Fear is a feeling that is meant to keep you away from danger. Sometimes fear is triggered when there is a false sense of danger, or you might feel fear that is out of proportion with the actual danger. And sometimes fear is triggered when there is some kind of real danger, but you still need to move forward.
Courage is something you demonstrate in the presence of fear. When there is no fear, there is no courage. Courage is the ability to move forward while experiencing the fear that tries to keep you back.
Courage is a skill. More specifically, courage is triggered when you have productive skills you make yourself busy with, to distract you from the otherwise debilitating weight of that fear.
With many kinds of fear, despite someone’s command, you don’t just ‘get over it’. You don’t ‘just ignore it’. You have to divert your attention and energy in some direction that moves you forward, where you want to go. To move forward you need skill or programs in place that you can click on and get busy with.
This approach is demonstrated clearly in how medical professionals function in an emergency room: when a horribly mangled person is rushed into the ER, the staff there is not crushed by the bloody horror, like ordinary bystanders might be. Instead, their intense medical training kicks in and diverts their attention and energy into positive and productive action. It can still be tough on their souls (later, when they have time to process), but in that emergency moment they are able to move forward time and time again, when those waves of fear flow in with each desperately ill patient.
Recently, I was working in the pool with one of my courageous adult swimmers. She has been deeply afraid of the water all her life. Some months ago she came to me for help and we got to work on both sides of this equation: we started building a new, peaceful association with being in the water while programming skills that enable her to keep herself safe and make her capable of getting around the pool on her own. We would alternate between keeping attention absorbed in the skill work, and then tuning in to notice how her body was responding to the activities, monitoring the decrease in stress.
I don’t know how quickly or how much the fear will go down for any student during an activity, or in a session. Each body is different and each needs to go through its own process of feeling safe. But each time we work together, and each time she practices on her own, her body is getting a chance to have positive experiences in the water over and over again. Her brain is getting programmed with new skills, and that programming gradually builds confidence and that confidence gradually builds peace. She is able to get in the water on her own and work on her swimming skills, despite the fear that still lingers.
If she were to fall in the pool accidentally, would she be fear-free right now? No. But she would have skills in place and she would be able to focus on performing a series of actions that would secure her own safety. Her attention and energy could be aimed in a positive and productive direction.
What good thing do you want to be capable of right now, but fear is standing in the way, preventing you from doing it?
What skills do you need to work on that will empower you with courage to move forward despite that fear?
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