The bad news is that fear will be with you forever.
The good news is that fear can be your friend forever.
Me, a killer?
At age four, I cowered in bed while my mother pleaded for rest and my father, in one of his manic episodes, insisted she listen to him talk. I didn’t understand what was happening, and in that moment fear became my ever-present companion. When I was in first grade, my father moved our family six times — the next town always looked better to him than the one we were living in. I became a scrapper, and at one party I bloodied the noses of three other kids.
When I was eight, I had another life-changing experience, this time during school recess. In the middle of a game of “King of the Dirt Pile,” one of the boys I was playing with fell down and lay motionless. My classmates pointed at me (the new kid) and screamed,
“You killed him!”
They prodded him, but he just lay there, inert. I ran. My teacher found me scrunched into a ball on the school steps, arms around my head, my knees wet with tears. The vision of my classmate’s motionless body, and all those accusing faces and fingers, flashed repeatedly. I felt defenseless. “I’m only eight years old and I’ve already killed someone,” I thought. “No! I don’t want to be a killer!” In the melee that characterized that game I didn’t even know whether I had pushed him or if someone else had.
“You shouldn’t have left,” my teacher declared.
I breathed in ragged gasps. For the rest of the day no one was able to console me. This incident proved pivotal; force and violence were no longer options for me to achieve the status I craved as king of the dirt pile. Days later a teacher announced that my classmate was okay; I wasn’t a killer after all, but the trajectory of my life had shifted.
I couldn’t invent a better mother
The kids of that small South Carolina town applauded those who were strong and violent, and teased those who earned good grades by taunting, “Teacher’s pet!” The kid with the scrappy courage of a house cat, the burning curiosity and aspirations of a scientist — namely me — discovered a resolve to never fight unless a life was threatened. I had to find my own way. Fortunately I had the gift of a creative, resourceful mother who supported me. Mama allowed my siblings and me to follow our childhood whims, blessing us with benign neglect. She let us construct dams in road ruts during gully washers (as long as we didn’t ask for clean clothes more than three times in any one storm); she let me organize the annual neighborhood “Great Leaf” parties; and she allowed me to order a baby alligator from Florida and a horned toad from Arizona.
We lived in an impoverished South Carolina town and my clothes were scruffier than average. We had no indoor toilet or running water until I was eleven. But Mama nurtured a richness in our spirits and expanded our horizons with fine novels that she read to us for an hour or more at a time. We were encouraged to take things apart and understand them. And my parents assisted us with science projects.
My dad made a different difference
Dad was a great starter and founded the school rocket club, taught fencing, built a solar oven, and constructed a motor, all from scratch, but he lacked what it took to perfect or run things, or even hold a job. And we argued constantly. He provided the intellectual grit with which I polished my thinking and debating skills. This is one of several gifts for which I’m grateful to him.
At school, intelligence was suspect and sex was considered a lecherous, dirty subject, but my mom and sister had my utmost regard and I developed a respectful, gentle attitude toward girls. The brilliant minds that created tape recorders, airplanes, and hi-tech gadgets were my heroes.
Why has no one invented a technology of human behavior?
During my teen years I became fascinated with the fact that humans had harnessed the incredible power of synthesis (i.e., combining individual elements to make a coherent whole) through the discovery and isolation of the basic components of matter and energy. I noticed, however, that this process of isolation and synthesis had yet to be powerfully developed and applied within the realm of human behavior. In fact, it seemed that human beings were still acting like savages even as they held grenades and the atomic bomb. I asked myself, “What power might we reap in the realm of human behavior and human choice if we could identify and isolate those essential ‘behaviors’ that give rise to wanted and unwanted results in our lives? What powerful synthesis might then be available to us? What virgin continent might then be open for our exploration and use?”
Discover the essential “atoms” of human choice
Today, as an adult, I’m aware that we have only begun to tap the surface of what there is to discover. However, I am certain that the distinction I identify and explore in this book — the choice of courage — represents a fundamental element of human life that opens the door to almost any possibility.
