“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (Author; Self-Reliance and Other Essays)
“Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard.”
Navy SEALs (Special Operations Force; Naval Special Warfare Command)
“Put a grain of boldness into everything you do.”
Baltasar Gracian (Spanish Jesuit and Author; El Héroe)
Courageous people are made.
A week into one of my first jobs after graduate school the owner of the company sent out an email berating all of the current employees for fumbling a project. He warned everyone that he was about to go Donald Trump on us and start firing people. Huh? What’s happening?
I had no idea what was going on but I was pretty sure I was going to get canned. It was really weird to go from working in academia where things moved very slowly and firings rarely happened to working for a small startup where people were coming and going constantly. After reading the email, I calculated how much I would get paid if I made it through the rest of the day. And once I made it through that day, I calculated how much I would get paid if I made it through the rest of the next full day. I’m not sure why but breaking things down like this made me less afraid of losing my job.
Bold Moves Start As Small Decisions
The guy I was about to wrestle in the quarterfinals at the State tournament was wearing a skater hat and making out with his girlfriend. He had curly blonde hair and big puffy cheeks and kind of looked like a teenage version of that little kid in the movie Jerry Maguire. I’m going to destroy this guy I thought. Wrong. He was incredibly tough. We ended going up into overtime during our match and at the last minute I was disqualified because my thumb got caught in his singlet. My dream of being a State champion died immediately. Forever. I wanted to dig a hole under the stadium bleachers and disappear. I remember hiding in one of the giant locker rooms and thinking that there was no way I was going to go back out and wrestle again.
Working my way back through a 32-man consolation bracket was the last thing I wanted to do. Actually, it was the second to last thing I wanted to do. Facing my family, friends, and teammates was the last thing I wanted to do. But then I started to figure that it was more embarrassing to keep hiding in the locker room than it was to go out and wrestle again. So, after a few more minutes, I stood up and walked out of the locker room to wrestle my next match.
Courage Can Be Measured And Made
Courage is a measurable ability. Courage is the ability to carry out voluntary actions that oppose a fear response. It can be measured by quantifying the level of activity in a part of your brain called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC). The sgACC is right next to the amygdala, which is the part of your brain that controls feelings of fear. A study published in Cell Press reviews an experiment where study participants had to choose whether or not to electronically move either a teddy bear or a live snake closer to their faces while their brains were being scanned. Courageous people who were able to bring the snake very close to their faces had high levels of sgACC activity while uncourageous people did not.
Courage, like all abilities, can be improved. A study involving over 200 bomb-disposal operators found that the only things separating courageous people from uncourageous people were adequate training, good and reliable equipment, high group morale, and live-action experience. The key finding overall was that most of the bomb-disposal operators performed extraordinarily well even though most of them were chosen at random for the position. Over a ten-year period, they successfully dealt with thousands of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and sustained less than 20 fatalities. The study concluded that virtually all soldiers, officers, and non-commission offers are capable of carrying out this difficult and dangerous work as long as they received specialized training. In other words, anyone can become courageous.
10 Things Bold People Do
Courageousness is not some mystical trait that can only be achieved by a small number of special people. It’s a trait that anyone can achieve. All it takes is time and training. And a choice – a choice to be bold. You can’t erase fear, but you can override it. Getting comfortable with feeling fear is a critical part of learning how to be courageous. A second critical part is stepping out your comfort zone again and again until discomfort starts to seem comfortable.
Overcoming fear to take risks will never feel easy but there are ways to make it feel more natural. Courageous people are simply those who have trained themselves to feel normal during stressful situations. Here are 10 things courageous people do to override fear and make bold moves:
1. Experience symptoms of anxiety.
Paratroopers are members of a military infantry unit trained to attack in combat areas by parachuting from airplanes.
New paratrooper trainees experience the following symptoms prior to jumping out of a plane at night: sweating, dry mouth, hot face, flushing, pounding heart, and trembling.
Veteran paratroopers experience the following symptoms prior to jumping out of a plane at night: sweating, dry mouth, hot face, flushing, pounding heart, and trembling. Experienced combat fliers, veteran infantry, and bomb disposal operators also experience these symptoms.
You’re supposed to get anxious. Every time. EVERY TIME. If you’re not anxious before doing something nerve-racking, then something is wrong.
2. Never limit their confidence levels.
When it comes to how strongly you believe in your ability to complete tasks and reach goals, boundaries should not exist.
Studies show that new paratrooper trainees who are classified anywhere below the 90th percentile in terms of confidence rank jumping out of an airplane as less dangerous before they do it than after they do it. In other words, they adapt to their experience by seeing the situation they just survived as being more dangerous.
New trainees who are classified above the 90th percentile in terms of confidence rank jumping out of an airplane as less dangerous afterwards. They adapt by seeing the experience as less dangerous and by becoming even more confident. These trainees also perform at higher levels than those below the 90th percentile.
The only way to improve your life continually is to believe in yourself without limits. Confidence breeds confidence.
3. See themselves as courageous.
People who see themselves as courageous respond to fear-inducing events more boldly than those who do not see themselves as courageous.
