The Problem with Courage (#834)

Last week I was speaking with a very successful new client when he asked me to share any insights I had into what might still be holding him back in his life. After a few moments of reflection, I told with him that he was one of the bravest and most courageous men I had ever met – and while that was unquestionably a virtue in some areas, it was likely to be holding him back in others.

When he asked me what I meant, I shared the story of a conversation I had several years ago with a comedian (I’ll call him “Bob”) who was about to play his first 1000+ seat venue after years of dingy bars and nightclubs.  Bob phoned me for some intensive confidence coaching in the days leading up to the event, suggesting that we speak daily and if possible in the minutes before he went on stage for his “really big gig”.

I offered to save him some time by pointing out that he had been doing three shows a night for years without any special confidence coaching, and that the critical variable here was not the size of the audience but rather the size of his thought.

I asked him “If you didn’t think it was a ‘really big gig’, would you still need extra confidence to do it?”

Within about five minutes of further conversation, he realized that but for his thinking, he was going to be doing exactly what he’d been doing for years – stepping up to the microphone and telling jokes. In fact, it was because he already did that so well that he’d been invited to do the “really big gig” in the first place.

We arranged for him to call me if he felt the need, but I didn’t hear from him again until after the show, which went extremely well and wound up being the first of many.

After sharing this story, I pointed out to my client that the problem with courage is that when you find yourself faced with a seemingly frightening and overwhelming task, you’re inclined to plow blindly forward and take it on anyways, relying on your courage to win the battle or overcome the obstacle.

Now, if you never question your perception of the world and assume that things really are the way you see them, that’s sounds like a good thing.  But one of the insights many people have when they look more deeply into the nature of thought is the startlingly arbitrary nature of what we see as frightening and overwhelming.

Personally, I can speak effortlessly in front of thousands of people and have been brought to tears in the face of a spreadsheet (despite the fact that it was filled with proof of the profitability of my company). And over the years, I’ve coached people who were carrying around debilitating fears of everything from jello to spiders and from running out of breath mints to running out of money.

So someone with less courage but a deeper understanding of the nature of thought might be inclined to take a step back from their fear and overwhelm and open up to some fresh new thinking about their situation. They might discover that there were less battles to be fought than they had originally anticipated and recognize that you don’t have to put on a suit of armor to walk into an arena filled with allies.

When your thoughts start looking a little bit less real, the stress and fear and overwhelm those thoughts produce lessens. And when you take a fresh look at your life, you invariably see that things are not as bad as they looked at first glance. Even on those rare occasions when they are, the clarity of your perspective grants you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage (yes, courage) to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

One last story. I was sharing this understanding with a student who was concerned that it might lead them to become insensitive to the pain and suffering of others. “After all,” the student said with great sincerity, “if I think that their suffering is just a result of their thinking, I might not be so inclined to help them. I don’t know about you,” the student continued, “but if I come across someone with a broken leg I’m going to set the bone before I start speaking to them about the nature of thought.”

“So would I,” I responded.  “But since I began to understand that our feelings come from our thinking and not our circumstances, I’ve noticed that a lot less people have broken legs than I originally thought.”

With all my love,

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