The choice of courage is available to us all, no matter what our past or current circumstances, in each and every moment of our lives. Courage is elemental in nature. It’s not something we have. It’s something we choose. It can be supported and encouraged. But, at its core, courage is a fundamental, first-cause act of creation, through the power of choice. Many, many things lie outside our direct control or choice. Yet, within our direct control and choice, the possibilities for courageous action are everywhere.
In high school, I was on the swimming team. One day I wondered what it would be like to jump off the high diving board. “I’ll just climb up there and see what it looks like,” I thought. From the top, looking down onto the glassy water below, I felt fear raising every hair on my body as it rippled through me; instinctively, I tensed against it. A torrent of spontaneous thoughts rushed through my mind: “I don’t need to do this. What’s the purpose anyway?” I knew I was at a choice point. I could choose to jump, or I could choose to climb back down the ladder. I could list many influences “pushing me” toward either of these options. But beyond all those influences, I knew that I was the “first cause.” I knew that it was my choice to jump or not to jump.
Choose courage and get everything you want
In this book I show how empowerment, self-esteem, self-confidence, resourcefulness, accomplishment, loving relationships, romance, breakthroughs, vitality, excitement, passion, creativity, gratitude, decisiveness, dignity, healthy vulnerability, spontaneity, integrity, compassion, a great career, great relationships with friends and colleagues, good health, enough money, enough time, and living a life you fully love are direct and often immediate consequences of choosing courage.
I used to be very shy around the women I was attracted to. I yearned for the self-confidence that some other men seemed to possess in approaching attractive women. Today I have that self-confidence. How did I develop it? By making individual choices of courage again and again (going step by step) to approach women I feared to approach.
Avoid choosing courage and get everything you don’t want
I also show how feeling betrayed, just trying, depression, cynicism, guilt, resentment, hatred, oppressive governments, laziness, low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, feeling overwhelmed, not feeling resourceful, stress, indecisiveness, procrastination, worry, shame, bitterness, blaming others, over-controlling, lying, self-suppression, boredom, complaining, crankiness, resignation, impatience, defensiveness, protectiveness, racism, religious intolerance, ingratitude, perfectionism, obsessiveness, petulance, stubbornness, inflexibility, self-consciousness, righteousness, animosity, criticalness, arrogance, rebelliousness, rudeness, jealousy, whining, insensitivity, unsatisfactory relationships, poor health, not enough money, not enough time, and having a life you’d rather not have are direct and often immediate consequences of the choices to feel safe in the moment (not choosing courage), instead of a willingness to feel the fears and take the actions that will enhance your life and your passions (choosing courage).
I had a client who had a problem with perfectionism. She agonized, over-prepared, and spent hours over the specific words in a paragraph or essay. Once she embraced her fears that someone would criticize her for a mistake and chose the courage to “under-prepare,” her perfectionism became less and less an issue in her life, and finally disappeared.
While not choosing courage is the most frequent key cause of these unwanted conditions, I acknowledge the possibility of other contributing factors. But, if courage is chosen first, then the other factors, if they still exist, are more easily isolated and addressed.
Step by step into courage, one essay and action at a time
One hundred sixty-six essays in this book explore the distinction of courage. The opportunity to choose courage affects every corner and aspect of your life. While each essay is complete in itself, several will repeat themes covered in other essays, but from a slightly different standpoint. This is important because your results and the quality of your life rest upon a network of beliefs, ideas, and viewpoints, which have been arrived at through your automatic thoughts, and/or through conversations with others. It is my intention that this book will transform your life as you read through it, so that you can begin to approach your commitments and desires through the choice of courage.
This book is designed
to give you access to fun and playfulness in all parts of your life,
to stimulate your thoughts,
to inspire great office and party discussions,
to propel you into the life you want.
At the end of almost every essay, I offer suggestions for specific actions. Take these on, and this book will be a powerful partner in your life.
