The True Definition of Courage & the Only Way to Overcome your Fears

The True Definition of Courage

For so long I thought that courage meant the absence of fear. When adults in my life would tell me stories about great heroes, whether historical or otherwise, I often pictured them as people who were never afraid of anything. I imagined them as immortal and above me. These folks were never afraid of failing or looking funny.

My definition of courage as a child was something like this: the super power that I wish I could have.

As a child, it is easy to believe such things, but as you grow older you begin to realize something: everyone is just as scared as I am. From Olympic Athletes to soldiers in the military, everyone experiences fear. Being afraid is a natural part of being human.

With this in mind, I think it is appropriate for us to change our definition of courage. Although I’m not a huge fan of simple dictionary definitions, my man Noah Webster did an excellent job on this one:

Turns out even the dictionary had a better definition for courage than I did, who knew?

Courage is literally the ability to face your fears. This means that we are all capable of great courage.

How to Overcome Your Fears

In fact, the only way to overcome any fear is to face it head on. This isn’t just something that people say because it sounds good, it is actually backed by science.

I’m going to use an example from my life to illustrate this.

I struggle with social anxiety, which, in layman’s terms, is the fear of social interaction. In reality, people with social anxiety are afraid of rejection. We are afraid that if we share our true selves with others, they will be disgusted.

There are several treatment options for social anxiety, but the one truly effective form of treatment is something called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

Here’s a quick definition of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, as the defined by the experts at the Social Anxiety Institute:

“The cognitive part of the therapy refers to thinking or learning and is the part of therapy that can be ‘taught’ to the person. The person then needs to take what has been taught, practice it at home, and through means of repetition, get that new ‘learning’ down into the brain over and over again so that becomes automatic or habitual… The behavioral component of CBT involves participation in an active, structured therapy group, consisting of people with clinical social anxiety. In the behavioral group, people voluntarily engage in practical activities that are mildly anxiety-causing and proceed in a flexible, steady, scheduled manner. By moving forward in this manner, step by step, and through the use of repetition, the anxiety felt in social situations is gradually reduced.”

Okay so maybe that doesn’t count as a ‘quick’ definition…

We’re going to focus on the behavioral component of the therapy in our discussion.

As someone with social anxiety, the only way to overcome my anxiety is to face the very things that make me feel anxious. This may include things like starting a conversation with a stranger or speaking up in a large group.

This part of the therapy is often called exposure. The name says it all, you are exposing yourself to the things you are afraid of.

This type of treatment work with other types of phobias as well.

Arachnophobia, for example, is also curable with the help of exposure therapy.

In 2012, Science Illustrated reported a study conducted at Northwest University where 12 arachnophobes went through exposure therapy. During the therapy, participants were shown images of spiders and were taught about how to approach them. After just one three-hour session, many of the patients were able to go as far as to hold a spider in their bare hands.

Changing our Relationship with Fear

It’s one thing to know that facing your fears will help you overcome them, it’s a whole nother monster to actually face them in real life.

One of the most important steps in this process is to change your relationship with fear.

Often times we associate fear with negative things. I am afraid of doing ______ so I probably shouldn’t do it.

In reality, our fear often points to something we should be chasing, not running away from. Fear is a great compass that can point you to what you really want.

Most of the time we are most afraid of what we really want because it involves some level of risk.

You might be afraid to start a business because you don’t want to end up looking like a failure.

You might not want to ask the person you like out on a date because you’re afraid of being rejected. 

You might be afraid to express yourself because you don’t want to look like a fool. 

Do you see how fear can serve as a great ally? Use your fear to help you, rather than letting it control you. Next time you are afraid to take a step towards a goal or do something that seems crazy, use your fear as a compass and dive right in.

How to Generate Gratitude

Last week we talked about the benefits of gratitude: better psychical and emotional health, increased optimism and happiness, etc.

This week we are going to talk about how to generate the feeling of gratitude.

It’s one thing to know that gratitude is a good thing, but it’s another thing to know how to get it.

Reflect on Things you are Grateful for

The first and easiest way to generate gratitude is to simply reflect on things or people you are grateful for.

Remember during Thanksgiving Dinner when your parents asked you and your siblings to share something you were thankful for? That practice, although annoying as a child, is actually extremely helpful when attempting to generate gratitude.

