Random Acts of Courage – Tuesday challenges and field report

For the uninitiated: Random Acts of Courage is a week-long event where you take on lots of mini-challenges designed to push you out of your comfort zone. You confront some common fears head on and (hopefully) see their power over you diminish.

I’m offering up ten different challenges each day for five days. Some are easy, others not so much. I’m attempting them all and reporting on my experiences. I’d love if you would try a few and report back.

Monday’s challenges included performing some street magic, speaking on the radio, and asking a stranger for their phone number. Read more about those adventures here.

Today’s loose theme is being silly. The goal is to face your fear of embarrassment or attention.

Here are the challenges:

  1. Ask a stranger a ridiculous question.
  2. Go to a clothing store for the opposite sex, hold up an outfit and ask a sales rep if it would look good on you.
  3. Have a 2-minute conversation with an imaginary friend in public.
  4. Wave and smile at someone you don’t know (as if you do).
  5. Sing or dance in a public place where nobody else is singing/dancing.
  6. Go the wrong way up or down an escalator.
  7. Lie down in a busy store. Stay there until someone asks if you’re okay.
  8. Do ten push ups in the middle of a busy pedestrian area.
  9. Walk around for 10 minutes with your shirt/jacket on backwards.
  10. Admit something embarrassing on Facebook.

You can do as few or as many of the challenges as you want. You can even combine some of them or make up your own. The challenges themselves aren’t all that important. You just need to get out there and make a fool of yourself.

I spent a few hours on Monday going down through the list, trying to get everything checked off. I’ll share with you how I fared, and offer some suggestions if you’re planning to have a go yourself.

1. Ask a stranger a ridiculous question

I left my house a little before 11 this morning and headed down to a print shop on the quay. I needed to get a few lyrics printed off to help with #5 on the list.

Print Shop Guy was in his 40’s. After he handed me the two sheets of paper, I took out a pen and asked him if he knew what date it was…

— It’s the 24th today.

— [looking down, writing] The 24th of…?

— January.

— And the year?

— …uh… 2011.

— [looking up] Jaysus, time flies, doesn’t it?

Print Shop Guy shook his head and laughed. I thanked him and left.

I felt I could have done better with this challenge though. It’s a lot easier to ask someone a ridiculous question when you’re not looking them in the eye. I vowed to try again later.

2. Go to a clothing store for the opposite sex, hold up an outfit and ask a sales rep if it would look good on you

I decided not to attempt this challenge in just any old clothing store, so I headed right for the Ann Summers adult shop.

I waltzed in and beamed at the two ladies behind the counter. They seemed a little surprised to have a customer before lunch time. I picked up a skimpy leather number that looked a little like this (<– click with caution) except with a zip running from top to bottom. I held it up in front of me, turned towards the counter, and asked for an honest opinion.

The response: “It looks lovely. Do you want to try it on there?”

Shit. They were calling my bluff.

I tried to remain unflustered, saying something about a lack of crotch space, and moved on to a leather mini-skirt. Again, they seemed keen for me to try it on. I asked if they could take pictures of me with the different outfits so I could show my friends later and get their advice. Unfortunately, they had a no photography policy.

At that point they began to realize that I wasn’t serious about buying anything — not at those prices! — and their answers to my questions became less warm and more abrupt. I thanked them for their assistance and left, noting the judgmental looks I got from passers-by as I exited. I read the mind of one elderly lady: “Ya dirty pervert, could you not at least wait until after lunch?”

3. Have a 2-minute conversation with an imaginary friend in public

Around the corner from Ann Summers there was a gaming shop. I can’t remember the name of it, but I went in and proceeded to discuss aloud with myself the potential enjoyment I could derive from playing various games. There were only a couple of other people in the shop, plus the guy behind the counter. I inched closer to a customer as I told Niall about the rave reviews I’d heard for Assassin’s Creed. The customer inched away.

I moved up closer to the counter and relayed to myself my confusion about football games on the Wii. How can you kick the football if you hold the controllers in your hands? Did the game come with some modified controllers that you strapped to your feet or something? Niall was as confused as I was about the issue, so we decided to ask the guy behind the counter how it all worked. He said that for those games, you just use the hand controller much like you would a regular joypad.

“Oh, well we wouldn’t really like that.”

I spent another minute talking to myself about the XBox games in a different rack as a father and his teenage son did their best to ignore me.

Then we left.

4. Wave and smile at someone you don’t know (as if you do)

I tried this a handful of times as I walked around town. Shop workers are easy targets for it, since they’re paid to be nice and friendly to you. Smile and wave at them and they’ll generally return some kind of acknowledgment.

Not to let myself off too easily, I also waved and smiled at random people on the street three separate times. One young woman I was walking towards tightened up, fixed her gaze straight ahead and marched on past. Another lady actually smiled curiously and said hello back, perhaps unsure of whether she knew me or not.