Every behavior has benefits
I started my career as a life coach over seventeen years ago. Through this work I have discovered that almost all unnecessary human suffering has, at its roots, the resistance to fear and the avoidance of the choice of courage. In working with over a thousand clients, I’ve found the following question more powerful than any other in addressing unwanted results and behaviors:
“What might be a benefit of having that result, that behavior, that feeling, that belief, that thought?” — where the result, behavior, feeling, belief, or thought is an unwanted one. Here are some specific examples:
“What is a benefit of not doing everything you can to get that job?”
“What is a benefit of interrupting your wife?”
“What is a benefit of feeling guilty?”
“What is a benefit of believing you’re not good enough?”
“What is a benefit of feeling resigned?”
“What is a benefit of having the thought, ‘What will others think of me?’”
At first, my clients often have a difficult time with this type of question. But, after a little probing, they begin to discover some amazing benefits. After asking questions like these thousands of times, I saw a pattern: almost every benefit comes down to the avoidance of the experience of fear (the resistance to fear).
This book is dangerous to your beliefs
What is the common denominator, or focus, of all the belief systems that shape our lives from cradle to grave? Our parents, teachers, culture, peers, religion, philosophy, and government have thrust upon us the importance of, and strategies to achieve, (feelings of) security and safety. No matter their differences, the common denominator among these beliefs and life rules is that they make us feel safer. But we confuse feeling safe with being safe. And what is the end result? We’re actually in more danger, especially the danger of not having the life we truly want. These beliefs (both explicit and implicit) attempt to reassure us that “if you will just follow these simple rules, you will be safe and successful.” However, more often than not, these same beliefs dampen and damage our spirit, our self-esteem, our self-confidence, our vitality, our self-expression, our innocence — and seldom help us attain the results we would really like to have in our lives.
My approach to life marks a major departure from the focus on security being of primary importance. Adoption of my approach will not make you feel safe, at least in the short run. I intend that you experience your fear more; I want to wake you up. I’ll encourage you to stimulate your fear, to embrace your fear, to actually make friends with your fear, and have your fear serve you in support of your deepest desires and most exciting passions. My approach to life is a full acknowledgment that life is risky, and the most foolhardy course we consistently select is to resist and deny the risk that life is.
Are you living a life of inspiration or a life of avoidance?
At issue is what we consider to be the foundation of our life. Is security of primary importance, or are our life inspirations primary? Is security a value in the service of our desires and passions, or does security take on a life of its own and become an end unto itself?
In almost all other life systems security takes precedence. However, if you adopt courage as primary in your approach to life, then your life inspirations will motivate you to create the life you truly want.
I’m afraid to reveal some of the things in this book
Many of my views are controversial. I don’t expect (or even want) you to always agree with me. It is a human tendency to dismiss the ideas of someone who holds views with which we disagree. We lose if we indulge this tendency. Perhaps your first choice of courage will be to keep reading, to stay curious even after you’ve found something significant in this book that disturbs you. Some of the most useful ideas I’ve acquired were from people whose views were quite divergent from my own.
You’ll find that I’m more forthcoming about my private life (especially in the journal section of this book) than most authors typically are. Although there are risks involved with this openness, I do it in the hope that the drama and detail of my personal life will provide some compelling examples of how the choices of courage have given me the life that I want (and therefore, by extension, could give you the life you want). Please know that I chose considerable courage to share so openly with you.
I did it my way (the definition of courage)
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many discussions with clients, friends, and colleagues about courage. Sometimes we uncovered “disagreement” about the definition of courage. In using any pre-existing word, we borrow from already existing ideas (which vary from person to person) of what that word means. I do not dispute any other particular definition for the word “courage.” However, to really understand and get the most value from this book, you will have to take on my definition of courage. Although it contains elements of the generally accepted definition, it diverges in important ways. When you read the word “courage” in this book, bring yourself back to my definition (see the first page of this book).
