October 8 – Fear, courage and action

October 8. “If you could get up the courage to begin, you have the courage to succeed.” (David Vinscott)

Fear is a very powerful motivator in life, and it is a very powerful de-motivator as well. Very often in my life it is fear that either drives me to, or keeps me from doing things. Understanding when and why I am afraid is the key that unlocks my progress and allows me to move forward. But, usually, just acting in spite of the fear is what I need to do.

A short time ago I wrote about my definition of courage. To me courage is not the absence of fear, it is taking the actions necessary in spite of fear. A person who is fearless in dangerous or difficult situations is extremely rare, one might even say foolhardy. Those in the military, police officers, firefighters and the like face fearful, life and death situations every day. They learn to control the effects of that fear so that they can act despite its presence. This is courage.

In my everyday routine I do not face life or death situations, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my share of fear, and my own need for courage in order to act.

When I started my journey to better health back in March of this year, I was filled with fears. My wife and I discussed some of them on a ride home from visiting friends the night before I started the journey.

  • What if I couldn’t do it? What if I couldn’t lose weight or increase exercise in a meaningful way?
  • If I started a blog, and publicly talked about my journey, then failed, I would face enormous embarrassment.
  • Losing weight might change me. I might not be the same gregarious person I was when I was copiously consuming food.
  • It is going to be painful and difficult. Will I have the power to stick with it for more than a short time?
  • What if I start to try to lose, and I actually end up gaining?

These and many other fears were much on my mind. They didn’t just pop up that day, I had been harboring them for months, even years. They were the fears that were keeping me from acting. But, there were other fears too.

  • If I don’t get control of my health, I will die young
  • My A1C rating is on the rise, if it continues in this direction, medication for diabetes will be inevitable, and the damage will be irreparable.
  • My weight is so high that all my joints hurt. At some point my knees will be so damaged that I’ll need surgery, end up walking with a cane, or both.

These fears also were with me for a long time, and were growing. They were fears that should have been motivating me to act, but they weren’t

The fact was that I was somewhat paralyzed by all of the fear that I had. Whether the fears were of action or inaction, but had the same net effect – inaction. That day and night, February 28th, 2014, I struggled with so many fears. I knew that I had to act.

As I said, this wasn’t a new notion to me. Over the decade and a half before that day I had tried, succeeded for a time, and ultimately failed at losing weight and becoming more healthy on several occasions. The graph of my weight from 1997 to 2014 tells a tale of gains and losses that ultimately added up to gains.

On those two days – February 28 and March 1 – I made the decision to act. I knew I might fail, and I feared embarrassment at the notion of failure. I also knew that inaction might lead to my early demise, but on those two days, and on the days since, my courage to act has been greater than my fear of inaction.

In the 7 months since I have had my share of emotional ups and downs. My weight has been on a steady decline, and my exercise level has been higher. There have been times when I wanted to quit and go back to my comfortable, former ways. But to date my courage to continue has overruled those wants.

This quote tells me that if I have the courage to start, have the courage to succeed. I am not 100% convinced that’s true, but I do know something that is 100% true. If I never have the courage to begin, then it is impossible to succeed. Wayne Gretzky once said that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” That is true in all walks of life, if I never have the courage to wind up and take the shot, if I never have the courage to risk the embarrassment of a whiff, or of a failed attempt, then I can never succeed.

That night, on the ride home, with my fears very much in mind, I decided to act. I woke up the next morning and began what has been an amazing trek for me over these months. It is a trek I pray I will stay on for a lifetime, because it is a trek of better health, and longer living. When I woke up on the morning of March 1, my fears hadn’t gone away. As I sit here on the morning of October 8th I can tell you that they are still lurking within me. What changed wasn’t the presence or absence of fear, but the presence and rising tide of my own courage.

Today my reflection is on fear and courage. What other areas of my life need a dose of courage to get me moving in the direction of my dreams?

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