Simplify Courage: These Eight Seconds Will Change Your Life
How to grow courage in everything you do by practicing one simple technique
Bravery has kicked my ass since I was little. I’ve got no issues with physical bravery (running races, martial arts, rappelling off cliffs, roller coasters), but social and psychological bravery has always troubled me.
I don’t like confrontation. Period.
If there’s a way over, under, or around a confrontation I’ll take it. It’s not healthy. I know I should face my fears, but my fight-or-flight wins almost every time. I don’t even like making uncomfortable phone calls, let-alone deal with something squirmy in person.
Recently, I’ve been working on a whole-self makeover. I look in the mirror and haven’t been happy with the guy in the reflection for awhile. I found David Goggin’s book Can’t Hurt Me, and everything changed.
Inside the book, Goggins explains if we want to improve ourselves, we’ve got to be honest about what’s wrong and what needs to change. Then he suggests we create an alter-ego, or superhero version of ourselves and start living as that person (the one who already possesses the characteristics we want).
I wrote a story about David’s book here:
I want to become more brave in everything I do
This isn’t some macho, locker room, ass-slapping, touchdown kind of insecure bravery. This is about the bravery where you stand up for what’s right no matter who’s in the room, and no matter how bad you want to piss your shorts.
We’re so quick to call people to take care of our messes for us — at home and work. Recently, my son was playing a video game with a friend and the boy’s mother texted my wife, saying my son hurt her boy’s feelings by smashing a building in the game. We’re so disconnected from confrontation we can’t even do it remotely, over video game headsets.
We whip out our phones to film bad car accidents and assaults instead of helping the people in the video, thinking the footage will help in some way.
We’re more passive-aggressive than ever. And if someone around us does something we don’t like we’re more-likely to bitch about it to our coworkers for YEARS after the incident, before we’d actually confront the individual to try an rectify it.
I had enough.
I’m forty-damn-four years old and many days I still feel like a little boy when it comes to confrontation. We all need to stand up for what’s right. With ourselves, our values, and the people around us.
The clicking, tagging, liking, and scrolling has made us so numb to direct confrontation it’s easy to walk away instead of stay and fight. We don’t have to throw punches to keep in the game. This is our life. We only get one. And when we feel the discomfort rising at the back of our necks, it’s time to engage.
We don’t have to raise our voice. Sometimes all it takes is a raised eyebrow.
But there’s no more room to lay down and roll-over. Someday we’ll be next. We’ll be the one who needs help. We’ll be the people who need someone to stand for us. We’ll be the victim on the business end of a cell phone camera, as we bleed on our shoes until one rare soul comes to our rescue.
I had been working on David Goggin’s method for a few weeks, when I got the last piece of the bravery puzzle. The final nudge came from bestselling author, researcher, and speaker, Brene Brown.
Brene is a huge proponent of standing up for what we believe. She believes we should never stand-down to injustice.
Not that we should be intolerant of other opinions (there’s too much of that), but if we see something wrong we have an obligation to stand against it. Standing up for what’s right is an important step for personal growth.
Brene researched the ‘discomfort time’ between feeling uncomfortable and doing what’s right. She says the bravery window is only eight seconds for most people.
This means if we can fight those eight, wet-your-jeans seconds without running from the conflict, we’ll be able to muster the courage required to stand up for what’s right, to defend ourselves, or help others.
Eight. Freaking. Seconds.
‘Eight seconds of suck:’ Count to eight before you escape
This is my new practice. Not only is it mindful of the uncomfortable situation, but it helps me anchor my feet instead of escape.
I’m not talking about a gunman or a carjacker. Run your ass off if your life’s in danger.
This is about getting a raise at work. It’s about that a-hole in cubicle 2A, who tells you a racist joke every morning on your way to get coffee (as you giggle and stare at your feet instead of addressing his hostile ways). It’s about the woman in line in front of you at the store, and some jerk who makes her feel uncomfortable with a comment about her body.
There are bravery moments everywhere. Big or small (unless life-threatening) the amygdala’s response is almost the same. We’ve got to push through the eight seconds of suck.
Our fight-or-flight response hasn’t evolved with technology.
And it probably won’t any time soon. So, we work around it. Now we know the feeling. The feeling is not good. Not good at all. But it’s really short. We’ll do anything to make the discomfort go away. Now we now know the worst part of the feeling lasts eight seconds.
My challenge for you
If you’ve got courage issues (and I don’t know why you’d read this if you didn’t) I’d like you to implement this strategy today.
I’m only an N of one. I don’t have any other subjects to test this on.
I’d love to hear in the comments if this method works for you or not. I know there are plenty of people out there, just like me. I also know many people have bravery issues that are far worse than mine.
I hope the eight second technique works for you.
The next time you feel that dirty bastard of fight-or-flight creeping up the back of your neck, don’t move. Stand your ground and count to eight. Your gut knows what you should do.
You’ve got your own moral compass.
We need you to defend what you stand for. We need you to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. We need you to tell Wally Lumpkin in cubicle 2A that his tired jokes have no place around you.
As Dr. Seuss says “if not you, then who?”
It’s only eight seconds of suck. You can do this. I will do this. We won’t get it right on our first try, or even the 20th. But we will move the needle. This is a new practice and we’ve got to try every day to become more brave.
You already possess the courage. It’s inside there with last night-burrito and that big project for work.
All you’ve got to do is count to eight. Then do what’s right, not what’s easy.
We’re waiting for you.
August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.