Get up and show oomph! Be bold, be confident, thread your way through what people think of you, the obstacles and everything that stirs up a weakness. Gird up your loins and get rid of your doubts and uncertainties.
Sounds familiar? Well, often the voices in our head are loud enough to nudge us to take action. Still, we turn the volume down and list all the things that could go wrong and all the possible sufferings that can happen, because we are afraid.
Aristotle (philosopher 384-322 B.C.) defines “fear as pain or disturbance due to a mental picture of some destructive or painful evil in the future”. Even though he indicates that wickedness and stupidity are evils but they do not frighten us. Or we are not troubled by things that are a very long way off such as death. What makes us anxious and fearful is when things have the power to harm and cause great pain.
Fear is seen as an evolutionary necessity which can help notify a person whether they should proceed in their current direction, or find another course in order to increase the likelihood of survival (Cannon, 1914; Ohman & Mineka, 2001). With this in mind, living a braver life is not to act naively, but to break down those potential problems and build a ladder to face the fears.
For instance, feeling anxious about air turbulence when you are flying is normal but refusing to travel is a debilitating and irrational fear. What constitutes courage is when you have identified the potential problems still you voluntarily take action to accomplish your goals. Being alert and being fully conscious that things might go wrong is to build the capacity to become braver in the face of challenges and setbacks.
In contrast to current ideas that tell us to keep away from stress, you can leverage your anxiety and stress by rehearsing the tension and fear. Physical challenging experiences, contests, adventure activities are all character-forming pursuits that develop courage. Taking cold showers in the morning, a ritual that activates stress hormones which makes you think clearly, to engage in high-intensity workouts such as cycling, rock climbing or running that help with your general health or intermittent fasting, are techniques based on the Stoic philosophy of self-denial that builds resilience against everyday stressors.
Now, in highly uncertain situations, evidently, you have no real control. By adopting a mindset that the only thing you have control over is your response which is fostered by your personal values and attitudes towards life, you can transform the uncontrollable to manageable.
As Epictetus said: A Stoic “sage” never finds life intolerable, but sees in every challenge as an opportunity to test and improve oneself:
You should look to the faculties that you have, and say as you behold them, ‘Bring on me now, O Zeus, whatever difficulties you will, for I have the means and the resources granted to me by yourself to bring honour to myself through whatever may come to pass.’ (TD, Book One, Ch. 6, p. 18).
Featured image by Igor Morski