Studies show that courage is a measurable construct that can be adequately self-reported and is predictive of actual performance in the presence of a feared stimulus. This means that you are literally as courageous as you think you are.
Soldiers training to be Airborne Rangers were asked to mark on a self rating scale the amount of fear they felt during mock-tower jumping. For all participants, performance was directly related to their self-ratings of fear. Those who subsequently passed the Airborne course estimated that they were less afraid than those who failed it.
Boldness starts in the mind. See yourself as bold and you will behave boldly.
4. Control their environment.
My first sport bike was a Suzuki. I had no idea how to ride it when I bought it. So I signed up for a 3-day training course. The first thing I learned in the course was a pre-ride check system referred to as T-CLOCS.
I still use this system nearly every time I ride a motorcycle. If I forget to use it, I usually remember halfway into my ride and get terrified that the bike’s chain is going to snap and I’m going to crash. Why?
Studies show that bomb-disposal operators perform better when they have a high level of control over their equipment. This is one of the reasons why all high-risk activities from hang gliding to hunting to parasailing to bungee jumping to auto racing to scuba diving and skydiving have extensive pre-performance checklists.
Courage is not the result of letting go and blindly trusting a process. It’s the result of understanding and controlling every last detail of a process.
5. Focus on small details and routine tasks.
Big, complex problems are more likely to initiate a fear response than small, simple problems. The key is that all big, complex problems can be chunked down into small, simple problems.
The fastest way to get back in control of your mind during a stressful event is to focus on routine tasks and small details. This will bring your mind back to the present moment. Studies show that this kind of mindfulness decreases fear and increases courage in cancer patients.
When a situation gets intense, get present by chunking the situation down and taking it on one moment at a time.
6. Create a sense of camaraderie with others.
Bold people are not afraid to lean on others. Studies show that high levels of group cohesion and group morale increase individual courage.
Camaraderie also increases individual lifespan and life quality. Veterans who served in military units characterized by a strong esprit de corps were much less likely decades later to die of a stroke or heart condition than veterans from less cohesive companies. Cancer patients who participated in group exercise sessions lived longer and reported a greater quality of life during treatment.
7. Gain specialized knowledge.
Knowledge destroys fear. The first step to overcoming a fear of flying, without actually getting on an aircraft, is to increase your knowledge of air travel. This includes things like understanding how flight equipment operates during takeoff and landing (see #4) and understanding statistics like how much more dangerous it is to drive on the road than fly in a plane. For example, the odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident are about 1 in 98 for a lifetime. The odds of dying during air travel are about 1 in 7,178 for a lifetime.
The second step is to learn and practice cognitive behavioral therapy techniques like anxiety management, breathing relaxation, cognitive restructuring, and thought-stopping.
8. Train live to a sickening degree.
Experience erases fear. The only way to erase your fear of something completely is to experience it live.
Studies show that live-action experience is the only way to fully adapt to intensely stressful situations. For example, the experience of dealing with hoaxes or false alarms made no additional contribution to the confidence or competence levels of new bomb-disposal operators. But once these inexperienced operators successfully completed just one bomb-disposal task on a live device, their confidence levels and feelings of competence rose to the level of experienced operators. Other studies show that virtual reality graded exposure therapy is only 100% effective in treating people who have a fear of flying if it’s accompanied with live physiological feedback.
Courage is created by action. Bold people are just ordinary people who have experienced something stressful an extraordinary number of times.
9. Get motivated by embarrassment.
Bold people hate to be embarrassed. But, instead of shying away from situations where they could embarrass themselves, they use their hatred of embarrassment as motivation.
A two-year study that included over 100 interviews with mixed martial arts fighters found that most fighters use embarrassment in a kind of paradoxical fashion to stay motivated.
The fighters reported saying things like “You really don’t want to let your family or teammates down,” and “The name of the [MMA] school is kind of riding on you. You have to represent for your school.”
The paradox is that they use their fear of embarrassment as motivation to override their fear. In other words, the possibility of embarrassment gives them courage.
10. Develop an “on/off’ switch.
In college, I was one of those wrestlers who was always switched on. I constantly trained and would warm-up excessively before a match. Sometimes I would exercise for hours before a big match. I had no “off button.” This was to my detriment.
I remember watching some wrestlers take naps before their matches. They’d literally fall asleep until ten minutes before and then go out and wrestle. I thought these people were idiots. But a lot of them wrestled incredibly well. Better than me. Why?
Studies show that experienced paratroopers and bomb-disposal operators maintain one large advantage over their less-experience counterparts in that they are better able to adjust their level of arousal to on-duty and off-duty periods. That is to say, they can “switch on” and “switch off” more discriminatively.
Courageous people have an on/off switch. Worrying constantly and staying on high-alert will not help you override fear. Just the opposite. High-alert behavior will make you more fearful. A better strategy is to turn off your mind until just before it’s time to perform. Of course, you need to train and prepare thoroughly (see #8), but you shouldn’t get stuck in preparation mode.
Bold people are “on” or “off”. They don’t have an in-between.
Have you used any of the above techniques to be more courageous? Which technique did you use and which task or trail did it help you accomplish?
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