Breaking the Chain
Updated: Mar 28
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” ~ Ambrose Redmoon
Often, we stop ourselves from getting uncomfortable and in doing so we do not take the opportunity to grow because, in the moment, we believe comfort more important.
Seeing the Opportunity
"I looked for one of them to step forward; to step away from the comfort of the group and volunteer to get uncomfortable."
While teaching my teen class a few weeks back, I offered an opportunity for one of them to lead. I labelled the offering an opportunity; however, the majority of them did not. As I scanned the line of young athletes, I looked for one of them to step forward; to step away from the comfort of the group and volunteer to get uncomfortable. I waited and they waited. I watched and they stared straight ahead, possibly thinking, “Don’t pick me. Don’t pick me.” I said nothing after my suggestion. I simply waited and watched. Then it happened, one of the teens stepped forward, into the void, and said that they would lead the group. I thanked them and gave the final guidelines and then handed the class over to them.
When I coach, I always do so with the intent to support yet challenge. There is no blame or shame when I teach, just a curiosity about what is possible and what is not based on the choices made. After the young leader completed the activity, and I resumed the lead, I paused. I then asked the group a question. “What was it that was stopping you from putting your hand up when I asked for a volunteer?” I reinforced that there was no wrong answer, that I was simply probing to understand.
Again, I waited. No hands were raised. I said, “Nobody wants to put their hand up to tell me why they didn’t put their hand up?” I was being playful and the humor loosed up the room. Then one hand was raised followed by another. “It’s been a busy week.” Said one student and “I felt tired” shared another. I probed deeper, “What would be the benefit of enduring the kind of day/week you had, yet still taking on the responsibility?” The answer came, “I could learn more and grow more because I had the opportunity to lead.” I thanked them for their answer and the entire class clapped twice to show support.
What if I fail?
The interesting element here is that if I had “voluntold” any of my athletes to take the lead, they would have done it, without hesitation. I know this because I have done just that many times in the past. However, this time, I opted to present them with the choice. I did not engage them individually but as a collective. I did not pull them from the group, I gave them the chance to pull themselves from the peers.
"'Does your value as a person go up or down if you make a mistake?' The answer that came back, 'Your value stays the same.'"
Next, a student got vulnerable and said, “I was afraid I may not know how to do it as well and I was afraid that I may make a mistake.” This prompted a discussion on the fear of failure, and everyone agreed that failure, although believed beneficial cognitively, was tough emotionally. I asked, what does fail mean? As an acronym, the word stands for First Attempt In Learning. I asked, if you make a mistake in class will we run you out of the room? Everyone knew that wasn’t the case because our environment is emotionally safe. “Of course not,” I said, “But fear is still present.” It was the fear of the unknown that was so powerful.
The fear of what is going to happen if they did fail, it was their obstacle. I inquired, “Who are you if you make a mistake?” Everyone was thinking. “You’re simply human,” I informed. I followed up asking, “Does your value as a person go up or down if you make a mistake?” The answer that came back, “Your value stays the same.” “Exactly,” I confirmed. I asked the class, “Then what is it that we are worried about when we make a mistake?” The answer was familiar. The worry was judgment. It was worrying about what people think about us.
“If what people think about us dictates what we do and don’t do in our lives, how will that impact us?,” I asked the class, pressing them a little. I looked at one of the student and said, “I am judging you, right now… or am I?” He said, “I don’t know.” I smiled (but with a mask on, it was not evident.) I asked each student if they knew I was judging them and they all had the same answer. They did not know. “So, you can’t read my mind? If we can’t read someone’s mind, how do we know if we are being judged, and why do we place so much worth on something we don’t even know is happening? Why do we stop ourselves?" The general consensus, again, was fear.
“What is fear and how do you overcome it?” I asked. “There is one way to overcome fear, to take action.” We explored fear and its impact and what happens when we act in spite of fear, we grow stronger. I shared with the group that we have two muscles at play in this context, our courage muscle and our fear muscle. I asked the class to raise their hands if they wanted their fear muscle to grow stronger. Their hands remained still. Then I asked them to raise their hands if they wanted their courage muscle to grow stronger. Instantly, all hands were raised. I then stated that the only way to strengthen a muscle is to use it and that way to weaken a muscle is to ignore it.
"In the end, people will judge you anyway, so don’t live your life impressing others - live your life impressing yourself.” ~Eunice Camacho Infante.
Steve Chandler is a world-famous coach and best-selling author in the area of leadership and he says, when you feel fear, do it anyway. He speaks about the cause and effect chain the “I can’t because I’m afraid belief” and he says that we need to break the chain between fear and ability repeatedly, “So that being afraid and not doing it are no longer joined at the hip. They are no longer locked in mutual causation.” And it is that feeling that can hold us in place, that fear that means we are unable when, in reality, the feeling of fear is simply telling us we are uncomfortable and one powerful way to get comfortable being uncomfortable is to do it anyway.
My follow up question asked the class if they wanted to do more push-ups. Again, all hands were raised. I then asked, “How many of you are practicing your push-ups regularly?” Only one student's hand didn't fall. I shared with them that wanting something is never enough. Consistent action is required to achieve. So, what will you do the next time you feel fear? Will you act or will you give in to the feeling? Will you strengthen your courage muscle or your fear muscle? Mel Robins talks about giving in to what we feel in her book ‘The 5 Second Rule’. The premise is simple, we are all feeling beings and make decisions based on how we feel; however, the loophole is acting within the first 5 seconds before our feelings take hold. To push ourselves to act is courageous and just doing it builds momentum and momentum leads to success.
If you act in spite of your fear that is where you will find courage and confidence. And remember, “In the end, people will judge you anyway, so don’t live your life impressing others - live your life impressing yourself,” says Eunice Camacho Infante. Others will always judge because that is what people do. Don’t let fear be the gatekeeper of your potential, permitting it to decide if you are capable or not. Instead, when opportunities for growth present themselves, view fear as nothing more than what it is, an uncomfortable feeling.
~ Love Robert
Photo by Sophia Hilmar