Courage: Strength in the Face of Fear

I define courage as the ability or strength to act to produce the intended result(s) in the face of fear. It is not being fearless, but being able to face your fears to get what you want.

Fear is a natural part of the human condition. It helped us survive as a species when we were in an environment where we had to fight or flight for survival on a daily basis. As the human species evolved, the need to fight or flight, physically, for survival has very much diminished in our domesticated and everyday world. There are still very real physical dangers in the world for us to deal with. However, in the modern age, most of our fears are about our day-to-day living in the society or culture. Mostly, our fears are about preventing an almost certain future based on some past history or event(s) in our lives. Some fears we may face in today’s world: asking for a promotion or a raise at work, committing to a relationship (lovers or marriage), leaving a relationship (breakup or divorce), leaving a job to create a business or following your passion, leaving your parent’s home and venturing out on your own, or presenting or speaking in a public setting.

As a samurai warrior in feudal Japan stands in front of his adversary samurai in battle, his focus and attention is on his opponent. He is present in the moment to what is happening right now, not about how much he’s trained, nor about his armor or equipment, nor about his fears of whether he will live or die. The only important thing in that moment is how he acts and reacts to his opponent to determine if he will walk away–everything else is a distraction to this end goal.

In my Aikido practice, I practice to be calm and relaxed and in the moment. When I am there present in the moment to the energy of my practice partner, I am calm and centered and I execute the techniques in the flow without thinking of whether I’m doing it right or wrong or fearing that I don’t look good or being scared I can’t perform to the fullest.

I found this to be very useful in my everyday life too. Let’s look at the components of how to stay calm and present in the face of fear:

  1. Awareness: when faced with a situation, recognize the signs of fear or trepidation. Mostly, the signs are usually in body sensations. You may have sweaty palms. Your stomach feels like butterflies and may be nauseous. You may feel warmer and perspire a little more. Your breathing may be shallower and your heart rate may beat faster. In my youth competing in martial arts tournaments, I would feel all of those things as well as the feeling of my knees buckling. Just be aware of them, don’t judge yourself.
  2. Fear is a prediction that something bad or consequential will happen to you in the (near) future. It may be something you’ve seen in the past and predicting (knowing) it will go the same way. Or, it may be something you’ve never experienced (total unknown) but you’re predicting it will go badly. This second part is also a past based conversation. For example, one person who has never ridden on a roller coaster before may be fearful of getting on the ride and may refuse to ride it. While another person who also have not ridden before may be very excited to ride the roller coaster and can’t wait to hop on.
    Notice that fear is a perception you have and not a real tangible object. Sometimes that perception is correct and other times it may not be. As an example, it may be correct to be fearful if you are standing 5 feet away from a full grown tiger. However, if the tiger was in a zoo enclosure behind a thick glass wall, would you still have the same fear?
  3. Now that you distinguished that the fear is a perception that is based on some past experience, get present in the moment. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Relax any tense muscles. Stay loose but active. Focus on the current situation and “listen” for the next action to take. An action may be to listen to what’s being communicated. Another action may be to have a conversation to create a new “vision” or possibility for going forward.

You may, at a later time, further distinguish where in the past the fear came from in step 2 above. You can do this when you’re not in the middle of the situation. You may find that the fear came from some incident in the past that you made a decision not to ever repeat again. However, that decision may not be relevant any longer. We can explore more of this at another time.

Where have you been courageous in the face of the fear you have/had?

What was possible on the other side of that fear when you faced it? Did you have a sense of accomplishment that you didn’t have previously?


Enjoy your Day and See You On The Mat!

Thanh Huynh
Leadership, Executive and Life Coach – San Jose, CA – San Francisco Bay Area

If you would like to chat with me about how I can help you move forward in your leadership and life, please email me at

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