Courage is not moral. Courage is not immoral.
Although the definition of courage used in this book is unique, it has broad similarities to the idea of courage as we know it in the English language. One of the issues in using the already existing word courage (as contrasted with coining a new word) is that it conveys connotations from its general usage. One of these unfortunate connotations is the idea that courage is morally good, courage is right, courage is a virtue (as opposed to a sin). In this book I show again and again how it disempowers us to view courage as a moral issue. I show, instead, the benefits and costs of choosing courage or not choosing courage. There is nothing inherently right about the choice of courage. Like everything else, it has benefits and costs. However, as we become clearer and clearer about these benefits and costs, we choose courage more and more. These choices increase the benefits and decrease the costs, both in our lives and in the lives of others.
This book is dangerous to your current way of life
It is not dangerous to your life; it is dangerous to the pseudo-safety that has kept you from living the life you once dreamed about, but have relinquished hope of ever experiencing in the real world.
Courage is most often associated with physical acts involving a risk of life. Those acts of courage (assuming they fit my definition of courage) are, by far, the least important opportunities for courage in our lives. The courage that counts is the choice to embrace fear and take action when the “adversary” is society, our customers, our colleagues, our classmates, our teachers, our bosses, our siblings, our parents, our children, our lover, the man or woman in the street, our own identity, or our own automatic ideas of the way we “should be” and “should feel” and “should act.” The opportunity to choose courage is right here, right now!
Precision or clarity: Must I choose?
“What is the opposite of clarity?” a teacher once asked me.
“Vagueness, …ahhh… blurriness,” I bumbled.
“Precision,” he declared.
“Precision?! I don’t understand!” I blurted.
At the time, I was trying to make a statement about what my “Consider It Done” technique would accomplish (see the essay on page
272). The statement went something like this, “For about 95 percent of the population, when implemented rigorously by both the action partner and accountability partner, the Consider It Done technique will guarantee that at least 98 percent of the promises made to oneself will be kept.” He suggested that I say instead, “Consider It Done guarantees that you will keep any promise you make to yourself.” The latter statement is powerful and clear. Yet it lacks some precision. Throughout this book I have tried to provide a balance between clarity and precision, because both must be served.
Everyone is frightened
Since 1987 I’ve had the privilege of working with approximately five thousand people, whether for a single gift coaching session or through my regular four-month, one-on-one coaching program. These people have often shared themselves more deeply with me than they would with any other person in their life. I’ve worked with single moms on government support, psychologists and counselors, doctors and lawyers, famous authors, a vice president of Intel, a woman responsible for yearly revenues of $6,000,000,000 and five thousand employees, actors and actresses, international team-building consultants, kids as young as seven and adults as old as eighty-two. The one fundamental issue that all of these clients brought to the table was the issue of resisted fear, although they most often did not recognize it as such at the beginning. Everyone is frightened and everyone is resisting it. And we all try to hide it. Often the number one person we try to hide it from is ourselves.
Vive le courage!
As an eight-year-old, my working paradigm burst and I was thrust on thought trails less traveled. My chosen path of courage has added zest, adventure, and recognition to my life, given me freedom from money worries, and liberty to live in any country that has a telephone, with only a twenty-five hour work week. My lifestyle is characterized by leisure, connection, writing, romance, and work that is play for me. I’ve guided thousands to the achievement of dreams they never expected to accomplish. Many pay a thousand dollars per month (U.S.) for the truths in this book. I invite you to integrate the ideas in this book into your life and thrive on the gifts of courageous decisions.
I want to be at your bedside!
The choice of courage is broad in application and powerful in creating both the immediate and future life that you want. This book is not one that can be mastered. I wrote it, yet I am still aware of how much I need to “get into my bones” both the essence and form of what I say. Keep this book by your bedside. Read it, skim it, mark it up, jump from here to there in it. Use it so that it begins to use you.
I want you to have what you want!
"Courage may be
but it's the safest choice we've got" TM