Of course, the practice of reflecting on things you are grateful for is not something exclusive to the dinner table.

In fact, one of the best ways to practice this is to keep a Gratitude Journal. In this journal, you will consistently write lists of things you are grateful for. You might do this first thing after waking up, before you go to sleep, or simply when you have extra time during the day.

The important part of this practice is not how long your list is or even the content of your list. The important thing is that you spend time reflecting on things or people you are grateful for.

There are several other ways you can reflect the things you are grateful for, one of which is to meditate on the feeling of gratitude. There are actually several guided meditations that focus on the feeling of gratitude you can find on Youtube.

The iOS app Calm actually features an entire 7-day series that focuses on the theme of gratitude.

Have a Gratitude Trigger

A second way you can generate gratitude is to have what I call a Gratitude Trigger.

A Gratitude Trigger is simply a random object that is meant to trigger a reflection of gratitude. This may be something as simple as a red traffics light or stop sign.

Let’s use the red traffic light example.

So I’m driving down the street one day and come across a red traffic light. When I see the light I am quickly reminded that red traffic lights are my Gratitude Trigger. I then spend a few moments to reflect on something I am thankful for.

It’s really that simple.

I have used this technique in my personal life and it has proven to be highly effective.

Reflect on Times that you are Grateful

Sometimes the best way to generate gratitude is to look back on moments in your life where you felt a high level of gratitude.

I often look through photos from my high school graduation. It reminds me of all the great times I had with my friends and family during that period of my life.

I also like to look at photos from my trip to Europe last summer. They remind me of how privileged I was to go on that trip and how amazing the countries that I visited were. It also reminds of the amazing friends I made while traveling with People to People.

Are there any periods of your life that you are grateful for? It could be time spent with a loved one or a moment that you felt at peace with yourself. It may be a significant moment in your life or it might be something that is seemingly insignificant.

Spend Time with People you are Grateful for

The moments that I feel the most grateful is after I spend time with people that I care about.

This could be after a special event or even after something simple like going out to lunch.

In my opinion, people should be at the top of anyone gratitude lists. It is such a blessing to have friends and family that stick by you and support you.

 

4 Benefits of Gratitude

Our lives are often plagued with third world problems:

Why didn’t my boss give me the raise he promised me?

How come I got a B in that class instead of an A?

Why can’t I marry Selena Gomez?

We spend so much time complaining about what we don’t have. We wish we could look better, be in a perfect relationship, or make more money when in reality most of us already have more than we’ll ever need.

What if we focused our energy on the wonderful things we already have in like our families, friends, and talents? Would our lives improve?

Actually, gratitude has been proven to enhance our lives emotionally, socially, and even physically. Here are a few of the proven benefits of being grateful:

1) Makes you Happy & Optimistic

It doesn’t take a scientist to know that being grateful will make you happier. When we focus on what we have rather than what we lack, we are going to be more appreciative and happy.

Grateful people are often more optimistic as well. Think about it.

Let’s say there’s a man named Joe. Joe owned a coffee shop but it was recently closed down because he wasn’t getting enough customers. Joe has two choices: he can fall into depression and complain about how his dream of owning a coffee shop has been crushed, or he can focus on the things he hasn’t lost.

He still has a wife that loves him and children that are close to him. He has friends and family members that have consistently supported his business and have already shown sympathy towards Joe now that the shop has closed down.

Another thing Joe can focus on is how the failure of his coffee shop could actually turn into a lesson for success in the future. Now that Joe knows why his last business fell apart, he may have some necessary insight on how he can make his next business venture better.

Although it may sound crazy, failure is actually something worth being grateful for. Failure teaches us things that success never will. Failure teaches us how to face adversity and improve ourselves.

2) Makes you Fun to be Around

We all know how it feels to spend time with a complainer. Some people will just find something to criticize. They’ll find some excuse to feel miserable. These types of people are often aren’t happy with themselves and lack appreciation for even their greatest blessings.

On the other hand, we all know people that seem to appreciate everything we do for them. They are genuine, polite, and full of joy. Grateful people are almost always enjoyable to be around. It is easier for them to be flexible and to deal with complicated situations.

