may avoid asking for a raise because you think you have to wait for the next review period. You’re really just rationalizing and should, instead, think about how great life could be if you could courageously and confidently do these sort of things without fear of any kind.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.
- Ambrose Redmoon
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.
- Mark Twain
Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.
- John Wayne
The definitions of courage above all suggest that courage is the ability to take action in spite of any fear. “Courage” derives from the Latin cor, meaning ‘heart’. True courage is more intellect than feeling. It uses the human part of the brain, the neocortex, to gain control from the emotional limbic brain shared with other mammals. The limbic brain provides signals of danger but the neocortex can reason whether the danger is real or not, so you are able to feel the fear and take action without letting the fear stop you. When you learn to act in the face of fear, the more human you are. The more you let the fear stop you, the more you live in the manner of the lower mammals. “Are you a man or a mouse?” is really a question consistent with human neurology!
Courageous folks are still fearful but they just don’t allow that fear to stop them. People who lack courage give into fear more often, which has the long-term impact of allowing that fear to become stronger and stronger. When you avoid fear and feel a sense of relief when you escape it, the human brain reinforces the mouse-like fear avoidance behavior causing you to avoid facing the fear when encountered again. The more you avoid asking for that raise, the more paralyzed you will feel about taking similar action in the future until you completely condition your fear response to cause you to be even more timid and mouse-like.
This avoidance behavior causes a person to become stagnant over time. As you age, you will continue to reinforce fear reactions so that it becomes difficult to even imagine yourself facing your fears. You’ll begin to view fear as a very real, acceptable part of life and you will hide yourself in an insulated life, protected from all fears. You may find yourself in a stable but loveless marriage or in a job you hate but which provides a modest but stable income and is risk-free. You may find yourself rationalizing behaviors, telling yourself you are too old to change jobs and that you have to support the family so you can’t take any financial risks or that you can’t lose weight because you parents were All you have left is to live out the remaining years in total safety and security but with little or no excitement.
There is something else going on here, isn’t there? That voice in your mind tells you that this simply is not the life you wanted to live. You want more, a whole lot more. That voice wants you to become wealthy, have a wonderful love life, get in great physical shape, learn new skills, travel, make fun friends, help people less fortunate than yourself, and leave a meaningful mark on the world when you pass on. You realize you have settled for a job that offers no real challenge and will probably be there the rest of your working life; but you also realize you simply are not willing to continue this way. That voice tells you that your oversized body which gets easily winded is not acceptable. That voice makes you feel disappointment when you see the plight of your family and the things they are missing out on in life. You hear the voice telling you that you have problems motivating yourself because you are not doing what you ought to be with your life and the reason is fear.
You can reject the voice in your head and live with your mediocre life full of regrets and missed opportunities until the day you die. But you do not have to reject what the voice is telling you. You can respond by confronting the gut feeling that something is not right about your life. You can stop trying to silence the voice by drowning yourself in TV or radio, working long hours, or drinking alcohol or too much caffeine and sugar. These actions have been used in the past to lower your level of consciousness and sink closer to the instinctive animal, never becoming a fully conscious human. You will notice you have surrounded yourself with fellow mice and when you do encounter a fully conscious being, it frightens you silly to realize how much of your own courage has been thrown away.
Becoming Fully Consciousness
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
- Anais Nin
Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.
