"Live a good life, and in the end, it's not the years in the life, it's the life in the years."

Learn to be brave to live a richer life

By on July 29, 2019 in Columnist with 0 Comments
June Darling

By June Darling

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. 

— Anais Nin

People who are interested in living a full life rather than a shrink-wrapped one need to find a way to kick up their courage. 

Changing careers, moving to another place, following your dreams, living your values requires courage. Courage is also necessary for building intimate and authentic relationships. 

All this is perfectly obvious when we consider what courage is. 

A brave behavior is when one is trying to attain a goal in threatening circumstances. Bravery must involve understanding the risks of failure and willingly accepting the consequences whatever they may be. People must know they are vulnerable, master their fear, and act. 

Usually we think of bravery as a physical act of courage. For hundreds of years warfare was the ultimate proving ground. 

Today researchers approach bravery differently. People can be brave in many ways including donating a kidney like my friend, Ann. They can also be brave socially, morally and intellectually.

My own most recent hero is a family member who fought through her social and psychological fears to get treatment for depression. 

I also have a friend, Juli, who speaks her religious and political opinions truthfully though she knows others will disagree and possibly shun her. 

If it’s not hard, it’s not courageous. If it’s painless, it’s not courageous. If your knees are never knocking, it’s not courageous. 

Understood that way, no surprise that many of us are reluctant to sign up for more courage even if it is the cat’s meow. 

What can we do to help ourselves be braver and live more of the good life? I’ve been researching the answer to that question for months because sometimes I notice myself being cowardly like the Lion in the Wizard of Oz

Like most behaviors, bravery probably can be promoted by example and inspiring stories. 

Every culture has stories of heroes. We all know the story of Nathan Hale awaiting hanging, bravely saying that he only regretted having but one life to lose for his country. 

An acquaintance, Robert Biswas Diener, wrote a helpful book called The Courage Quotient. The book brings in courageous stories, but also science and research.

Remembering your own previous acts of courage and appreciating them is a good way to boost personal courage according to Robert. 

This idea worked with my granddaughter, Sophia, who refused to take some needed injections. A reminder of her courage in both jumping off the high diving board and skiing down the slopes of Mission Ridge helped her take her shots. And, as I recall, this is the way the cowardly Lion claimed his courage too.

Fear can also be managed using various breath types of breathing (just breathing more deeply and slowly can help) and relaxation techniques. 

Certain ways of thinking or switching focus can relax us. A friend of mine overcame her performance anxiety by thinking compassionately about her audience as people she loved and wanted to help rather than folks who were judging her. 

Here’s a way to manage fear that many people use but won’t admit. Keep a personally meaningful, “lucky charm.” 

Robert claims its efficacy is supported in the research, people perform better and are braver when they have to use lucky charms.

You’d think we’d have a lot more science-backed courage building ideas than we seem to have, however. We’re still largely on our own when it comes to building our personal courage. 

My courageous friend, Juli, became the brave woman she is today by noticing her own cowardice and making a promise to herself to change how she responded to social and psychological fear. 

When Juli was in high school, schools in the South became integrated. Two small African-American kids rode her bus filled with white high schoolers. The white teens — her friends, called the children hateful names. Out of fear for her own (and her younger sister’s) social status, Juli simply watched and listened, though she knew what the others were doing was wrong. 

Juli hated herself for saying nothing to stop the teens’ racial taunts. When my friend went to college, she made a vow to speak up when others were being bullied. She became involved in social justice projects, which she continues to this day.

Juli’s story helped me because it showed me that even if we act cowardly sometimes, we can change if we are willing to make the effort. I was ready to experiment on myself.

I went with my husband, John, to our last American frontier, Alaska. 

June Darling enjoys a moment on top of a glacier near Denali peaks. Photo by John Darling

John’s cousin, Michael Darling, a retired dentist and past big-game guide, lives with his wife, Lucy, in Alaska. Mike and Lucy no longer hunt but are outdoor enthusiasts. 

They graciously offered their “happy place” a scary, off-the-grid, up-the-cliff, grizzly-bear-haven from my perspective. And, I might add, that whenever I am with my husband on any vacation, there will be at least a few moments of terror.

What did I do? 

Yes, I read many stories about courage. Yes, I did some deep, slow breathing, particularly while using the open-air, outdoor potty. (No, I did not gag). 

Yes, I reminded myself of times I had been brave which I needed while flying wing-tip to mountain-tip through clouded Denali peaks and landing on a glacier. 

Yes, I shifted my focus from my inner jitters, to noticing the breathtaking beauty around me. Yes, I used a lucky charm (my Nashville cap) and a jingle bell while hiking. 

And best of all… yes, it was memorable and exhilarating. Afterwards I felt downright good about myself and the fun I had on vacation.

An Alaskan adventure is not going to be at all scary to most of you, I know that. 

I also realize that there’s still a lot more to learn about courage in general. Plus, we are all different with unique vulnerabilities. Still, it’s a good start. 

Add these ideas to whatever you’ve already assembled in your bravery building arsenal. You may find yourself agreeing with Helen Keller that, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all!”

What techniques might you try to bolster your personal courage and move up to The Good Life?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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