Ten lessons learned from Random Acts of Courage

 

The above video is a Pecha Kucha presentation I gave about Random Acts of Courage back on February 2nd at Crane Lane Theatre in Cork..

Ah yes, Random Acts of Courage. Forgive me while I bring that whole thing up yet again. It was an unforgettable experience for me féin, resulting in unprecedented feelings of confidence, connection, and empowerment. One of the best weeks of my life, to be sure.

In case you missed it, the idea was this: go out every day for five days and do ten things that push you out of your comfort zone. For a full list of the challenges I attempted, see here.

Having had a bit of time now to reflect on the whole dealio, today I’d like to throw out a few of the lessons I learned that last week in January. Some of them were new to me, some just needed reinforcing…

1. Courage is relative

Some people are terrified of heights, others are fine with the flirting thing, a few couldn’t understand why I was so nervous about shaving my head. This demonstrates to me that courage is relative. What scares one person is no big deal for another. And what scares us at one time doesn’t have to scare us forever.

The lesson here: It doesn’t matter what other people deem to be courageous. You know your own demons, and it’s up to you to slay them.

2. Practice makes courage

I’m convinced now that if you have an irrational fear (and most fears fit in the irrational category), the best way to overcome it is to stare that fear directly in the eyes over and over again. Rarely will the fear back off and subside completely, but you gradually build up an immunity to it, you come to understand that you don’t have to give fear the final say.

Case in point: I approached a significant number of beautiful women during RAoC. Early in the week my heart would be beating out of my chest during such interactions. But as the days passed and I got used to initiating spontaneous chats with attractive strangers, I noticed my pulse was less likely to act like such a nervous dipshit. I remember finding it remarkable how calm I was late in the week when I asked that supremely hot Polish girl for help with my flatulence problem.

All that practice had turned something I was fearful of (approaching attractive women) into a shruggable experience.

I’ve noticed the same to be true with public speaking, and I expect I’ll see similar in business as I step deeper into that world. The first few times are scary, but just keep staring your fear in the eye and it will eventually blink.

3. Drink is overrated

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m abstaining from alcohol for the whole year. I was a little wary about doing this because alcohol was always my trusty crutch in social situations, my liquid courage. How would I be able to approach that attractive woman or make myself go dancing if I didn’t have a buzz going?

Well, after a week of RAoC, I proved to myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that I no longer need that crutch. I know now that I can face and overcome my fears without alcohol.

In fact, I’m beginning to believe I’ll never drink again!

Sorry, Ireland. I hope we can still be friends :-P

4. With power comes responsibility

The above realization brings about a new fear though. It dawned on me that first day of RAoC when I made myself go out to a pub all by my lonesome, strike up a conversation with an attractive stranger, and ask for her phone number (she gave it to me). Knowing now how capable I am of connecting with people on a whim, I can no longer sit home alone on a Saturday night feeling sorry for myself. It was easy before to let myself off the hook because I was convinced of my own powerlessness. That excuse won’t fly anymore.

I understand better now what Marianne Williamson was talking about:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

5. Our fears are generally overblown

All those things I was afraid of doing, now I wonder why.

Nothing bad happened to me during my week of challenges. I was never in any physical danger. I didn’t seriously upset anyone or cause my reputation any damage. In fact, the opposite of those extremes happened: I left many people better off than I found them, and my reputation seems to be better than ever.

I don’t believe I just got lucky; I believe this is how life works. The things we fear the most are the things we most need to confront. That’s where the biggest growth opportunities are to be found.

6. You can’t connect with everybody, but you can connect with more people than you think.

We humans are social animals. We crave connection and belonging. There are many outside influences which strive to tear us apart, to convince us of our separateness, but beyond the conditioning we’re all just looking for love and acceptance. I got many glimpses of that during RAoC.

There were some people I couldn’t connect with: that old guy who looked at me with pure disgust when I offered him a free hug; that family who were in no mood to see my silly street magic; the lady in the travel agent’s who saw me as just another penny-pinching customer. And many more, come to think of it.

But I shrugged those folks off and moved towards the more receptive souls. Once I started looking, I found them everywhere, in all different shapes, colors, ages and sizes. Strangers would open up to me, happy to share their time and attention. I was usually the one initiating the connection, but once I put myself out there they’d come and meet me halfway. I realized that they wanted to connect just as much as I did, they were just waiting for permission.

