Flexing the Courage Muscle

The inspiration for this blog came from a zoom call orchestrated by Richard Merrick last Friday called Setting Conversations Free. During the conversation the idea that our fears are holding us back cropped up a few times, and there were a couple of phrases from Roz Savage, one of the participants, that stuck with me. One was “flexing the courage muscle”, by this we were discussing if we are not used to responding to fear the “muscle” we use to cope with it atrophies, and when fear does crop up we don’t know how to deal with it. The other phrase was that for Roz “moments of greatest growth came from moments of greatest challenge”.

Before I had a horse to challenge (and educate!) me, I used to like to spend time in the mountains, and so I read a lot of old climbing books. One quote that has always stayed with me is this:

“And we come back to our daily occupations better fitted to fight the battle of life and to overcome the impediments which obstruct our paths, strengthened and cheered by the recollections of past labours and by the victories gained in other fields” – Edward Whymper,1871, First Ascent of the Matterhorn.

So it strikes me that being courageous/overcoming fear is a transferrable skill. There is saying that you should do something that scares you every day. We know the benefits of physical exercise for our bodies, so we make a conscious effort go to the gym, run, swim, walk etc. We know the benefits of mental exercise, we do puzzles, we read. However how often do we make a conscious effort to exercise our emotions?

If we want to exercise the courage muscle we don’t have to scare ourselves silly, the accepted figure for improvement seems to be 4%. Just doing something 4% beyond our current capability is enough to bring about an improvement. The key is to do 4% as often as possible, and not to be afraid of failing. Failing is how we learn, we are not born with a fear if failing, if so babies would never learn to walk, but as we grow up we are taught failing is wrong, and so we start to fear. We fear talking to strangers,expressing emotions, asking silly questions, all sorts of things.

The question is what can we do that will exercise our courage muscle that 4% so we become bolder day by day? What is that other part of our life that we can come back from “strengthened and cheered”. For me now, its riding my horse, but exercising the courage muscle could just be something small like asking something of somebody you are not all that familiar with, or speaking out where you would normally stay silent. Gradually you get bolder so when something unexpected and scary turns up in your life you are better equipped to cope with it, or you chose to accept that big challenge that will help you grow.