As I waved and smiled my way around Brown Thomas, I decided to revisit two of the earlier challenges. Picking up a pink dress in the ladies department, I turned towards one of the employees and asked if it would look good on me. She laughed and shook her head. I feigned insult, dumped the dress back on the rack, and told her she had just lost herself a customer. She laughed some more.

In a different section of the store, I approached a girl working alone at a counter and had the following exchange…

— Excuse me… where exactly am I?

— Brown Thomas, third floor.

— [maintaining eye contact] Oh right, and what year is it?

— [looking at me like I’m an idiot] Are you okay?

5. Sing or dance in a public place where nobody else is singing/dancing

It was then time to attempt one of the day’s bigger challenges. I met up with a Couchsurfer named Graham at the GPO. Legend that he is, he’d agreed to be my videographer for an hour or so. We headed up Oliver Plunkett Street to a common busking spot. The following ensued…

The songs I butchered:

  1. Old Zip Coon
  2. Holding out for a Hero
  3. King of the Road

The experience wasn’t actually as mortifying as I thought it would be. It definitely helped having Graham there for a bit of support, and there weren’t all that many people around to hear my performance. If I ever do it again, I’ll learn off the lyrics so I’m not distracted trying to read the words from the page. Maybe then I’ll get a few coins for my trouble, or at least a clap or two 😛

If singing in the middle of the street is a little too far outside of your comfort zone, I recommend giving karaoke a try instead. With that, at least you’ll be surrounded by other performers who sound just as bad as you do 😉

6. Go the wrong way up or down an escalator

After I got done signing autographs for my adoring music fans, Graham and I were off to Dunnes Stores. I knew they had one of those sloped escalators there, and figured that would be a good way to fulfill this challenge. I’ve gone the wrong way down a step escalator once before, and given the noise I made and how unsteady I felt, I didn’t particularly want to mess with that type again.

So, sloped it was. I waited for a man with a pram to come up, then down I went…

Dunnes Stores security either missed that stunt (if you can even call it a stunt) or didn’t particularly care, because nobody came to eject me from the building.

I would however get their attention with the next challenge…

7. Lie down in a busy store. Stay there until someone asks if you’re okay.

The first guy who came over to me was just a regular employee. When he asked if I was okay, my reply was something like “Yeah, just feeling a little sleepy so I said I’d lie down for a minute.” Then I closed my eyes again. I guess he didn’t know what to do, so he went downstairs and grabbed Security Dude, who came along right as I was scratching my ass. He told me I couldn’t be lying there, so I got up and left. They seemed to cop on to Graham filming right at the end, but I pretended not to know him as I walked past and we met back up outside.

That whole experience did leave me feeling a little uncomfortable though, and not just because I made a fool of myself. I guess I felt like I was trying to trick Security Dude and his henchman, as if I was the superior free-thinker and they were the dumb 9-5ers, there to be messed with for my own amusement. That didn’t sit well with me.

Or maybe I just need to loosen up a little and not be so concerned about confusing two random guys in a department store.


8. Do ten push ups in the middle of a busy pedestrian area

Leaving Dunnes behind, we headed West and ended up at the turn of Patrick’s Street and Grand Parade. It was time to work up a bit of a sweat…

Nothing much to report on this one. I’m sure people thought I was weird, but by that time I’d gotten well used to the strange looks.

Graham and I then grabbed a bite to eat before parting ways. I’ll take this opportunity to thank him publicly for capturing my lunacy on video. He saved me a lot of typing.

9. Walk around for 10 minutes with your shirt/jacket on backwards

It was time for me to head home, but I first paused on Grand Parade and put my hoody, jacket and backpack on backwards. I had to ask a few random people to help zip me up since I couldn’t reach back and do it myself. Two teenage lads helped me with the jacket.

— Why are you putting it on backwards?

— Sure why not?

— Good point. I like your style, boy.

I then proceeded to walk home, convincing some folks to take my picture along the way…

It was interesting to try combining this challenge with one from yesterday: Make eye contact with a stranger and don’t look away until they do first. It seems people are even less willing to look you in the eye when you have your clothes on backwards. Who knew?

10. Admit something embarrassing on Facebook

After getting home and wriggling out of my backwards jacket, I threw the following message up on Facebook and Twitter:

I sometimes wear the same pair of underwear for a few days in a row.

Yup, tis true. More so in Winter.

If you have any trouble with this challenge, I suggest you read about my biggest secret. Well, it’s not much of a secret anymore, but the point is that those things we’re afraid to admit to generally aren’t that big a deal.

If you’re still reluctant to let go, take it down a notch and admit something embarrassing only to a friend or two.

Next up

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is all about flexing our assertion muscles. Among other things, I’ll be haggling, asking for unreasonable favors, and trying to talk my way onto a roof. Check back for the full list of challenges and a field report.

