I was scared of that electric scooter. Which is admittedly stupid. It couldn’t hurt me. It wasn’t dangerous. And it had no way of mocking me as I walked by.
But there I was, in downtown Boise, with less than 5 minutes before my meeting started over a mile away, passing by yet another electric scooter on the sidewalk. A scooter just waiting for a rider. A scooter that could have shuttled me to my meeting with time to spare.
Maybe you’ve seen one before? Or ridden one?
In big cities, these electric scooters are all the rage. Companies like Byrd, Lime, and Spin sprinkle their standing motorbikes on every city block — you’ll trip over three on your way to the corner Starbucks.
And they’re drop-dead-simple to ride.
Download the app, scan the QR code on its handlebars, and the scooter comes to life.
They’re so easy to use that when I caught myself dodging one while simultaneously inventing excuses for why I’d be late for my meeting, I knew I was scared.
Scared of the unknown.
Scared that I’d use it wrong.
Scared of what others would think as I zipped by.
These fears were holding me back from my meeting commitment. And with three minutes to go, I wondered, if the fear of riding an electric scooter for the first time was holding me back, what else could be?
The Only Way to Conquer Fear is Through It
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” — Frank Herbert, Dune
Since getting an Uber or flat-out sprinting would have taken too long, and since missing my meeting was unacceptable, I had no other option but to try.
I gave my fear the middle finger, unlocked the nearest Byrd, and shot off down the sidewalk like a bat out of hell.
These things moved fast. Like, really fast. And I realized that, not only would I make my meeting on time, but all those fears holding me back were unfounded.
More so, my fears no longer held me captive.
My concern with what anyone else thought had passed. I didn’t care whether I wasn’t doing it right.
I just didn’t give a shit.
I was hauling ass through the city, exhilarated from trying something new, and beginning to wonder what else I could explore once my meeting finished. The scooter opened up the whole city to me — and plowing through fear opened my mind to many possibilities.
Fear Isn’t What It Used to Be
Our fears are no longer reserved for running from panthers in the jungle or fighting bears in the woods. They’re far more abstract. We now fear of failure. We fear uncertainty. We fear what others will think of us, or that they’ll cast us away.
And, while these fears aren’t nearly as dangerous as a predator in the wild, our brains treat them as if they were.
In the face of certain death, your brain chooses to either hide, run, or fight. In the face of failure, uncertainty, or social rejection, your brain chooses from the same three options.
But here’s the thing.
While fighting is the response that can push you through your fears, it’s not your brains favored response. Fighting risks personal harm, and as such, is the option of last resort.
This means, instead of being preconditioned to fight for a win, fight to grow, or fight for your vision, you’re preconditioned to stay the course (hide) or work on more comfortable tasks (run).
Neither of which is ideal for making progress toward your goals.
Progress Requires Change and Change Requires Courage
“Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.” — Aristotle
An average of 43% of the tasks we perform on a given day are the same tasks we performed the day before.
Making coffee, brushing our teeth, commuting to work; we repeat these tasks daily so we can get to the important work in our lives.
Some of these tasks are necessary. Many aren’t. But we do them because we’ve always done them. We do them because they feel familiar.
I’ve written before about What Neuroscience Says on Why Self Improvement is So Effing Hard (and What to Do About It). In short, our brains are expectation machines that would rather repeat the same routines out of habit, comfort, and energy-efficiency than try something new.
But the very routines that help us work more efficiently through our day also hold us back from making progress. Sometimes small progress, like riding a scooter. Many times big progress, like starting a company or leaving a bad relationship.
To make progress, we have to break out of our comfort zone. We have to change. And change requires courage.
Training Courage In and Training Fear Out
“In its simplest form, courage is the willingness to act in the face of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.” — Dr. Cathy Greenberg
In a small, 20-gallon fish tank sat a mouse. Sitting atop this tank was a video screen simulating a predator flying overhead then swooping down for the kill. Like all mice, this one had an innate fear of winged beasts, an evolved response to protect itself while scurrying through open fields.
For the mouse, this research was probably terrifying. For the scientists, this research would give deep insight into how fear and courage works in the brain.
As it turns out, a mouse brain contains two clusters of nerve cells that control reactions to stimuli varying from scared to aggressive, timid to fierce. One cluster of nerve cells is attached to the basolateral amygdala, a brain center that controls fear. The other cluster is attached to the medial prefrontal cortex. According to Dr. Andrew Huberman, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine, humans have a similar setup.
By stimulating the amygdala nerve cluster, the one most associated with fear, mice would freeze in place in the presence of the simulated threat. But when stimulating the medial prefrontal cortex, a center in the brain associated with high-level executive functions, the mice would act in a way that is rarely, if ever seen in the wild under that same threat.
They’d see the predator dive-bombing claws first toward them with the intent to kill, and instead of freezing up, they’d stand their ground.
In other words, even in the face of certain death, mice could be stimulated to override their fear and act in an incredibly courageous manner.
But electrical brain stimulation wasn’t ultimately necessary over time. These same mice learned courage after repeatedly seeing the predator swoop in for the kill. With every experience, the mice became more accustomed to it. Their fear centers quieted down, and their courage centers spoke up. The mice’s behavior changed from fear to confidence, then from flight to fight.
Which goes to show that courage isn’t reserved for comic book superheroes. It’s a trait that can be invoked and trained. Not just in mice, but all of us.
“When you repeatedly confront and face down your fears, you destroy their influence on you, and that’s how you strengthen your courage ‘muscle.’” — Dr. Cathy Greenberg
Consider the Places You’ll Go
Back to me and my scooter, I didn’t have to go very far. Just a mile.
But that mile was enough to motivate me to try something new, despite my fears.
Where do you have to go? How far?
Use that destination as motivation to break through your fears and rid yourself of anyone or anything that holds you back from achieving the life you want.
Breaking through your fears won’t get you to your destination instantly. You’ll still have to pay the price. You’ll still have to learn new things, plan your future, prioritize your work, eliminate distractions, and work fucking hard.
But breaking through your fears is the first step to freeing yourself of the resistance that holds you back. It’s the first step toward clearing a path to the future you want.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” — Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go
Moving Up Means Moving On
In your effort to move up, you have to move on, which takes courage.
How much courage will determines how far you’ll go.
A little courage will help you break through an unfounded fear of riding a scooter through a big city for the first time. A lot of courage will help you break through the fear of starting a new business, ending a bad relationship, or telling someone you love them.
Moving up means not being held back by fear of the unknown. It means ignoring what others think of you and your goals. And it means preparing for failure, but planning for success.
With a little courage, you’ll break through your fears and find yourself moving faster than ever before.
How far you go will be up to you. But the new speed at which you travel will become the new norm.
Normal won’t be good enough anymore.
Summon the courage to take the first step toward your dreams, set out on a path to a future of possibilities, and leave normal behind.
A bit of courage goes a long way toward opening up new opportunities.
A lot of courage opens up the world.
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