Live Fearlessly: 3 Ways To Be Brave

Live Fearlessly

“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

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 five year old, who anytime she hears a good beat is inclined to start moving and grooving.

Unlike most five 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 fearlessness 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 fearless 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)? Are you are low in self-confidence?

Here is where being fearless comes in. In order for change to occur, you must experience discomfort — like dancing in the mall regardless of what others think.


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How do you cultivate bravery and fearlessness? 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 fearless 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, fearlessness 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 fearless 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 push past this instinct and use your values, life experiences, and intellect to inspire you to act in spite of fear. It takes some practice to get comfortable with fear, but  the more you push against it, the weaker it’s hold on you will become.


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.


Comments

  1. It is very well possible to be without fear and anxiety and also, there is no need for those uncomfortable feelings…

    Why do people nowadays feel fear? Of course, there are various reasons, but a very common one is the fear about what OTHERS may think about us. The fear to laughed at, ridiculed, to look like a fool…

    But, what if you can get to a stage (and you can), where you simply no longer cares what ANYONE (including your boss, the audience, your maybe boyfriend or girlfriend…) may think or say about you.

    Whatever you may do from that “place” will feel like as if there was no audience, as if you would be completely alone. Are you nervous, anxious or afraid if you give a speech in your living room with no one listening? Of course not.

    But, how can you get to a stage where you no longer care what anyone thinks or says about you? Simply by letting go of the desire to achieve a specific outcome.

    You give your speech with the only goal of enjoying yourself while giving your speech and you completely let go of all those worries and doubts if people will like your speech, if they will criticize your choice of words, if they may think you look like an amateur…

  2. Found this post so identifiable. I recently have decided to accept challenges of being uncomfortable in a new, very part time job I have taken on. It is out of my comfort zone, which I acknowledge and sort after.
    The feeling of being routine and stagnant was weighing on me. Here’s the thing, I suffer from anxiety disorder and the “familiar” has always been my safety net to try and keep panic attacks at bay. As I work on easing this stressful way of living and managing everything around the anxiety I am finding a freeing of sorts.

    It is all on my journey of Life and right now I’m feeling able to take on “uncomfortable” because it scares me not to and get trapped in a Life of constant panic.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts so articulately. ~

    • Jennifer Niles says:

      Maria, thank you for sharing your courage. May your ease into discomfort continue to expand your sense of freedom.

  3. This post really resonates with me as I’m working on my “mid-life clarification”. I like that much more than mid-life crisis! I’ve finally realized that the path I’m on right now isn’t the one I want to continue down. Moving in a new direction is scary, but exciting too. Thanks for reminding me that other people go through these same feelings.

    • Jennifer Niles says:

      Yes, I believe we are all in this life practice together and we need each other to remind us of the truth. I learned that “role-clarification” perspective from a pastor friend of mine and it opened up my world. Glad it resonated with you as well.

  4. In about 3 weeks, I’m going to be singing solo in a chamber music concert. I’ve only sung in public as a member of a music group and this is going to be a first time for me. Right now I’m a bundle of nerves but I’ve also realised that the one thing that will make things smoother is to practise well and be completely prepared for my performance.

    Hopefully I’ll forget the audience in front of me and be in the moment, singing my heart out!

    • Jennifer Niles says:

      Oh, I can’t help but be excited for you. Yes, practice those skills- that’s what builds confidence. Especially focusing on the parts you don’t think you’re as good at- practice that part over and over and seek and be open to feedback from mentors/teachers. I follow this “excellence” rule supported by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson’s research. Best wishes!

  5. “fearlessness isn’t really the absence of fear. It’s acting in spite of fear.” ==> This is 100% true.

    If we’re fearless in the sense that there’s nothing left to do on this planet that scares us, then there is no more room for improvement. In fact, if we fear something, it’s quite a good indicator that we should be doing just that.