- Amelia Earhart
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
- Eleanor Roosevelt
In order to break this fear cycle, you must summons your courage and face your inner voice. Sit down in a place where you can be uninterrupted with a pen and paper or your computer and keyboard. Listen to the small voice in your head and face what it is saying to you, no matter how difficult it is to hear. Keep in mind that the voice is only an abstratoin. You may not hear words but you might see what you should be doing or simply have emotional feelings about it. The term “voice” is just to communicate the concept. The voice may tell you that your marriage has been going badly for the past decade but you have turned your mind off about the problem because of fear of divorce. The voice might tell you that you have been too fearful to start your own business due to fear of failure so you have remained stuck in a thankless job you hate. It may tell you that you are addicted to food or that the friend you have been hanging around will not help you become the person you want to be and that you should leave the group and make new friends even though you fear loneliness. The voice may make you face the fact that you always wanted to be a writer or some other profession but have settled for a sales job because it makes you feel secure and safe. The voice may tell you that you are wasting many talents. Try to reduce each message from the voice to just a single word or two and learn what it is trying to tell you. Leave. Quit. Write. Dance. Speak. Exercise. Act. Switch. Move. Let go. Ask. Forgive. Learn. Sell. Whatever words you find your voice saying to you, write them down. You may find you have a different set of word for different areas of your life.
Next, you must consciously acknowledge that these changes are what you really truly want. It is ok to think that it is not possible for you at this point. It is even ok if you do not see how you could make these changes. Just don’t deny any longer that you want them because that lowers your consciousness. Look at your overweight physic and admit you really want to be slim and healthy. When you light a cigarette, admit you want to become a nonsmoker. Admit you would like to be in a better love relationship. When you see people who are really at peace with who they are, admit you want that inner peace for yourself. Leave denial behind and move to a place where you can admit what you really want to do and admit you just don’t feel you have the ability to do it. It is just fine to want something you do not think you can have but in most cases you are wrong in thinking you can’t have what you want. But first you must stop lying to yourself by saying you don’t really want what you do want.
Act Without Fear, Even If You Expect To Fail
When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.
- Orison Swett Marden
Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.
- John Quincy Adams
How does it make you feel to acknowledge some of your fears? You may be afraid you are paralyzed as far as taking action about your fears, but that is normal at this point. When you dive right in and confront fears face-to-face you will build confidence and courage allowing you to more easily face the next fear.
It is important that you learn that real courage is mental, not emotional. The thinking parrt of your brain has to override the emotional impulses so you can use your intelligence, logic and free will to remove limitations inherited from your emotional being.
Of course, this is all easy to say but more difficult to do. You may know logically that there is no real physical danger from standing on a stage and speaking to hundreds or thousands of people but fear kicks any nonetheless and your imagination prevents you from attempting public speaking. That same fear may be stopping you from quitting a dead end job to take a chance on a much better opportunity.
Courage doesn’t mean that you must take immediate or drastic action in most situations. It is a learned skill which requires conditioning and practice just as lifting weights builds stronger muscles. You would never go into a gym and try to lift the largest weight; instead you would start small and work your way up. It is the same with overcoming fears.
One method for building courage can be analogous to lifting progressively heavy weights. Begin with weights you know you can lift but which do provide a challenge before moving up to heavier weight. By the same concept, tackle a small fear at first and then teach yourself how to tackle larger and larger fears. For example, speaking in front of a group of 10 people is not nearly as fear-invoking as speaking to 100 or 1,000. Start small and build on your successes.
Grab a paper and pencil and list a fear that you want to remove from your life. Below the name of the fear, make a list of numbers from 1 to 10 and, beside each number, write down a variation of the fear with number one being the least fear-producing version and 10 being the most fearful of them. Let’s say your fear is asking someone on a date. You might list the number 1 version as going out in public and smiling at an attractive person as being a very mild fear. The second might be smiling at ten people you do not know in a single day. Perhaps number 10 might be asking out the person you want to date in front of all your friends and potentially being rejected, which is your biggest fear. Set a goal to complete the number one fear variation on your list successfully. Once you do so, move on to setting a goal of completing the number two fear variant, and continue until you have completed all the items on your list. If needed, adjust some of the list items to make them realistic and practical to perform. If a step feels too large, break it down into smaller steps and overcome each of the smaller steps. Go as quickly or slowly as you feel comfortable but keep your eyes set on making progress on a regular basis. You will find you now have courage to ask anyone for a date that you choose without fear!