Fear, Fearlessness, And Courageousness

 I recently had the opportunity to hear three short presentations about courage. The first one, given by Gallup Senior Scientist in Residence, Shane Lopez, PhD, dealt with courage and sport, who defined courage in terms of it being the “capacity to confront opposition”, “increased determination in the face of resistance,” “overcoming fear,” and “having lots of guts!”

As the audience shouted out answers to Dr. Lopez’ initial question, “What’s the most courageous moment in sports in the last 100 years?” it was interesting to consider how each spoke to the two parts of sports courage he highlighted:

  • Physical Courage – Overcoming physical aggression
  • Vital Courage – Rising to the occasion for the sake of the team

Cynthia Pury, PhD, from Clemson University, was the next speaker. In talking about how courage aided goal‐directed action planning, she described three main elements of courageousness‐in‐action:

  1. That the actions taken have a noble purpose
  2. That they have an intentionality about them
  3. That they are taken notwithstanding the fact that one or more elements of objective fear surround them

To increase courageousness, Dr. Pury recommended:

  • Focusing more on where you are in your plan to reach your goal and what needs to happen next
  • Focusing more on the value of achieving your goal
  • Focusing more on ways of decreasing the risk of action and/or better controlling your fear

She then identified several different types of courage:

  • Illogical Courage – When there’s not a strong relationship between the action and the goal (like kissing the statue in the University’s quad so not to fail a test).
  • Bad Courage – When the goal is noble to the actor, but the observer sees it as a *bad* goal (like suicide).
  • Evil Courage – When the goal has strong negative moral connotations (like with terrorism or assassinations).
  • Foolish Courage – When the value of the goal is not apparent to the observer and the risk is high to the actor (like bungee jumping or other daredevil actions).
  • Modest Courage – When the actor downplays the risk, but the observer sees it as very high (A firefighter after having run into a burning building saying, “I was just doing my job.”).

The last speaker, Captain Paul Lester, from West Point, discussed creating what he called a “courageous mindset” and presented preliminary findings from his research from having soldiers reflect about times when they were most courageous, times when they knew they should have shown more courage, but did not, and lessons learned from practicing courageousness.

I, for one, found it very interesting to look at courageousness from so many different perspectives. It definitely added to my understanding and demystification of fear, fearlessness, and courageousness.  I hope that reading about it provided a similar value for you.

The moral of the story: Stop trying to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Instead, learn how to not mind being uncomfortable.

We fear things in proportion to our ignorance about them.
– Christian Nestell Bouvee,
Writer and Satirist
The fearless are merely fearless. People who act in spite of their fear are truly brave.
– James A. LaFond-Lewis,
Poet, Photographer, and Generalist
The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.
– Coco Chanel,
Fashion Designer

The 5 (or 6) Truths About Fear

[Truths #1-5 are from Susan Jeffers’ groundbreaking book, “Feel The Fear And Do It, Anyway®,” while Truth #6 is provided by yours truly.]

  1. As long as I continue to grow, I will feel fear.
  2. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something, in particular, is to go out…and do it.
  3. The only way to feel better about myself is to go out…and do it.
  4. Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I’m on unfamiliar territory, so is everyone else.
  5. Pushing through fear is far less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.
  6. Unfamiliarity is NOT the same as inability…or incapability.

Learn more from the LeadershipTraction Self Study Materials on Fear, Fearlessness, and Courageousness or schedule a no-strings-attached exploratory conversation.

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