Friday, September 16, 2011

Finding the Courage to Act

Lauren Zander
The Handel Group

April 18, 2011

Special from Bottom Line's Daily Health News

M aybe life has been easy for you and maybe it hasn’t, but I bet that at some point in the past weeks you have wondered how you, personally, would have fared if you had been living in Japan when the earthquake and tsunami hit... or in the high-nuclear radiation zone... or, for that matter, in any of a number of other parts of the world where people must use every resource they have just to keep their lives going. That includes a particular "resource" that isn’t canned goods, bottled water or emergency medications, but rather the personal wherewithal to remain calm and focused... to put aside your fears in order to make important, even lifesaving decisions... and to be a supportive problem solver for the people who rely on you. In other words, I’m talking about courage of the deeply personal sort.

Courage is a critical resource that we all need -- and not just when faced with a natural disaster or during wartime. The news is full each day of many people braving life under the harshest of circumstances, so this seemed an excellent topic to discuss with Lauren Zander, life coach and regular Daily Health News contributor. Zander had a lot to say because, as she pointed out, courage is not only an essential tool for navigating life’s inevitable crises, but one you can use for enrichment when life is going well. "I can’t think of a more important ingredient for having a fulfilled life than courage," she said.

Being Brave in the Face of Fear

Zander told me that we first needed to clarify an important point: People often believe that being brave means that you are not afraid -- but the reality is quite the opposite. Bravery is acting in spite of fear -- not without it.

During times of disaster and true crisis, we all have no choice but to overcome fear and take action. Those living in Japan have no time for sitting around scared. They must focus on surviving and rebuilding. The need for courage doesn’t arise only in times of crisis, however. Zander points out that our daily lives often require inner fortitude as well. In our lifetimes, we face all manner of situations where we must confront fear and move past it. Sometimes it’s dramatic -- for instance, accepting your own homosexuality in the face of your family’s disapproval... or knowing you should speak up when someone in your office says something racist or sexist to a coworker. You also need guts to confront someone you love about a destructive habit, such as smoking or abusing alcohol. You need courage to end a relationship that is no longer healthy or productive... and it certainly requires compassionate bravery to keep showing up day after day after day to support a loved one as he/she faces the end of life.

According to Zander, there is a common thread through all of these sorts of situations -- the courage we need will be directly connected to our "personal truth."

"Many people find that they can be 'courageous' in the name of telling their truth or when they want very badly to accomplish something important," she said. But when it comes to speaking up, people tend to fall short about saying what they really want to say because it either will hurt another person or change the dynamic between them. Being the real you is only done through expressing your deeper hidden thoughts and feelings versus running your life to keep everyone happy. In that moment of potential willingness to reveal your true voice, you will need a serious dose of courage. "I can get most people to admit they have lists and lists of things that they feel they cannot say to people in their lives, and then matching lists of why not -- and all of this is fear of being authentic. This kind of courage is very connected to one’s heart."

Does This Make You Uncomfortable?

How’s all this sitting with you? What thoughts are going through your mind? Have you experienced situations that have called for personal bravery? Are you proud of how you have forged on and what you’ve accomplished? Or are some of these questions feeling uncomfortable?

Most of us would benefit from some spine-stiffening introspection. Ask yourself what you fear -- and what fears you might not be openly acknowledging. Here are some to get you started...
When was the last time you tried something new and different, something you didn’t already know how to do? If it has been a long time, consider what might be holding you back. Challenge yourself to create a vision for a new and different future -- what might it look like and what you would like your vision to achieve or gain. Would you like to change careers? Overcome your fear of flying so that you can take an overseas vacation?
Does change -- no matter where or what kind -- scare you? Do you avoid potentially fun or enriching experiences so you don’t have to risk the unknown?
Complete this sentence: "I need courage to __________." Perhaps that would be speaking up to your boss next time he/she speaks disrespectfully to you... going to a meeting of Weight Watchers or Overeaters Anonymous... pushing yourself to buy workout wear and go to a Zumba class... or even dating again after a painful divorce. Whatever your need for courage might be, filling in the end of that sentence will give you a good idea of where in your life you may want to think about practicing courage now.
Next Steps...

Taking the "next step" is the basis for any courageous action. Think about the classic Alcoholics Anonymous line, "One day at a time." It’s just that next step you have to take, because the ones that follow can be dealt with in their own time. For instance, says Zander, "I never knew I could build a company based on my work as a life coach. The thought alone scared me. I found that I was really able to figure out my dream if I let go of all my fears and just chased it. The same was true for being on TV -- I had no experience and was scared to death to want it, let alone do it. I got a coach, went to improve class and just kept moving ahead. This is the best part about learning courage -- it works!"

We all have courage -- but it’s easy for fear to overwhelm our courageous actions. By focusing on the goal and advancing one step at a time, you can move on to ever greater levels in life, challenges you might once have thought impossible. "If you are on a road where you encounter scary challenges that require courage to keep you moving, you are likely living your best life," says Zander.

Lauren Zander, cofounder and chairman, The Handel Group,

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