“Fear is a reaction . Courage is a decision.” This quotation is often attributed to Winston Churchill. I’ve tried to verify its authenticity to no avail. Whether true or not, these are two of the most powerful statements I have ever heard. They make the reader address the fact that while fear is autonomic and beyond our control, we have the ability to make a conscious choice to rise above it and be courageous.
Fear is a sneaky creature. It strikes without warning. It produces terrible effects on our minds. We are fearful about the situation at hand and we get scared of what might happen. Our brains imagine horrible scenarios that end in the worst possible outcomes. These thoughts can run through our heads all day and all night, creating an enormous amount of stress. When that stress level gets too high, we begin to make mistakes as we struggle through our days. If there is no break in the stress, the mistakes mount up in our memory, a mental pile of rocks weighing us down. And we get more fearful and the awful scenarios multiply and the stress increases and, unfortunately, so do the mistakes. The term “vicious circle” can be an understatement.
Courage, unlike fear, doesn’t strike us with heavy emotional blows. It doesn’t just happen. We have to make a decision to step forward. We have to decide not to focus on terrible what-if ideas that may or may not come to pass. Breaking free of the hold that those ideas can have over us can be the first step to escaping the vicious circle. It may seem useless to say to ourselves, “Thoughts are only thoughts. They don’t necessarily reflect reality and, until they do, they don’t mean much.” Fear is the devil on our shoulder, trying to maintain control over our soul, and those words are poison to him. They give us a chance to take back that control and turn things around.
This week I have had a large dose of fear brought on by the stress common to life in the twenty-first century. It has been my reaction to the problems of having too much to do and too little time to do it.
I’m a big believer in taking some sort of action to break that cycle of fear. That’s where the decision of courage comes in. And that’s what I’ve done. I didn’t spend hours analyzing what step would be best. Should I go right or should I go left? Top to bottom? Or bottom to top? I just picked a point in my list of items to handle and jumped right in. It wasn’t even a big task that I chose, just a random to-do. The result was exhilarating. Feelings of fear, of being trapped, of being helpless subsided and my mental equilibrium returned. I actually felt those feelings being replaced with courage. It was courage to stand up to that overwhelming stress and say, “No more.” And it all happened when I made one small decision.