Where Does Courage Come From?

Where Does Courage Come From?

By Jamie Matthewman
November 17th, 2013

Almost daily life provides the opportunity to practice courage. Moments to grab your life and shake it upside down. To speak your mind, to do something that scares you, to walk away from a fight.

Yet if I’m really honest for most of my life I’ve rarely embraced this opportunity. Instead I’ve innocently chosen to play it safe and avoided the uncomfortable.

It might have been something really trivial like asking a girl out (trivial!?), but instead of showing some balls fear got the better of me because back then, I was unsure of myself and afraid of rejection.

As a result fear became a predominant habit in my life and consequently I remained trapped, silent and filled with self doubt.

This isn’t the place to create an inspired life from. However that’s not the whole story, because on occasions when I’ve needed it most courage hasn’t eluded me. Times in my life when I thought fuck it, enough is enough.

Pivotal moments like squaring up to the school bully or quitting a job to do work that matters. Times in life which required a leap of faith into unknown territory but ultimately turn out to have the biggest leverage for change in our lives.

So then I wonder where does courage come from?

It seems in my experience courage is always there, often lying dormant but urging for you to call it in to action so that it can help you transform your life.

Maybe it’s part of your DNA? But as far as I know or can discover, the Human Genome Project hasn’t yet isolated a part of our DNA that makes one person more courageous than another.

So what is it and where does it come from?

What is courage?

Here’s a definition :

cour·age (kûrj, kr-) n.
The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.

Researchers have found a part of the brain called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) becomes activated when people do something courageous. We now know that the brain is not a static organ; changes in our neural pathways and synapses occur due to changes in behavior.

We also know that practice and learning grows the grey matter in our brains. So in someways courage could be thought of like a muscle – the more you choose to use it the stronger it becomes. Every time a courageous action is taken you strengthen synapses that activate the sgACC.

Remember learning to ride a bike? Even though you were assured by your parents it was safe, it was still scary at first. It took a leap of faith to face that fear and it was courage you called upon to help you triumph.

Courage is a Choice

Imagine if our ancestors 70,000 years ago had around huddled around a fire, literally starving to death to debate whether or not they had the courage to go into the bush to hunt for food.

“Mmmm I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that…let me see how I feel tomorrow tomorrow” or “No way, it’s too dangerous, I could never do that”.

Now back then they couldn’t speak which is maybe a good thing – our ancestors acted out of pure instinct. Of course they felt fear, danger was everywhere, it was a tougher environment than we can imagine.

But something innate within the human species meant we go on to not only survived but ultimately begin to flourish.
The oldest part of our brain – the amygdala (where the fight or flight response is triggered) helped our ancestors navigate the harsh terrain.

They implicitly trusted this to let them know when to stand and face very real fears head on, or walk away when it would have been suicide. This to me is courage and it’s what helped our species stay alive.

Those who rose up at times of adversity, who overcame fear, who tried something new, who knew when to quit were the pioneers of their time. Nothings changed.

Physiologically and biologically you’re pretty much the same as a human was 200,000 years ago. The amygdala still fires up when you perceive fear, but today more often than not fear is an illusion.

Our fears are no longer fighting off saber tooth tigers rather the irrational fear of getting rejected, not being able to cope, losing jobs, paying the mortgage, our partners having affairs etc etc.

However we still have the innate capacity to call on the courage our ancestors showed up with each day anytime we need it. We know how to overcome fear and we know how to be courageous. When you look fear, real or imagined in the face and choose to practice courage the rewards are immense.

What Gets in the Way of Courage?

How you perceive yourself. If stories of self doubt and insecurity rule you, they blind the truth of who you really are and what’s possible. You innocently become a victim of your own thinking and as a result get stuck in life because you don’t believe you can take it to the next level.

So if your thinking’s been keeping you stuck, imagine going back 70,000 years when all the courage man ever needed to get him through the day ALWAYS showed up. A time when getting in your own way wasn’t an option, when comfort couldn’t hold you back. You already have the courage you need, and it’s just waiting to be tapped into.

It might just take a bit of practice but start today by choosing to ignore those old stories and put your trust in the courage that’s always there, willing you to call on it to help you do that thing you’d most love to do.

Jamie Matthewman

About Jamie Matthewman

Jamie is the founder, main contributor and editor of The Inspired Man.

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