One of the most important ways to encourage is to conquer the forces that attack our courage. Whether we are encouraging others, or receiving encouragement from them, or encouraging ourselves, every one of us faces daily encounters with the enemies of courage – people, circumstances, thoughts or feelings that threaten to discourage us – to steal our courage away.
I saved this topic for last so that we could first understand the ways we can give and receive courage in our relationships with others and in our relationships with ourselves. In that spirit we talked about how to encourage:
- Belief in self.
- Belief in purpose.
- The kind of equipping that empowers people to achieve the breakthroughs they need in order to get where they are trying to go.
- Win-win confrontation – confrontation that leaves everyone better off after the encounter than before it.
- Mental toughness.
- An intentional approach to energy management that maximizes the forces that give us energy and minimizes the forces that deplete it.
Just as we want to be intentional about conquering the forces that attack our energy, we also want to be intentional about conquering the forces that attack our courage.
Throughout this book I have emphasized the importance of being intentional about each of the ways to encourage. The main reason we are vulnerable to discouragement is because we forget about it. Discouragement gets in the door simply because the door is open. We forgot to close it. Or we discourage someone by accident because we forget what discouragement is and the damage it can cause.
Should we ever try to take away a person’s courage? We may want to discourage someone from doing something we believe will cause harm. In that case we try to take away their courage for that particular act or thought by warning them of the consequences. But we don’t want to take away their courage altogether.
What are the enemies of courage we need to conquer?
Of course, the main force that attacks our courage is fear. Conquering fear does not require us to eliminate it, but it does require us to manage it. So far, we have talked about ways to manage courage intentionally and strategically as opposed to simply hoping it will appear when we need it. Encouragement is a powerful strategy for giving and receiving courage, and also for managing it by sustaining it. We marshal the forces that give us courage, put them into action, and keep them there. With discouragement, we marshal the forces to conquer it, put them into action, and keep them there. Let’s see what this looks like for conquering fear.
The first step to conquering fear is not to befriend it. Fear is an enemy that needs to be conquered. We don’t conquer fear by eliminating it. Fear will always be with us in one form or another. We conquer fear by taking charge of it before it takes charge of us.
But what do I mean by befriending fear? Why would we do such a thing? Look at this way. If we have a best friend or a loved one, we don’t want to let them go. We want to keep them with us. We cling to them, and I mean that in a good way. We hold fast to them; we treat them kindly; we care for them. That is what we do with a best friend or a loved one. So why do we also do it with fear? Why do we cling to it, and to its children: self-doubt, worry, comfort zone, grievance, resentment, disappointment, negativity, and focusing on what we cannot control? How do we end our friendship with fear? Why do we even have fear?
Everyone confronts fear – it’s a universal challenge. That means that the level of success we achieve, in goals and in life, is determined largely by how well we manage the concept of fear. So we have to be intentional about fear itself as much as we are intentional about the thing we’re afraid of.
Fear is an enemy that absolutely must be conquered. The most famous line from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address was, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That is perhaps the clearest statement of the importance of conquering fear with intentional acts of will. We need to have a strategy for not fearing fear.
For example, instead of running away from fear we can train ourselves to say, “Bring it on!” If we put this into competitive language: since fear challenges everyone, it offers an opportunity to gain an advantage. While fear is holding others back, it provides us with a breakthrough that will take us to a higher level that is out of reach for others.
So one strategy for conquering fear is to see past it to the payoff, whether it be increased confidence and courage, an enhanced reputation, a wider range of abilities, or a more tangible reward for yourself or for someone else. People who put the well-being of others before their own frequently find it easier to conquer fear, which often grows out of self-interest.
Let’s look at some more specific forms of fear. What are some ways that fear can hold us back, and how do we conquer or manage those fears?
- Comfort zone.
The biggest day-to-day source of fear for most people is the fear of stepping outside their comfort zone. This is the kind of fear that would cause someone to avoid a challenging situation instead of embracing it as an adventurous opportunity.
Conquering this fear is one of the most life-changing victories a person can achieve, and it’s thrilling whenever we can give others the courage to achieve this breakthrough. A comfort zone is a trap – a prison we have to break out of in order to do things we never thought we could do.
People can be inspired to break through their barriers by realizing that a comfort zone is self-limiting, and that the more they step out of their comfort zone, the more they grow, and the larger their comfort zone becomes. It’s a very energizing cycle to embrace.
Any time you overcome your fear of discomfort and stretch yourself by trying something that is outside your comfort zone, you stretch your comfort zone and increase your capacity.
