Cultivate Courage to Defeat Your Fears
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. ~Ambrose Redmoon
Recently 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
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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