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Cultivate Courage to Defeat Your Fears

2013 June 11

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. ~Ambrose Redmoon

CourageRecently a friend complained to me that everywhere she looked there was “yet another article on overcoming fear” and it seemed to her that maybe we’d all be better off if we just stopped talking about fear so much. I have to admit she really got me thinking.

Fears of all kind are real and the single greatest obstacle to living life to the fullest, so I don’t believe ignoring it is the answer. On the other hand, what if we challenged ourselves to look at it from a different perspective? What if instead of giving fear the power, we choose to focus on cultivating greater courage. After all, being courageous does not mean acting without fear … it means doing what you need to do despite the fear.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. ~Maya Angelou

Understanding Courage

Courage is the strength, power or determination to confront a difficult or frightening situation. Courageous people still feel fear; they just don’t let it paralyze them.

The truth is that in day-to-day life, courage doesn’t receive much attention. If we think of it at all it is usually in connection with the actions of soldiers or some heroic effort to save a life, by a fireman perhaps. But the courage I’m talking about is the ability to reclaim the power we unwittingly give to any number of imaginary fears that keep us safely sheltered within the boundaries of our personal comfort zone.

The insidious problem we unknowingly foster when we give in to fear in order to avoid discomfort is the sense of “relief” we experience; because in reality what we’re creating is a type of psychological reward system that is reinforcing avoidance behavior. So each time you choose to give in to a fear, you are literally conditioning yourself to make it even more likely that you will avoid facing that fear in the future. Depressing isn’t it?

Courage isn’t having the strength to go on – it is going on when you don’t have strength. ~Napoleon Bonaparte

Some will point to such things as the rush of adrenaline, anger or moral outrage as being the catalysts for courageous actions; but those reactions are most often triggered by circumstances beyond ones control, life-threatening situations in particular. I’m talking here about intentionally becoming more courageous on a day-to-day basis, and that does not require drastic actions at all. In fact, think of courage as a muscle that you can begin exercising and slowly strengthen over time.

Make Discomfort Your Ally

You can begin exercising your courage muscles by making a list of 5 things you’ve been avoiding. Don’t worry about the big fears for now, focus on doing things you’ve been putting off simply because the thought of doing or facing them made you uncomfortable. Maybe there’s a conversation you’ve been avoiding, or you have a new software program for your computer and you’ve been putting off learning how to use it. Often the discomfort we feel comes from lack of understanding, so take the time to acquire the knowledge that you need. If you’re anything like some people I know, that may be as simple as actually taking the time to read directions.

Whatever actions you choose, take it gradual, and don’t worry if you have to repeat one as long as you continue to nudge your boundaries. Learning to redefine your view of discomfort from a state that needs to be avoided at all cost, to a side effect of personal growth takes time, but by following this gradual process, you’ll accomplish two things. You’ll stop reinforcing avoidance behavior, and you’ll condition yourself to act more courageously in future situations. As you gradually build your courage by facing bigger and bigger discomforts over time, your feelings of fear will diminish accordingly.

The exact strategies you use to strengthen your courage aren’t important. What is important is that you do it intentionally and consistently. Just as your muscles weaken when you don’t regularly stress them, your courage weakens if you don’t consistently challenge yourself to move beyond that place of safety and comfort and face down your fears. Starting today why not challenge yourself to celebrate each encounter with fear as an opportunity for growth and to strengthen your courage muscles.

What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny. ~Anaïs Nin

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10 Responses
  1. August 29, 2013

    Courage we need is the courage to face the fear itself. I know it will not be easy and there will be a lot of reasons not to do it, but in the end that’s something we really need. Just sharing my thoughts.
    Erwin recently posted..Exercise Programs for Beginners Weight LossMy Profile

  2. June 14, 2013

    Hey Marty!

    Great advice as usual. Yes, I have come across many articles on fear lately. Seems like it is a trendy hot topic. But when I notice this in the blogging world, there must be some reason for it.

    Fear is debilitating. Your advice by taking one little thing at a time is spot on. When we are in the fear space, we cannot jump into taking on a giant leap out of our box. It is good to start small so we can reinforce ourselves that “we can do it!”

    To me, this is an ongoing process in life. There will always be fears within us, but it is how we face it and act upon it is important.

    Maybe it is just me, but I feel so great when I overcome any fear that rises in my life. If I cannot do it myself, I seek help. There is so much help out there from books to therapists. Right now, I’m in the middle of EMDR sessions to “unblock” those nasty subconscious fears that are neuro-linked to my life. The Journey Is Amazing!


    • June 14, 2013

      Thanks for stopping by Donna, always appreciate your thoughtful insights. I agree with you, there is something so empowering about overcoming a fear or limiting belief. The program you’re going through sounds fascinating – hope you’ll be sharing on your blog. :-)
      Marquita Herald recently posted..Life is a Big Canvas: Use All the Colors You CanMy Profile

  3. June 12, 2013

    Hey Marty! Great Points here today and I love how you said Read the directions.. To Funny! I am going to make my list tonight 5 things I have been avoiding and then follow through with them one by one. I like this idea Marty.. Thanks for sharing.. Chery :)
    Chery Schmidt recently posted..Building A Powerful BrandMy Profile

  4. June 12, 2013

    Great points, Marquita. Part of it may be finding where we get our courage from and building it up for those times when we need to dig deep. Knowing where it comes from, how to build it up, and how to use all need to be in the mix of navigating life’s challenges successfully. Great points in your post. Thanks. Jon
    Jon Mertz recently posted..My Failure as a Millennial LeaderMy Profile

  5. June 12, 2013

    Hi Marty,

    This was a wonderful post!

    What I found most interesting in your post is how you explained courage as a muscle which needs exercising and once we stop exercising that muscle, it weakens. Hence we need to continue building our courage by doing activities that are fearful. I never looked at it this way and it certainly make a lot of sense.

    Thank you.
    Hiten recently posted..How to Play the Game of Your LifeMy Profile

  6. Janet Stephenson
    June 11, 2013

    Beautiful article, Marty! I always love reading your posts because they give me the opportunity to pause and reflect on topics I previously assumed I had checked off my list.

    I’ve found in my own life that my fears show up at odd times, sometimes completely unfounded, and if I practice avoidance behavior, I could let something stagnate or fester for a very long time rather than push through the discomfort. What’s interesting to me, is that usually on the other side I am able to clearly see that the fear was based on how I assumed it would feel to deal with whatever issue.

    Fear is funny that way – the illusion that we might feel something uncomfortable keeps us paralyzed for far too long. Next time I feel that old familiar sense of foreboding, I’m going to look it square in the eye and ask, “Is this real? Or am I making an assumption of how I think it might be?”


    • June 12, 2013

      Welcome back Janet. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. Knowing the wonderful things you’re doing with your writing it’s hard to imagine you allowing fear to ever slow you down! And you are so right about how fear has a way of showing up at odd times, but awareness is the key and then to be willing to challenge them for what they are. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. :-)
      Marquita Herald recently posted..Cultivate Courage to Defeat Your FearsMy Profile

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