“We’re halfway there now,” Dave told me over the jet engines.
I looked down on the ground, where cars zigzagged across the valley. The plane soared higher and higher, and the cars got smaller and smaller.
“We’ll be the first to jump,” Dave informed me. “All you have to do is to hold your arms like this.”
He crossed the arms over his chest in a brief demonstration. I knew what I was supposed to do, but I was terrified of doing it.
The door cracked open, the noise from the wind hit my eardrums, and I fell into the sky.
I thought I was going to die.
Discover your courage quotient
Whenever I tell people about my skydive, they often looked puzzled and amazed. “You jumped out of an airplane, despite the fact you were afraid of heights.”
We often associate courage with physical acts of bravery, like jumping out of a plane or saving a child from a burning building. But courage is so much more than that. Indeed, we could all learn to be more brave, so we can pursue our goals and lead more fulfilling lives.
Researcher Robert Biswas-Diener defines courage as:
“The willingness to act toward a moral or worthwhile goal despite the presence of risk, uncertainty, and fear.”
In his latest book, he shares how we can become more brave by focusing on two seperate courage processes:
- Deflating fear
- Increasing capability to act
Together, these make up the courage quotient:
Courage quotient = Willingness to act
External factors, such as the presence of risk and uncertainty of outcomes, are out of the individual’s control. Our willingness to act and how we approach our fear, however, are not.
By working on those two internal factors, we can start to become more brave. Let’s look at some tips on how to do that.
Increasing courage by controlling fear
Biswas-Diener talks about three types of fear and how to overcome each one:
|Type of fear||What fuels the fear||Effects of the fear||Solution|
|Fear of physical harm||Personal safety||Physiological arousal||Listen to fear|
|Fear of social rejection||Personal performance||Shyness, faltering||Focus outward|
|Fear of failure||Impact of failure||Stress, worry, pararlysis||Focus on progress|
As we can see from the table above, when we’re in physical danger, we’ll want to listen to our fear and activate our fight-flight response (it’s what has kept us alive for millenia).
Notice for the other two types of fears we are much better off removing ourselves and our egos from the equation. The fear will seem less daunting and its hold over us will decrease substantially.
Have you got a big presentation coming up? Focus on the audience and their concerns. Are you working on a difficult thesis? Focus on the progress you’ve made, not on the grade you’ll get.
On top of that, the other three scientifically proven ways to deflate fear is to:
- Reduce uncertainty
- Relax through meditation or progressive muscle relaxation
- Get angry
For example, when I did my skydive in Australia, Dave and the rest of his crew answered all my questions about the process. I also tried to take some deep breaths the night before.
Anger certainly played a role as well. I had lost a bet to a friend and now I had to live up to my word. (I hate breaking promises, and I was very angry about potentially breaking it.)
The kind of “magical thinking” that works
Last but not least, let’s not underestimate the power of magical thinking. There is plenty of research that supports this notion. Humans aren’t as rational and logical as we’d like to think. Just consider the following two questions:
- How willing would you be to sleep in a hotel bed if you knew the previous occupant was a murderer?
- How willing would you be to put on Hitler’s sweater?
The idea of contagion is a strong one, and if you hesitated to sleep in the hotel bed or put on Hitler’s sweater, it’s magical thinking at work. After all, it’s just a bed and some fabric. But the idea that morality or certain properties of the owner can be “caught” by the person carrying it is not new. (Maybe this also explains why certain items from famous people sell for thousands of dollars.)
But the idea of contagion can also be used in a more positive way. Do you have “lucky underpants” or a pair of favourite socks that you believe boosts performance? If you don’t, you may want to consider getting some.
I used magical thinking to prepare for my own skydive. I was wearing a Rock am Ring T-shirt from 2008, believing this shirt would grant me extra support and bravery. I still have it, and I still use it when I need to muster some extra courage for a daunting task.
And as silly as it sounds, it works.
Increasing courage by boosting the willingness to act
“Will you do the bungy jump or the swing?” That was the question on everybody’s lips.
It was two years ago since I went backpacking around New Zealand with a bus full of strangers. I will never forget the trip or the company.
Everyone on that bus was friendly, supportive and we pushed each other to do the most adventurous things. In short, we banded together to take collective action against our fears.
“I’m only in Queenstown once” gave room to a very open attitude that boosted our willingness to act. It was now or never, an opportunity not to be missed.
Be more brave
I didn’t die after the skydive or the world’s biggest swing. Instead I learned that most fears are in your head.
By deflating your fears and boosting your willingness to act, you’re one step closer to tackling your fears and living a more fulfilled life.
What’s holding you back? And what acts of bravery do you plan to do next? Please let us know in the comments!