You ever hear the phrase, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Yea- I’m not entertained by the cliché anymore either. That’s why I decided to take a deeper look into the idea of courage. A term that I’ve fought my whole life to try and attach myself to, like velcro. It’s a challenging characteristic to practice and maintain. The word reminds me of the lion in the story of The Wizard of Oz, who so desperately wished he had courage-but don’t we all?
So, what is it? How do we hone it when we feel so incredibly small or when it feels next to impossible to push ourselves to conquer our fears? I hope courage holds my hand and guides me across the deep puddle of my comfort zone. Do what frightens you, they said. Stand tall when faced with pain, they said. Easier said than done, I said.
Having or showing courage can empower you. It satisfies a feeling when you bend boundaries within yourself in a positive way. We can strengthen our courage by going beyond our own narrative. Your story might be that you won’t get on a rollercoaster- ever! Courage is saying, “I know this scares me, but I can no longer limit myself”. You can’t just “do this” once or twice though to develop courage. You constantly have to look at your fears in the face. Trust me when I say, after the 10th rollercoaster ride, you’re not shaking as much as you once were waiting in line. You’ll find a front-row seat with hands up. That’s courage.
Researchers at Standford University conducted an experiment that defines the scientific nature of courage. It might enlighten you to understand more about how we can rewire our minds to change the habit of “avoiding danger”- otherwise known as staying put in our comfort zones. This fear-based response hold’s us back from our best potential. In this experiment, researchers studied the performance of mice when faced with “the idea of danger” to activate their fear response. They developed a predator sequence to analyze their behavioural reaction. Our response to fear is created on a cellular level and exists in the same parts of our brain that cause arousal. These two areas are the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Each is responsible for delivering our fear-based responses and high-level executive functions- like anxiety.
Researchers found that these mice reacted to the simulation of a hawk looming nearby in two ways. They either remained paralyzed or ran for their lives- “run, mouse run!”. Similarly, we do the same when approached by fear or danger. After constant exposure, the mice adapted and developed a new habitual behaviour. The mice soon became unbothered. Using body language in the animal kingdom- like wagging your tail- communicates confidence. What’s most fascinating is that these mice exemplified a courageous response. The mice not only wagged their tails but thumped the ground with them repeatedly making loud noises. This response can be translated as, “all right, hawk, bring it on!”. Now that’s a courageous mouse!
What we can learn here is repeated exposure to a stress-inducing situation can bring forth the courage you probably never thought you had. These advances and experiments can help people with excessive anxiety, phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder lead lives in which “threatening situations” are manageable. Your only response? Courage.
Courage can help with positive reinforcement. If you don’t take many risks, it might help to recognize when you are courageous. Giving yourself a compliment on how hard you’re working or patting yourself on the back doesn’t only help build a better relationship with yourself, but it can build a positive habit. If I try this, I’ll be proud of myself. How much more can I push myself out of my comfort zone? How much courage do I have to face the things I never thought I could? How many people can I inspire if I keep going? Courage is important because without it how will we recognize our growth? When people ask, “how did you do it?” you’ll say, “with a little courage”.
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