[UPDATE] Wednesday’s Random Acts of Courage: Roof access, date requests and a piggyback ride from a stranger

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    1. Absolutely classic Niall! Fair play for taking these on, I’d be petrified to do most of them. There’s a documentary somewhere in this for you I reckon 🙂

    2. that is brilliant!! you have just made my day 😉 would love to give it a go but think i’d be far too self concious…

    3. Hey,

      About the two guys and the lying on the floor at a store: it did seem like an akward moment for you and the employee, maybe you should’ve just told him the truth (something like ” i am trying something, is it ok if a lay down?); but this might be me trying not to make anyone uncomfortable 🙁

      As you mentioned at the beginning of your experience, is not about making people feel weird, and you did make the employee so as he went down to get some “help”; but this might be the employee not being lose or fun enough… I guess this are all things you will learn throughout your brave adventure 🙂

      I admire you so much and I’m having so much fun reading and watching you 🙂 And i started monday with a huge smile and seem to be looking people in the eye and saying hi and nodding much more, kind of unconscioustly, but definitely a subliminal influence of reading your posts 😉

      • Thanks, Uzuri. Glad you’re smiling and looking people in the eye more. Happy days!

        Yeah, it was weird with the two guys in the store. I couldn’t really tell them what I was doing though. The whole point was to lie down and not care so much what anyone thought of me doing it.

    4. Well, I had a lot of fun on Tuesday. Here’s how it went!

      I focused on two challenges, asking a stranger a ridiculous question, and waving and smiling to people in public that I didn’t know. I combined it in a way and did most of this at the grocery store. I was doing a bit of shopping and walking up the aisles. Three times I found the item I was looking for then when a store clerk walked by I asked, “excuse me, can you help my find??” In each case I was standing right in front of the item I was asking about. I each case the clerk looked at me funny, one of them laughed as they pointed at it and all of them helped me “find” what I was looking for.

      I’ll admit I had a bit of a hard time keeping a straight face doing this, and it was definitely fun to do.

      Also while in the grocery store I vigorously waved and smiled at all of the people I passed in the aisles, (five or six total, I lost count). I think I sort of startled a few of them, but most people responded with a smile and a hello back. It was very warming and really helped brighten the mood of the store.

      I’m a day late, but I’m actually off to admit something embarrassing on facebook right now, so look for that there. 😀

    5. Niall,

      I love this idea!

      You asked for thoughts regarding the lying down in Dunnes challenge. Your moral compass is spot on – making an eejit of yourself (I mean it as a a compliment) = liberating; making an eejit of some guys doing their job who were probably scared in case you’d go postal = kind of humiliating. A lesson learned, no doubt.

      I’m really glad I stumbled across this, courtesy of The Cork News, and look forward to the next installment. Try not to get yourself arrested.

      • Thanks, Anne. I think you nailed the feelings I was having with the lying down challenge. I made an extra effort after that to be courteous and respectful to everyone I met during the week.

    6. Love! My friend Max and I love to dance in public. We’ve pretended we were doing a tightrope act on a sidewalk up in Harlem, danced around to nonexistent club music in The Highline Park in Chelsea so wildly that people who saw us from their hotel windows joined in, mime danced at a bus stop… on and on.

      It’s great. I love all your ideas for breaking people out of their shell!

      Oh! Also, I heard from a friend who hangs out with Ram Dass, that RD takes his wheelchair down to the beach routinely and waves enthusiastically at passersby. My friend says RD smiles and waves and some people jump right in and smile and wave back while others look around confused. Funny.

      Hope you are well!

    7. Brilliant! You inspire me!

      I don’t know which ones I’m going to attempt, but I’m going to get out of my comfort zone and tackle some of these! All the fear about doing any of these is all a big story I’m making up in my head anyway. It’s fun to push the limits!


    8. fabulous stuff. so far as #7 goes, i would say only if you actually felt/perceived yourself to be superior. Did you?

      i was challenged in a class once to bend a gender rule. So i cut my hair, stopped shaving my armpits and legs (this is in Florida in the summer, and i am light-skinned with dark hair). Well, I got a lot of odd looks and looks of distaste but after a few weeks they stopped bothering me. Which is handy, because I hate shaving.

      And now you know one of MY embarrassing secrets LOL

    9. Hi Niall. I used to a lot of this zany/downright weird kind of stuff when I was younger (the most memorable one was “thumbing” outside of the county hall in Cork a few times with a friend that culminated usually in us taking off some/all of our clothes and once ended in us getting arrested! We didn’t ultimately get charged, at least nothing you did was potentially illegal! Another was walking down Patrick St holding hands with my similarily straight male friend) but I have rarely laughed so much at a video than the one of you lying in the floor of Dunnes! And I liked how you had the balls to stay there until someone came to ask you to leave! Priceless.