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  • Writer's pictureRonald S. Newman, Ph.D.

Seeking balance through courage

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When faced with a threat, the amygdala—an almond shaped area in the center of our brain3warns us of the danger and our adrenal glands pump hormones that signal our bodies to go into the fight, flight or freeze mode. We might freeze with an overwhelming sense of anxiety, such as when a teenager attempts to give his first public speech but his mind goes blank. Our fears may lead us to take flight and run away to avoid the threat, like a gazelle running to avoid a charging lion. This article is about the fight response. How do you stand your ground and find the courage to fight the threat in a rational, responsible manner?

Courage is exercising our power to choose to move toward valued goals in spite of external opposition or even what we feel inside (the reaction to fight, flee or freeze). We admire movies with a story of persistent bravery against an overwhelming foe, such as in Independence Day or the Lord of the Rings. Sometimes the battles are more internal, such as being tempted to compromise one’s integrity as we see in Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker or when we are tempted to lie to get out of trouble.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” – Mark Twain

Whether internal or external, here are some tips to strengthen your courage.

Breathe and calm yourself. This increases blood flow to your brain, including your prefrontal cortex which is your judgment center, vital for making good decisions.

Think rationally. Use your mind in an active manner, much like a coach in soccer or other sporting teams. The coach sees the big picture, but also can identify minor corrections in action that are necessary for success.

“Clear thinking requires courage rather than intelligence.” – Thomas Szasz

Assess the threat. Coaches need to study and know their opposition. What are your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses? What creative ways can you deal with the threat they pose? An honest, not overly optimistic nor pessimistic appraisal is necessary.

Choose to believe. Have faith that you have the God-given resources to face and overcome the threat. Less talented teams win by maintaining this “I can win” belief. (Remember the 1985 Villanova Wildcats championship basketball season overcoming Georgetown’s highly talented and favored team in the finals.) This is true for you as well when overcoming your personal problems and achieving your goals.

Embrace your purpose. Courageous people typically act with a clear sense of purpose or at least belief in a meaning which may be beyond their understanding. Commitment to that purpose enables courageous action.

Maintain your integrity. Be authentic to your beliefs. This will help you find courage to do the right thing, even if it requires self-sacrifice.

“Courage results when one’s convictions are bigger than one’s fears.” – Orrin Woodward

Find your strength. Your belief in your power to manage yourself when faced with various threats will enable you to choose courageous behavior when the need arises. This means controlling your own actions as you move toward valued goals such as rescue efforts to help others.

Be persistent. This is continuing to do what is best, even when it is difficult to do so. Persist until you get your second wind and then persist some more, like a marathon runner over difficult terrain.

“Courage isn’t having the strength to go on–it is going on when you don’t have the strength.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Change threats into challenges. Interpretation and perception, based on your belief system, can be modified. Focus on one step at a time, listening to the encouraging coach in your head rather than the critical, discouraging part of you.

Maintain kindness. Do not diminish the value of others. Courage is not for crushing your enemies, but rather to utilize your God-given strengths to do what is right above all else. This will involve acts of compassion toward the suffering of others, such as what we saw on 9/11 in New York City by the police and firefighters in particular. You also are capable of such courage.

“Courage is the greatest of all virtues because if you haven’t courage, you may not have an opportunity to use any of the others.” – Samuel Johnson

“Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” – Maya Angelou

Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a psychologist in South Jersey exclusively doing Telehealth at present and can be reached at: or (609) 567-9022.


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