The 6th Pillar of Personal Development for Change Agents: Persistent Courage

Uncategorized Aug 18, 2021

An extraordinary life is a stack of extraordinary moments, built up, one on top of another.  Recognizing those extraordinary moments and rising to meet them takes persistent courage.  That's why Persistent Courage is the 6th Pillar of Personal Development for Change Agents.  

Persistent courage is about finding a way to lean into life, show up as your full self and take action, even in the face of your fears.  A life of extraordinary joy and impact takes courage—and one of the biggest challenges to your courage are the defenses you create in your own mind to protect yourself from dangers—real and imagined. Here's the good news: you can cultivate your courage, and one of the most powerful ways to do this involves taking a frank inventory of your fears.  This session walks you through a process for overcoming your fear-based circuit breaker, inspired by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s book Immunity to Change.

1. Re-setting Your Survival Instinct Circuit Breaker

We are all wired for progress and growth—it’s part of our fundamental humanity.  This series on the 7 Pillars of Personal Development for Change Agents is for all of us who feel a particularly strong drive to contribute—to make the world a better place.  But here’s the thing.  Our higher-level needs are in a dynamic dance with our ego driven needs.  Anytime ANYTHING interferes with your ability to meet your lower level egocentric needs for things like security, social connection, status and entertainment, your protective mental circuit breaker kicks in and cuts power to the circuit that your primitive brain sees as a threat.  So if your calling is pulling you to grow and evolve yourself in ways that would require even a minor change to your core routines for meeting your basic, egocentric needs you may often find yourself inexplicably immobilized, with no power to move forward despite our clear and sustained intention to do so.

What can you do to reset your fear-based circuit breaker, and cultivate the persistent courage you need to move forward with joy and impact across all the areas of your life? The first exercise in the worksheet for this session helps you map your circuitry in more detail so you can understand what particular fears are tripping your mental circuit breaker, and then take concrete action to safely test those fears—setting aside all the ones that aren’t actually well founded, and restoring your ability to take action on the things that stretch you outside our comfort zone.  Download the worksheet, and give it a try!

2. Fear=Anticipated Pain

 Once you’ve named your fears, a useful way to get deeper insight is to connect each of these fears with a particular kind of pain.  That’s because we can think of fear as anticipated pain.  A lot of times we get caught in a loop between our thoughts and our feelings, and this paralyzes us from taking action.  This is the circuit breaker we’ve been talking about.  Our primitive brain tries to protect us from anticipated pain by making sure we never take the actions that might lead us towards any of that pain.   Brendon Burchard, in his book The Charge has a useful  typology for three categories of pain:

  • Pain of Loss: this is just what it sounds like, this is the discomfort we experience when we no longer have something we value—and let’s be clear, we can experience the pain of loss simply by anticipating that we’ll lose access to or possession of something we value even before it happens. Simply imagining a future without a loved one is painful to contemplate, for instance. 
  • Process pain: this is the discomfort we experience when doing something is difficult.  For many of us there’s process pain involved with running a marathon, or writing a term paper.  And just imagining what it will feel like to do something difficult is often enough to activate your body’s fight or flight circuitry that puts adrenaline and other chemicals out into your bloodstream and makes you feel an unpleasant sensation of butterflies in the pit of your stomach. 
  • Outcome pain: this is the disappointment we feel when the result of our efforts is not what we hoped for.  For example, when you trained to run that marathon for months, but dropped out halfway through with blisters, or when you got a C+ on your term paper after working on it for weeks.

3. Defanging Your Fears

The worksheet invites you to map the fears you identified in the first exercise to these three kinds of anticipated pain.  Once  you've done that, the next step is to look at how you can take the bite out of each of these types of fear, and in the process make it easer for you to step up your courage to take action in alignment with your highest self and best intentions.

Techniques for Taming Loss Pain

When you are afraid of losing something valuable if you take action more consistently on your key priority, you have several  options to prevent this fear from tripping your circuit breaker and preventing you from taking action on what is truly most important to you.

  • Get Creative: There are almost always multiple ways to protect something valuable and being immobilized from taking action on your most important priorities is not the only option! What other alternatives do you have for meeting your needs while still taking action on your ONE Thing?
  • Get Realistic—test out how likely it truly is that you will actually lose the thing you’re afraid of losing. Find a way to make these tests both fun and low stakes. It can be reassuring to realize that you have  been overly pessimistic in calculating the odds that your fears will actually result in the pain you are anticipating.
  • Get Stoic—what if you lost ALL of that, how bad would that really be?

Techniques for Taming Process Pain

If you are afraid of going through a painful process, what are your options to defang this fear?

  • Prepare: Plan, train and engineer the process to optimize it—get shoes that fit, special anti-blister socks, pack some carbohydrate gel to keep from bonking etc.
  • Elevate your motivation: Get fired up about how much you want what’s on the other side even if it will be painful to get there
  • Rewire yourself so that you attribute a different meaning to the experience—I’m not anxious, I’m excited, same butterflies in your stomach, but different feeling
  • Desensitize yourself through repeat small dose exposures—for example a great way to get past writers block is just to commit to write 250 words each day, no matter what. You can most often do this in 20 minutes or less—and if you get in the groove, you can just keep going

Techniques for Taming Outcome Pain

If you are afraid of a disappointing outcome, what are your options to defang this fear?

  • Prepare: Plan, train and do whatever else you can to increase your odds of a favorable outcome
  • Rinse and repeat: Remind yourself that the best way to success is to try, learn and try again. Operate on the premise that you will keep trying until you get the outcome you’re after, and every try you make takes you one step closer to that outcome. This is about associating the pain of disappointment with getting closer to your goal—falling short isn’t painful, it’s all about making progress and gaining momentum!
  • Reconcile: Orient yourself to appreciate the value in the experience, whatever the outcome

4. Stepping Up Your Courage with Directive Affirmations

There is tremendous power in harnessing your subconscious to overcome fears.  When you speak to yourself out loud, with conviction every day about your clear intent to do the thing you fear, when you remind yourself about how doing this thing brings all kinds of benefits your subconscious jumps right on board. It doesn’t recognize the difference between actually doing the thing you’ve been afraid of and hearing you talk to yourself about doing it.  The result is that you are training your subconscious that this behavior is not just safe, but profoundly attractive.  Instead of standing in your way and firing the circuit breaker every time you get near something challenging, your subconscious mind will start working in service of your aspirations. greatest dreams.  Who wouldn’t want that going for them?

What: a simple descriptive statement of your highest and best self, taking action on your ONE Thing and reaping the benefits.  For example:

  • I do _________ every day and because of this I am steadily expanding myself to better serve others
  • When I do ________I honor myself as I am, and I love who I am becoming

How: repeated to yourself 2-5 times/day, out loud and proud!

Check out the video for more on all of this and download the worksheet to dig into each of these exercises.  By cultivating your persistent courage you'll be getting an incredible boost to your impact and your joy across all the areas of your life!


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These are the same materials we use with the social entrepreneurs in our accelerator program and the funders we coach one on one.  The world has never been more in need of a new, greatest generation of change agents and that's why we're opening up free access to these materials to anyone who's ready to make use of them!