Ep. 114 – The (Brain) Science of Courage & 2 Questions to Ask Yourself

For as long as I remember, my world has centered around words. Long before I knew there was such a thing as a career with words, I was always in awe of how something spoken could translate to something felt. 

I was reminded of this recently when I saw a quote that said: Fear is a feeling; courage is a decision. 

Much has been (literally) written on the lives that have been changed by words and by courage. And this includes words we share (or don’t) with ourselves and the courage we find (or don’t) within ourselves.  

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that it takes equal energy (and courage) to keep words unspoken as it does to share them. 

Let’s focus first on courage. This intense, intangible trait has often been the study of philosophical and psychological means. Today’s episode looks at the science that connects words and courage 

But before we dig into the nerdy stuff, let’s start a little closer to home. 

I was having lunch with a friend last week, and he posed two questions that I’ve really been thinking a lot about. 

The first is how to finish this sentence: I’ve always been curious about…

What comes to mind right away for you? Any subject, any thoughts. Where does your curiosity want to take you?

Curiosity- it can be the kickstart to courage. It plants seeds within our minds of what’s possible.  

The second question is this: If I felt very brave, I would…

This can go in so many directions and it takes it from the idea of curiosity to the action of bravery. 

So do we need courage to ask the questions or to answer them? Maybe, a little bit of both. 

Let’s look at this using science and go back to the quote: fear is a feeling

The amygdala in the brain is often referred to as the fear center. It’s an emotional operating center and fear is a long-tenured member of this group. It has kept us and our communities safe for millions of years. It’s a normal, natural, and neurobiological response to new information, stimuli, and change. 

The rest of the quote said: courage is a decision

This is where the prefrontal cortex comes in as our decision-making center. The prefrontal cortex helps with emotional regulation and it plays a large role in courage. There are some studies that suggest people who demonstrate courage show heightened activity in this region of the brain. The result is an ability for them to override fear signals and engage in that brave behavior. 

Research shows that acts of courage can spark inspiration and create somewhat of a ripple effect. When someone displays courage, they have modeled that it is possible to do so and it models it to other people, of course, but also to themselves. So if it’s possible, it’s repeatable. 

And science says it is possible. Courage isn’t an internal trait that some people have and some people don’t. It has deep roots in our biology. If fear was the signal our brain gave us of danger, courage was the action we’re able to take to help survive that fear. 

Let’s go back to the two questions, which were:

I’ve always been curious about…

If I felt very brave, I would…

Words matter, and courage is a decision. So listen to what you have to say and what decisions those need. 

I’ll end with a quote from a great song by Sara Bareilles that’s called Brave and the quote is this:

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out

So this week, be brave enough to at least ask the questions and see what happens when you let your words fall out. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.