“Courage is knowing what not to fear”
Fear should – by definition – be a guidance of our natural state to avoid death or serious injury. Unfortunately, more often than not, we feel absolute terror in situations where there is no real risk. We experience crippling anxiety before having to come on stage or before meeting a person you want to impress – while this is completely unnatural and illogical.
Being in the untamed wilds always has had a humbling experience on me. A memory that triggers this vividly and powerfully is when I went to the mountains in Switzerland a few years back. The place I went – Grindlewald – is just absolute pristine beauty. It’s surrounded by mountain ranges that are a piece of art frozen in time laid bare on a bed of jade green hills which are in turn covered in flowers and dotted with the occasional wooden mountain hut. It’s wonderful.
I went there together with my closest family members in order to mourn my mountain-climbing brother who passed away shortly before. We built a shrine beneath one of his favorite mountain peaks, decorated it with lovingly created trinkets and good wishes, stayed there in silence for a good while and eventually left the cold mountain heights and descended back down the mountain with renewed spirit.
As we traveled down the slopes of the mountain, our occupied minds were suddenly and violently startled by a great rumble. In a massive, godlike fury a grand avalanche crashed down the granite walls of the Eiger.
That was a powerful trigger. A realization of the awesome power of nature. Since that moment my mind has been contemplating on the nature of fear and death and I became inspired to find courage in the mundane.
Facing a threat of real danger causes a natural fear which we should not ignore;
Ironically, however, the situations that carry the most risk in day-to-day life – such as driving your car to work – invoke a minimal amount of fear in us, where situations that carry none or little risk – such as public speaking – invoke absolute terror in most of us.
Taking the example of public speaking further, it is one of most common causes of absolute terror in modern life. Our brains – apparently – are conditioned by nature to dread being publicly chastised from society should our presentation bore or our jokes fall flat. Yet rationally, we can all see that there is no risk.
Capture this in a word and you would have ‘Anxiety’. Anxiety can be defined as an exaggerated response of fear to an unnatural stimulant.
Imagine your life where you are not influenced by these baseless fears. Without anxiety making any impact on your decisions. How different will your life look like? What adventures and dreams will you chase? How would your newfound bravery positively affect the world and the people you love?
Once on a blind date with a woman, between the usual banter as you do on a first date, she told me she had a intense fear of thunder. The fear originated, she explained, by a traumatic experience in her early childhood. As a child, while hiking in an unknown, dark forest she was unexpectedly caught in a raging thunderstorm.
Although I teasingly poked some good-hearted fun at her for this; the reality is that thunder is a deadly force of nature that we SHOULD be afraid of. Nature has guided our species towards this matter of fact in order to ensure our best survival odds in the wild. We have evolved to feel this primal fear, and for good reason.
At the same time, it’s completely natural for people to meet up, become socially intertwined and start to love each other. Yet this same night I felt intense fear of whether or not I was making a good first impression upon this woman sitting next to me while drinking wine in a bar.
You decide for yourself, which is more irrational ?
These primal fears for mundane events cannot just be abolished. It is simply in our natural programming to feel this way. However, it is in these specific situations that we should recognize that the fear we feel is an irrational effect of the programming of our brain.
Reminder: our brain is not designed for us to grow and achieve greatness. In fact, in many situations, our primal programming is the reason we fail to achieve greatness. It is this very evolutionary mental automation that we should override if we want to achieve courage and break free of the bonds of nature that are restraining us from achieving our dreams.
(In extreme cases – such as with Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder – our brains have even updated our natural programming to go completely haywire. Important pieces of the treatment of such disorders is to actually reprogram your brain back to normality through practices such as meditation, EMDR and exposure therapy. In essence by making sure you regain control over your brain again – instead of your brain having control over you.)
In conclusion then, in my view, acquiring bravery is a very, very simple three-step protocol:
- Recognize that you are feeling fear.
- Acknowledge whether your fear is based on mere irrationality as opposed to a life threatening dangerous situation.
- Ignore it.
Now venture forth, brave one. Conquer the world.