When we learn to be grateful, we will draw other people towards us because of our positive attitude.

3) Reduces Toxic Emotions

After we experience a hardship or make a mistake, we are often flooded with toxic emotions such as shame, stress, or anger. Gratitude often counteracts these negative emotions.

For example, let’s say you are an aspiring musician that lives in Nashville. During your last show you made several mistakes, were booed, and people even threw tomatoes at you. Afterwards you are filled with feelings of shame and embarrassment. You feel like giving up on your dream and going back to your job as a cashier at a fast food place.

Rather than sinking into shame and guilt, you can decide to focus on things you are grateful for, such as your supportive family and friends and the wonderful talent you have been given. You can also be grateful for the lessons you have learned through this experience and use it as motivation to improve your craft.

I often struggle with feelings of shame. When I am feeling low, I often call back positive memories when I have felt loved and appreciated. This might be something big like my high school graduation, or something that seems insignificant like when someone extended a small act of kindness to me. When I pursue gratitude, my feelings of shame begin to subside.

Gratitude can serve as a sort of antidote for toxic emotions.

4) Improves Physical and Mental Health

According to an article on psychologytoday.com, gratitude can actually improve both your physical and mental health. People who constantly experience gratitude are less likely to have aches and pains. Grateful people have also been reported to have better sleeping habits.

The positive emotions that result from gratitude also make it more likely for us to exercise and care about our health. If we are grateful for the bodies we have, we are far more likely to take care of them.

3 Reasons Why Self-Imporvement isn’t Selfish

Growing up in a religious atmosphere, I was often under the impression that spending time to improve yourself was selfish. I believed that it was a form of self-absorption. Although I was not directly taught this, I formed negative assumptions concerning all things self-help and self-improvement.

Instead of spending time to improve yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally, I thought that my time would be better spent helping other people with their needs and desires.

As I’ve grown more mature, I have been continually  coming to the realization that my needs and wants are also important. I deserve to chase my dreams and pursue my passion just as much as anyone else.

Now that so much of my time is spent studying and learning about different aspects of self-improvement, I have come to believe that self-improvement, although it is primarily a “self-centered” practice, is not selfish. In fact, the act of improving yourself can benefit those around you in many ways:

1. Your Happiness makes other people Happy

I struggle with anxiety on a daily basis. It often has a negative impact on my friendships and ends up leading to days of nagging sadness. Lately, I have been investing in things that will help me  overcome my anxiety. I have purchased books, watched videos, and have begun to practice meditation.

Is my desire to overcome anxiety selfish? Wouldn’t allow me to have deeper and more meaningful relationships with my friends and family? Wouldn’t it open me up to be more compassionate and giving?

If following the path to self-improvement causes you to be a more  happy and grateful person, you will be able to make those around you happier as well. People who are confident and happy are more capable of encouraging and befriending others.

This is just one example of how improving yourself can improve the lives of those you care about.

2.Your Story has the potential to Inspire people

When I feel unmotivated to workout I often look at before and after pictures of body builders. Many of them started out very skinny and even wimpy, but through hard work  and dedication they were able to achieve their goals.

We all have the potential to inspire people in this way. Our stories of personal success, whether it’s becoming a body builder or overcoming social anxiety, has the potential to inspire thousands of people.

Who knows, maybe you could be the next  Steve Cook or Christian Guzman.

3. To Love others, you must Love yourself First

Similar to point #1, it is seemingly impossible to contribute to a relationship or friendship in a meaningful fashion when you don’t see yourself in the right light.

We often see this happen in romantic relationships. One of the members of the partnership may struggle with a deep insecurity. Becuase of this he might grow very lonely when his girlfriend is not around or get jealous when she spends time with her friends. He probably feels this way because he is not self-sufficient and needs the attention of his girlfriend to feel valuable.

However, if he had a greater sense of self-worth and self-love he would likely not grow so jealous and would be content with spending time alone or with friends rather than being with his girlfriend all the time.

When we learn to love who we are, we no longer need to seek the approval of others. Becuase of this effect, we can stop being clingy and needy and begin to contribute more meaningfully to our relationships.

Self-esteem has always been a vital part of self-improvement and rightfully so. The more you learn to accept and value yourself, the more value and joy you can give to others.