A comfort zone rarely stays the same size. Either it grows or it shrinks. The natural tendency of a comfort is to keep shrinking over time unless we keep expanding it. Every time we step out of our comfort zone, it expands to re-encompass us. That is how we stay motivated to keep improving. Most people don’t do that often enough, so their comfort zone grows smaller and smaller, and their motivation to improve grows weaker and weaker.
If you want to overcome just one fear, the fear of stepping out of your comfort zone is a great choice. In fact, a huge part of conquering fear in general is understanding the implications of a comfort zone, and then embracing challenges as opportunities to expand it. When our comfort zone grows, so does our confidence, and when our confidence grows, so does our ability to conquer fear.
Self-doubt comes from believing that our failures are more real than our successes. So the first step for conquering self-doubt is to understand that believing our failures are more real than our successes is irrational.
If you are encouraging someone who is being held back by self-doubt, don’t dismiss their doubts. They need to know that you are taking their struggle seriously. Remind them why you believe in them by helping them to recall the things they have accomplished in the past that fuel your belief. Use those memories as opportunities for them to talk about themselves in ways that reaffirm their self-belief.
You can also encourage them to accept their failures as stepping stones and not self-definitions. Everyone fails. Help them to build their self-definitions around their successes instead of their failures. Help them not only to remember their successes, but also to fully embrace the qualities in them that made them successful. Those qualities are real.
Worry can be a friend or an enemy. It can be an energy source or an energy depleter.
Worry can be a fine friend if it serves the purpose of motivating you toward a solution. It is a source of positive energy if you use it to improve an outcome, and only for that. Once the worry serves its purpose in helping you to decide which course of action will produce the best outcome, then its purpose is complete, and it’s of no further use. Don’t rehash the same worry over and over again.
The thing that turns worry from a friend into an enemy is when it becomes self-indulgent. That may sound like a strange term to describe worry, but it refers to the kind of worry that is nothing more than worry. It serves no good purpose. It just sits there, attracting attention to itself – attention it does not deserve – your attention.
An example of self-indulgent worry is when it cannot change the situation – like worrying about something that is outside of your control. You can worry about how you will respond in order to decide how you will respond. Then let the worry go, because it has fulfilled its purpose. If you don’t let it go, then it becomes self-indulgent worry – worrying just for the sake of worrying. The worry becomes an end in itself instead of a means to an end. It takes on a life of its own, and it can become consuming.
One more thing to remember about worry, and about fear in general, is that when we look back on our lives we find that most of the things we worried about and feared did not turn out to be as bad as we thought they would be. There are not really very many things we need to fear.
Those are some of the primary ways to conquer the enemy of fear. Now let’s look at two other enemies of courage.
Negativity attacks our energy as well as our courage. People rarely make a conscious choice to think negatively. We all get caught up in negative thinking at some point, but most of the time we don’t do it on purpose – it just happens. The result is usually lost energy and courage. When negativity creeps into our minds unconsciously, the conscious choice we can still make is to catch ourselves in the act of thinking negatively and turn it around right on the spot, before the negative energy depletes us.
No one wants to lose courage or energy. They are among our most precious resources. Like anything else of great value, they need to be protected against enemies and thieves.
That’s what negative thinking is – a thief. Like a jewel thief who replaces a real diamond with a fake, negative thinking steals our courage by replacing positive energy that lifts us up with negative energy that sucks the life out of us. That is exactly what happens to us when we focus on bad stuff instead of good stuff.
When we encounter disappointments, we tend to unconsciously interpret them in one of two ways. The first way is to respond to the disappointment as though it is the end of the story. The second way is to respond as though the story is still a work in progress. We often instinctively respond to a disappointment as though it’s the end of the story, when in fact that is rarely the case.
Even with the most crushing disappointments, the fact is that very few situations cannot be redeemed. Very few mistakes cannot be made right. Sometimes we are better off after we’ve made a mistake and then people see us make it right than we were before we made the mistake.
Bad things often become good things. Situations continue to evolve, and we need to do whatever we can to help them evolve favorably.
You can encourage others in times of disappointment by reminding them of how they have overcome setbacks in the past, and why you still believe in them. Before long, something good will happen, as it has in the past, and it will take the sting away.
As with all the other forms of encouragement we have discussed in this book, conquering the enemies of courage and helping others to do the same begins by believing that courage is one of the most valuable gifts we can give to another person. People who have the most courage tend to be those who give it to others most freely.
If you are someone who gives courage freely, you are most likely held in very high esteem. Many people are grateful for your presence in their lives. But your impact on their lives came not only from the fact that you chose to give them courage, but also from the fact that they chose to receive it. Make sure you receive courage as freely as you give it. Sometimes you will be receiving the courage you need from those who care enough to encourage you. Other times you will receive it from the courage that is already inside of you, which is abundant, as long as you remain alert to the importance of protecting it.