COURAGE: HOW TO HARNESS FEAR AND BE A LITTLE BRAVER
The Oxford Dictionaries definition of ‘fear’ is ‘An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm; A feeling of anxiety concerning the outcome of something or the safety of someone; The likelihood of something unwelcome happening.’ We all know what fear is, and this dictionary definition does not do it justice. It does not capture the feeling of fear: it does not speak of the griping pains, the dread-weight in the stomach, the heart thrashing and the parched mouth, the tightness in the throat and the sense of impending doom that grips you, pushing itself into your every waking thought and even your dreams.
But fear is no match for our inner reserves of courage. The definition of 'courage' is 'The ability to do something that frightens one; Bravery; Strength in the face of pain or grief.' And we are all familiar with that rising feeling of triumph over a fear, of conquering something that scares us, of standing up for our self and our loved ones. As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “Courage is found in unlikely places”, and even if you feel that YOU are that unlikely place, I assure you that you have all the courage you need to do all that you most want to do. There are countless stories of ordinary people living ordinary lives who carry out the most remarkable acts of bravery. And we're all just ordinary people, leading ordinary lives. But there is a spark of magic and the extraordinary within each one of us.
USING FEAR’S ENERGY AS MOTIVATION
No-one likes fear, and we are often told: ‘don’t be afraid’. This gives us the message that fear is bad and something to push away and resist. But resistance is not the best course of action here. Fear can take over our life in a bad way if we allow it to, but its function is actually to keep us safe. We should allow ourselves to feel our fear, to accept it and work with it rather than struggling against it. It is there for a reason, instilled in our biology to preserve us and protect us. But fear can be so strong and so full of intense energy. We need to harness this energy and use it to motivate ourselves rather than allow ourselves to be dominated and held back by it.
The positive energy of fear, the flip-side of it, is bravery and heroism and growth. Nelson Mandela said that “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” We have a duty to challenge what’s wrong in our life and the world around us. We should respect the fear: feeling it, thanking it for trying to keep us safe, then using it to create positive change in our self and the world around us.
‘MONSTERS UNDER THE BED’: IMAGINATION AND FEAR
What we don’t want to happen is to succumb to fear by wrestling with it too much and struggling against it in an attempt to eradicate fear from our lives completely. You can’t have a happy outcome if you battle against a true friend and someone whose genuine desire is to look out for you. And this is exactly what fear is - a friend. Although at times an over-anxious one who sees dangers everywhere they look. Our friend Fear means well, and we must thank them for their concern. But we carve our own path and we must not allow ourselves to be lost in the murky waters of fear or to identify with it. Our fear is not who we are; we are not defined by it. It is a part of us but it is not us.
One of the things that can happen with fear is that we can start to allow it to influence our powerful imagination, and we grant it far too much power. We become foggy-headed with worries, anxieties and stresses, imagining countless ‘what if’ scenarios on an endless loop. What if this awful thing happens? What if that awful thing happens? And on and on we go, imagining the worst. And this – apart from causing us unnecessary stress – can stop us living our best life. The fear of something is often far worse than the actual thing that we are afraid of. Don’t doubt your capacity to cope or your inner strength. Remember the lines from A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh: ‘You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
FACE UP TO YOUR FEARS AND BRAVELY GROW
Fear will always be a part of our life. We must accept this and allow ourselves to feel what we feel, but it is up to us to shake fear firmly and appreciatively by the hand and thank it for its concern, but allow it to help us to grow. Eleanor Roosevelt recommended us to ‘Do one thing every day that scares you.” When we feel fear, we need to realise that these horrible physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety are there, horrible as they feel, to present us with an opportunity to grow and be a little stronger and a little braver. And with each small act of courage, we will expand our comfort zone until we view fear as a welcome helper rather than an unwanted enemy, motivating us on our life’s journey. Marie Curie said that “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” And it is only in looking deep into the heart of what it is that we fear that we will learn about our self and who we truly are, understanding that we are the magnificent and brave creator of our own life and the world around us.
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