“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” This is one of my all time favorite quotes from writer Ambrose Redmoon. When I first saw it I thought, “This would make a great epitaph.” It truly deserves to be carved into stone in somewhere if it isn’t already. When we feel fear, it is typically around losing something; losing our health, losing a relationship, losing face, losing our livelihood or even our life. Heroes are those brave few who have one thing in common: they choose to act in the face of fear because they recognize that something matters more than the fleeting feeling of being afraid.
Fear is that voice in the back of our head that says, “uh-oh.” It is part of our vestigial “frog brain” that is responsible foremost for self-protection and procreation. There’s no avoiding it. We can’t, like the Cowardly Lion, somehow convince ourselves by saying over and over that, “I’m not afraid of spooks.” Fear is a powerful emotion designed to put us in fight or flight mode and its surging neurochemical reaction creates the physical stress that prepares us for impending danger. Most people are in such a constant state of worry from a range of conscious and unconscious fears that in order to avoid it taking up all their mental bandwidth, they have learned to subliminate this stress and it eventually shows up as disease.
Worry, and the health problems associated with it, is just a steady-state, low-level, persistent fear.
So how can we respond heroically to our fears?
Fear makes us hold on tight to something, and it’s often that something that we’re afraid of losing that perpetuates the fear and makes us hold on even tighter. To become heroic, we need to let go, not hold on tight, and create a thinking space where we can reframe the images created by fear and respond resourcefully. By resourcefully, I mean acting in a way that helps us access those resources that are of most use to us in creating positive outcomes. The hero begins with a series of resourceful questions:
“What if I lost this job? Could I find a better job? One that I liked more? Will my family and I get by in the meantime?”
“What if I broke off this engagement? Would I still be accepted by my family? Would I ever find Mr. Right?”
“How about if I told this person how I really felt? Would she listen to me? Would it help anything?”
These questions lead us toward the answer, ‘yes’. There is always a way, always a choice, always a means to turn things around, even in the seemingly worst of times. It just may not have occurred as a possibility yet. Framing questions in the affirmative helps lead us toward ‘yes’ and enables us to envision positive scenarios where the ‘yes’ is realized.
My favorite question when I’m stuck in anxiety mode is: “Is there another way that I can be or do right now to help turn this situation around?” The answer is always yes, and it helps me explore those choices.
When we ask these type of resourceful questions (‘how’ or ‘what’ are better than ‘why’), we create a thinking space that lets us reflect deeply on what really matters, instead of being hijacked by fear. They give us perspective to disassociate ourselves from immediate worry and look strategically at our life. Courage is the cornerstone of personal leadership. It allows us to act from our values – to look at those things that are more important than fear. The things that matter most help guide us toward a positively envisioned future, rather than succumb to our fear and worry of the present.