Tag Archives: confidence

The Courage To Be

When I search my soul for the answer to the question what is courage, this is what comes up.

Facing.

Facing fear.

Facing Life.

Facing death.

Facing risk and uncertainty.

Facing choice.

Facing truth.

Facing abandonment.

Facing pain.

Facing me.

Facing.

FacingWhen I reflect on these words there are two things I notice.

Firstly, there is no requirement to do anything other than just be in the face of anxiety. Standing quietly, not running away is all that is required to be courageous. In a world that mandates that we run away from ourselves, to stand, on our own terms, taking ownership and responsibility of our lives, is indeed courage. It is enough.

Secondly, whenever I remember these words, that seem to have come from somewhere else, I feel profoundly calm. They offer a challenge but it feels good and right. They provide me with strength.

I wanted to share them with you x

Putting my Courage to the Test

TalkI usually try to keep myself out of my writing.  But something has happened that is going to be a massive test of my courage, and so in writing about it I hope my experience will be of help.

My personal courage challenge is public speaking.

I want to overcome this fear so that I can do talks about courage and yes, I see the irony.  I have to practice what I preach so that I can preach.  And so I joined Toastmasters at the beginning of the year to gain practice and support in managing my fear. Toastmasters is an international not-for-profit organization that supports people in developing their public speaking skills.

I am making progress but I still suffer from anxiety before I speak.  I face the tension of my anxiety wanting to hold me back and keep me quiet, and my desire to push through the anxiety and develop. It is the prison wall that I wrote about last time.

Earlier this week I entered our club competition for giving an impromptu speech, and to my pride, and horror, I won. This means in 2 week’s time I have to give an impromptu speech to a wider audience. I won’t know the topic I have to speak about until I am in front of the audience.

This prospect is provoking my anxiety, and is a perfect lab test of my ability to manage myself. And this is what I have found. I have an old script that runs in my head and says things such as:

“this is my worst nightmare”

“I will make a fool of myself”

“my mind will go blank”

“I will go really red, and stammer, and fail catastrophically”

and so on.

But, I have found that I can change the script. I imagine taking a step to the side and looking at these thoughts as really unhelpful. And they are only true if I allow them to be true. Equally true, and far more helpful, are thoughts such as:

“I just won the first competition”

“I am a good communicator”

“I am good at this”

Now my anxiety reduces about 90%. I even find myself looking forward to the event. I am writing this to show you how our thoughts provoke our feelings and our fears, how the only truth they hold is that which you ascribe to them, and how you can change them, with some determination, and therefore change the way that you feel.

Hold steady, keep focused and quietly pass through the prison walls.

Escaping from the Prison of Anxiety

There is just one thing that stands in the way of courage, and that is anxiety. If we could somehow manage our anxiety we could stop the way it holds us back. Clearly, this is not going to be quick, it is going to take effort and determination. It is possible to break through.

I have probably mentioned before that fear is built into the human brain. It is the most important response in survival terms and therefore the first thing to get triggered if there is any hint of danger, however slight. This is not going away, it is part of being human so our anxiety will continue to be triggered. But don’t lose hope yet.

You don’t need me to tell you that life these days is hectic. We are constantly stimulated and distracted, so we delegate a lot to our subconscious. We have to in order to cope with all the information we have to process. But by doing this we allow our barely conscious feelings of anxiety to guide our behaviour. When we feel the beginnings of our anxiety stirring, we cope by not doing, not going, not speaking. The feelings subside and normality is resumed. Over time, our anxiety increasingly limits our behaviour until it becomes a prison.

To gain mastery over anxiety we have to face it.

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling, not painful exactly, but unpleasant. It might be experienced as a gnawing sensation in the pit of the stomach, or a pounding of the heart, a feeling of heat, a feeling of disorganized energy, a feeling of fragmentation. Our muscles tighten and our breathing becomes shallow as we prepare for fight or flight. We might visibly flush, sweat or shake, which only compounds our discomfort, knowing that others can see how anxious we are feeling. Our thoughts become disorganized and we fixate on negative outcomes, tapping into our underlying fears of failure, ridicule and rejection

When we start to face anxiety and really understand what it feels like we are able to recognize its beginning. We can counter anxiety at a physical level if we catch it early. This means being more tuned into our physical state, turning our senses inwards instead of being always outwards.

We learn our early warning signs of anxiety being triggered, and consciously do the opposite. We consciously relax our muscles and deepen our breathing. Calm the scattered energy by imagining it coming together and taking it down lower, into the abdomen or base of the spine and in doing so feel more grounded. Gain control of the negative spiral of thoughts by reminding yourself that the negative thoughts that spring from anxiety are not rational and are rarely true.

Feel the edge, stay there, hold it, breathe. Realise that anxiety is a feeling, an experience and is a necessary part of being alive, just like all the other various feelings and experiences, good and bad. Gently and quietly pass through those prison walls.

As you ground yourself, become more centred and together, your anxiety loses its power to hold you back. You still feel the symptoms but you are back in control. You can now choose how you want to act.

As you practice you get better and better at controlling your anxiety. In doing so you become more clear, more courageous and you become free.

 

 

 

The Heart of Courage

People who we might think of as emblems of courage, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are marked by a strong and clear purpose. Courageous people have a steadiness, a consistency, an ability to stick to their principles and do what they think is right even when times are challenging.  They have a clear inner voice.

My journey into courage has led me away from extraordinary feats of courage towards a way of living courageously that is within reach of everyone. Still it seems that having a strong and clear purpose, and a clear inner voice is a key element of courage.

In order to develop our courage we need to develop our beliefs or values, our meaning and purpose. We need to work on this, investigating alternative points of view, until we find that which we can really believe in, and feel deeply connected to, and use this to guide us through life.

The word courage comes from the old French word corage meaning heart, similar to the Spanish corazon and the modern French coeur. It has long been known and perhaps since forgotten that the source of courage is in the heart.

The more I work on the subject academically and personally, the more I believe this to be true. Learning about different values and beliefs is important, opening your mind is very important, but ultimately your heart tells you what is right and wrong, and tuning into your heart and acting accordingly is living courageously.

When we develop ourselves on the inside, knowing our values, developing our meaning and passion, our clarity of vision on what we stand for, when we can hear what is in our heart, and when we act on it, and live it, then we will find our courage and live the wholehearted life we want.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”  Steve Jobs

 

 

Strength in Vulnerability

It is so hard to show ourselves as we really are. Most of us have a suspicion that deep down we are not really ok. This is a real problem because it condemns us to a lifetime of struggle to hide who we really are. So much so that most of us don’t even want to look there ourselves for fear of what we might find. It also condemns us to a life of solitude because we can never let anyone close enough to see who we really are, to show ourselves in all our human frailty and imperfection. We imagine that such a rejection of our heart and soul would be devastating. So we pretend and we hide.

So let’s imagine what if. What if we muster up the courage to look at ourselves, and keep on looking, finding our weaknesses, our vulnerability, seeing our real truth and beauty? What if we were to accept ourselves with compassion, warts and all? Then what if we were brave enough to share ourselves at this deeper level with those we love and trust? If they reject us, we still have our own acceptance of ourselves to come back to. But just imagine what if they were able to see us, accept us, love us not in spite of but because of our vulnerability?

We think that vulnerability is weakness so we hide it, but it takes great courage to be vulnerable, to show up as imperfect as we really are. We face condemnation and rejection. As we continue to deliberately and consciously live with our vulnerability on show, as we learn that we have nothing to prove and nothing to hide, gradually we become invincible.