Note: this article was first published on February 21, 2011. Originally it lived on my personal website, which has since evolved into ebizfacts.com, a site investigating different ways to make money online.
(The above video is a Pecha Kucha presentation I gave about Random Acts of Courage on February 2nd, 2011 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 the bottom of this post.
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.
Full list of ROAC challenges
- Get on local or national radio.
- Say hello to five strangers as you pass them on the street.
- Make eye contact with a stranger and don’t look away until they do first.
- Convince a stranger to have their photo taken with you.
- Ask someone working at a supermarket for help finding an item.
- Learn a simple magic trick and perform it for a stranger on the street.
- Ask a stranger in a restaurant or coffee shop if you can sit with them.
- Go to a bar on your own and strike up a conversation with another patron.
- Ask a stranger for his/her phone number.
- Strike up a conversation with a homeless person.
- Ask a stranger a ridiculous question.
- 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.
- Have a 2-minute conversation with an imaginary friend in public.
- Wave and smile at someone you don’t know (as if you do).
- Sing or dance in a public place where nobody else is singing/dancing.
- Go the wrong way up or down an escalator.
- Lie down in a busy store. Stay there until someone asks if you’re okay.
- Do ten push ups in the middle of a busy pedestrian area.
- Walk around for 10 minutes with your shirt/jacket on backwards.
- Admit something embarrassing on Facebook.
- Unfriend someone annoying on Facebook, or send a friend request to someone you’ve only met briefly but wish to know better.
- Walk into a tall building and ask at reception if you can go up on the roof to look at the view.
- Haggle over the price of something.
- Ask at a store’s customer service desk if you can make a public service announcement.
- Speak up and make a suggestion at a work meeting.
- Correct anyone who mispronounces your name.
- Ask for a free tour of an exclusive area.
- Ask for a freebie at a store or coffee shop.
- Ask someone attractive out on a date.
- Ask a stranger to do an unreasonable favor for you.
- Offer a stranger a hug.
- Ask a stranger for some personal advice.
- Strike up a conversation with a stranger and find out 1) their greatest fear, and 2) their greatest passion.
- Tell your partner about a sexual fantasy you’ve always had.
- Tell someone a secret you’ve never told anyone else before. Make sure you do it face-to-face.
- Hold a conversation with a stranger for three minutes or more.
- Get back in contact with a childhood friend/mentor and thank them for the positive impact they’ve had on your life.
- Tell someone you’re attracted to that you find them attractive.
- Give a stranger a genuine, elaborate compliment.
- Flirt with the hottest girl/guy in the room.
- Sleep at the other end of the bed.
- Go commando.
- Donate a bunch of items you don’t use regularly.
- Visit a park or museum that you’ve never been to before.
- Eat something you’ve never eaten before, or try a new recipe.
- Get on a random bus. Get off after five stops. Find your way home.
- Burn an old diary.
- Ask someone very different from you to share their viewpoint on a controversial topic. Don’t resist anything. Just listen.
- Shave your head or dye your hair.
- Take a class in something you’ve never tried before.