7. Choosing words and targets

I learned a lot during RAoC about how and who to ask for things. It’s important to choose the right words and the right target.

For example, to get up on the roof of the City Quarters building I had to make sure I explained myself to the gatekeeper, rather than have someone else do it for me. Nobody can sell you like you can.

Another example: trying to get a piggyback ride from a stranger. I asked a group of young fellas because I suspected they’d egg each other on and one would eventually do it if only to impress his friends. That turned out to be true.

8. Outcome independence

Making something a game and focusing on the process is a good way to succeed in the end. That is, when you forget about the outcome and just have fun with the doing, you’ll generally end up in a good place. Deepak Chopra calls this the paradox of intention and detachment. You define what you want success to look like, you set that intention, and then you forget about the destination and focus on the journey.

For RAoC, I did my best not to get hung up on completing the challenges. My goal was to simply make at least three attempts at each of them. If I succeeded along the way, great. If I didn’t, well at least I’d given it my best shot and had some fun in the process.

9. You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to

I’m stealing Chris Guillebeau‘s line again, but only because it’s so feckin’ true.

When you live your life according to other people’s expectations, never venturing towards the fringes, you live a life of unfulfilling mediocrity. To have exceptional experiences you have to do exceptional things. (Note that exceptional doesn’t have to mean crazy or attention-grabbing. Simply striking up a conversation with an old man at the bar and listening attentively to his life story, that counts as exceptional.)

Life is a lot more fun and fulfilling when you figure out exactly what you want to get out of it and proceed to think and act according to those expectations, nobody else’s.

10. Boredom = laziness

We often sit at home bored out of our minds, figuring we have nobody to hang out with, or no money to spend on entertainment. What we forget is that there’s a whole world out there for us to play with, most of it free of charge.

All you need to entertain yourself and find some meaningful experiences is a little creativity and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. Talk to strangers, be playful, have a blast. It really is that simple.

How to be more courageous

Lastly, a quick reminder that I’m building an online course around the Random Acts of Courage concept, set for a March 17th release [UPDATE: the course is now live]. The course will help other people experience the same high that I did during and after RAoC. If you find yourself struggling to step out of your comfort zone and face your fears, it could be just the thing you need. I’ll have more details as we get closer to Paddy’s Day. Stay tuned via Twitter or Facebook for updates.

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13 Comments

  1. Hi Niall.

    That’s some incredible insights, very inspiring. Right at this moment I feel like staring all my fears directly in the eyes- over and over again.

    Action attacks fear, whereas inaction reinforces it, and so often what we feel is out of our reach or seemingly impossible is simply the untried.

    Thanks for sharing some invaluable life lessons.

  2. This is a great summary of RAoC. I think it’s also interesting to add that the majority of RAoC had to do with some type of interaction with another human being… which, simply put, goes to show the level of importance we place in our minds on social interaction, either consciously or subconsciously.

    I really do think that our shying away from social interaction these days (i.e. not waving to someone on the street, or saying hello to each other) is unnatural at the human level, and that’s why we do long for interacting and socializing with others as you put Niall – we’re just looking for the permission to do so. In fact, I think a lot of people would agree when I say that one of the best feelings for you personally is when you feel that you have connected with another human on an emotional level.

    Also, love the part about setting the vision of success, and then just being yourself and having fun with it along the way. Way too often, we are so concerned with getting the check-list done that we forget to be ourselves along the way and to be our very best in each moment. The personal fulfillment that we experience after accomplishing a goal will be much higher when we focus on being our best throughout the journey.

    Congrats again on the success with RAoC Niall, and for spreading it wide, encouraging some participants along the way (me :D)

    • Good point. I think boredom can be staved off as well just by being proactive. Even if you don’t know what your passion is, you have to be willing to go out there and try new things until you find it.

  3. Hey Niall!

    Great job dude! This is fantastic. I was watching your video singing in the street. IT was awesome. I have yet to do that yet but I did go up on stage and act in a feature-length play while stripping. Yet singing in public still makes me nervous haha…

    Means I need to do it sometime..

    Have a good one!