I asked my wife, Jennifer Niles, if I could share a blog she wrote back in February. She graciously agreed. It’s contains a timeless message that will encourage and challenge you to live fully. I know it has for me. Enjoy! - Frank
“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live. Maybe one of these days you can let the light in. Show me how big your brave is.” ~Sarah Bareilles
A guest post by Jennifer Niles, MS, LPC, LMFT
My theme song lately is Brave by Sara Bareilles. You can watch a video of it here. I personally can’t help but want to get up and dance along much like my six year old, who anytime she hears a good beat is inclined to start moving and grooving.
Unlike most six year olds, however, I choose to only get up and dance in private or when I am at a wedding reception and there are more than ten people on the dance floor. Why is that? And why is this song so catching?
More than inspiring dance, the song’s message inspires courage and strength. It’s telling me to “let my inner child out” no matter what others may think. My initial response to this is that it’s okay if my daughter starts dancing in the middle of the mall because everyone around says, “Oh, how cute.” But if I were to do so, people would think, “She’s crazy.” However, it may take letting my inner child out in order to be where I want to be — at least let it explore a little.
Are you at a phase in life where you want, perhaps even, need a change? Maybe not so much a mid-life crisis feeling, rather like a mid-life clarification? You sense that there’s a lot of life left to live and you want to be brave and live with enthusiasm.
What keeps you stuck? Is it familiarity and a sense of safety where you are? Are you feeling out of touch or out of practice (like not having gone through an interview in years)? Lack of self-confidence?
Here is where bravery comes in. In order for change to occur, you must experience discomfort — like dancing in the mall regardless of what others think.
How do you cultivate courage? How do you get comfortable with the discomfort of doing something that makes you feel vulnerable, insecure, or anxious?
1. Be a beginner
Start with a childlike approach. A Zen Buddhism concept defines it as a “beginner’s mind.”
What do you think of when you think of the mind of a beginner — or better yet the mind of a child? For me the words curious, enthusiastic, open-minded, and creative come to mind. There is an eagerness to engage and learn.
When I was in elementary school, I was daring and loved to slide down the tallest, steepest water slide called the “Lightening Bolt.” Now that I’m an adult, I wouldn’t be caught dead on it (or I’m scared I might!). I’m afraid because I’ve had many life experiences, and my expert mind tells me, “That is too dangerous,” and “You could fall off — what are you thinking.”
In part, that’s the problem, isn’t it? The problem is I am thinking. I’m in my head. It’s my fearful mind that limits me in engaging in an activity I wouldn’t have thought twice about as a child.
In his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki famously opens with, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” Ask yourself what you would do if you were not afraid. Start here.
2.Take the risk
This doesn’t mean throw all caution to the wind. Being brave doesn’t require being careless. Use your past experience as you enter into new experiences. If you want to start a new career or tweak your current one, it’s necessary to step out of your comfort zone and put yourself in challenging situations. This is the only way to gain competence and as a result confidence.
Some do this by saying “Yes” to their greatest fear — in many cases that’s public speaking. They push themselves because they feel passionately about their speaking topic and make a decision based upon their values rather than their fears. In situations when you know fear is holding you back, just say yes before your fear thoughts start ramping up and prevent you from taking bold action.
Before any risky endeavor, when you want a natural confidence boost, use the techniques outlined in social psychologist’s Amy Cuddy’s TEDTalk on body language. By doing so, you can raise your testosterone and lower your cortisol levels which makes you feel more confident and lowers your anxiety. Practice these postures for only two minutes before any anxiety-provoking situation.
3. Be partners with anxiety
There is a myth that in order to be confident and successful, we must be without fear or anxiety. However, courage isn’t really the absence of fear. It’s acting in spite of fear.
Anxiety is a natural human emotion. We all have it; we all experience it. Even rock stars have it; they just call it something different like “revved up” or “pumped.” And even John Wayne, the coolest of the cool, recognized and accepted it. He reminds, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
Psychologist Dr. Russ Harris suggests that the difference between the rock stars and the non rock-stars is where we place our focus. Those who feel nervous and let their nerves energize and pump them up focus on the task at hand. Those who let their anxiety limit them and derail them focus inwardly on themselves asking, “What if . . .?” What if something bad happens? What if they don’t like me? What if I look foolish?
I’m a huge fan of Jon Bon Jovi, and I can’t imagine he’s in his dressing room before a big concert thinking, “I wonder if they will like me tonight.” Although I can bet he has the same somatic symptoms as we all do (increased heart rate, maybe even a little sweat) because, yes, rock stars are human too. His success though comes from his focus on the performance and perhaps using his nerves as fuel.
It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
Become more childlike.
Step out of your comfort zone.
Make friends with your fears.
Being brave doesn’t mean you lose the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts that so often hold you back. Those feelings are hard-wired in us — our “fight or flight” instinct that no longer applies solely to imminent danger or threat of death.
You can change your relationship with this instinct and use your values, life experiences, and intellect to inspire you to act hand in hand with fear.
Fears never go away; you wouldn’t want them to; however, your willingness to pursue your goals alongside your fears grows stronger with each step.
A previous version of the post appeared at lilveboldandbloom.com
Jennifer Niles is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and works on the counseling staff of John Brown University. Jennifer has experience working with a variety of men and women who desire change in their lives and is dedicated to helping her clients develop healthier relationships with themselves, others and with societal/cultural expectations. She’s also a certified yoga teacher and continues to inspire others to connect body, mind and breath.