Courage, oh you brave lion heart. Where would we be without it? Where could we be with it? A common coaching question is:
What would you do if you had no fear?
Easy to ask, hard to imagine. The idea, of course, is that you will see that it is only fear that gets in your way. But let’s dig a bit deeper. What is that fear about?
Back when we were tiny tots we started to learn what would keep us safe, well-liked, out of trouble, and in good favour. What would make people smile and what would make people cross. Our brains are really very very old, parts of our brains are even called the lizard brain, and it is that part that is wired toward fear. In order to survive, our brain became wired to pay attention to negative things: that rustle in the tree might be a snake, that strange noise could mean danger, that angry face could mean trouble. The negative stuck to our brains like velcro, to use a term coined by the imminent neuropsychologist, Dr. Rick Hanson. So fear is normal. The courage to break away from the wiring, to turn away from the fear is extraordinary. In order to become braver, happier and more positive we can actually re-wire our brains. Scientists have shown that, with sufficient training, we can rewire the neural pathways that regulate our emotions, thoughts, and reactions. Our brains are more plastic and changeable than we thought. Could we actually rewire our brains to take risks and be braver?
Courage is the driver that gets us to where we want to go. I don’t think anything can happen without courage. It takes huge courage to use your voice, to speak up, bear witness, tell your story, and also ski fast down a mountain. Courage is a key value of mine, but that doesn’t mean I have a lot of it. People have often said to me “ Wow you are so brave! You have moved so many times!” But to me that is not brave, that is a necessity. What is courage to one, might be completely normal to another. I am terrified of cold water and therefore find people who jump into icy ponds, or the winter sea at dawn, magnificently brave. I have three friends who do cold water swimming. They don’t get into ice buckets, they actually swim, in icy ponds or even in the sea, in December. They don’t consider this brave. They love it and believe it thoroughly enhances their lives, and makes them feel fully alive and awake. But since I am terrified of cold water, I think it is the bravest thing I can imagine.
Likewise, I think writing is brave, but some people get paid to do it every single day. Some years ago I used to write an award-winning blog. I wrote at least 3 or 4 times a week for more than 4 years. And then I stopped. I love writing and I think I have something to say but recently an inner voice has stopped me from putting my words out there. Maybe it is the thought of someone watching you, reading you, hearing you that is most terrifying. Especially if you compare yourself to others. It takes courage to only compare yourself to who you were yesterday.
Then I heard something clever the other day: What scares you or what challenges you is exactly what you should write about. And so here I am writing about courage. The courage to say “no, thank you” to the voice that keeps me quiet. To the voice that says I shouldn’t. To say “yes please” to the desire to use my voice.
So what I am finding is this. If we want to re-wire our brains, if we want to face fear in the face and do the thing, if we want to live with courage then we need, to borrow someone’s famous words: just do it.
Think of one thing you would do if you didn’t have fear. It might be a tricky conversation with a boss, or maybe you would sign up for that marathon, take a solo vacation, write the book. Now consider a tiny step that you could take that would set you on the path. Maybe register for a run, write a page, share an idea, or tell someone you are going to do it. That tiny step is a start that will tell your brain that yes you can.
For me, I am going to keep writing, and sharing my ideas, my learning, the things that inspire me. I am going to try hard to turn away from the voice that says “who are you to write such things?” It is not easy to click publish, it doesn’t come from a place of entitlement, more of a place that wishes to be brave, face fear and live facing the sun rather than, like an ostrich, face in the sand. Hiding might feel safe but I choose a bigger braver fuller life. Courage is doing it even if….
Again and again, even though we know the landscape of love
and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing names,
and the frighteningly silent abyss into which the others
fall: again and again the two of us walk out together
under the ancient trees, lie down again and again
among the flowers, face to face with the sky.RAINER MARIA RILKE, ‘Again and Again’
I acknowledge that courage and feeling brave is a choice for me. There are many people for whom courage is not a choice, it is a necessity. Choosing courage is an act of privilege.
As always, thank you for reading and for sharing this with people. It makes my heart full to know that you are enjoying my words, and makes my courage grow.