Internet Mental Health


Emotional Stability: Courage

How Would You Rate Your Courage?

Courage is our willingness to face adversity. The world is constantly testing us; thus there is no way to avoid adversity. Evolution has provided us with effective ways to deal with short-term adversity, using either the excitatory ("fight-or-flight") or inhibitory ("shutting-down") mode of our nervous system. Unfortunately, these excitatory or inhibitory modes of our nervous system are only effective against short-term stressors (e.g., brief threats of attack or starvation). These nervous system responses are ill-suited for responding to modern long-term stressors. Thus anxiety and depressive disorders represent the malfunctioning of our nervous system's excitatory or inhibitory modes. When our ability to face adversity is properly functioning; we face adversity with determination, self-confidence, optimism, independence, Extraversion and with the ability to handle social separation or rejection.

Questions To Ask Yourself

  • Are you facing your problems and your fears?

  • Do you maintain a calm composure?

  • Do you maintain stable and peaceful personal relationships

  • Do you pick yourself up and try again when you fail?

  • Do you realize that repeated failure is the price of success?

  • Do you have a good opinion of yourself and your abilities; are you socially confident and out-going?

  • Are you hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst? Do you see opportunity in your difficulty?

  • Do you have the courage to do the right thing even when other people disagree?

      Ability To Handle Separation or Rejection:
  • Can you adequately handle conflict or rejection?

  • Face your fears; try again when you fail
  • Project self-confidence
  • Laugh or smile a lot and experience lots of enjoyment
  • Be able to do the right thing even when others disagree
  • Be able to defend your rights and put forward your views
  • Be able to handle conflict or rejection
  • Be motivated to achieve your goals

Historical Perspective

    Every civilization produces leaders - a person who rules, guides, and inspires others.

    The leader must personify courage. The leader must be self-confident, optimistic, and not fear rejection. Also the leader must be assertive, independent and able to handle conflict or rejection.

    These leaders inspire their followers to also be courageous. The rules for courage have remained the same over time:

    • Face your fear

    • Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst

    • Avoid the "Poor Me" or "Victim" role

    • Persist despite failure, but don't keep repeating the same mistakes

    • You may fail when you try something; but you always fail when you don't even try

A Caveman Experiment On Courage

    Recently there was a 10 day experiment in which 10 individuals agreed to be cavemen and go into the Colorado wildness equipped only with caveman clothing and tools. The results of this experiment were amazing.

    I, Caveman: Back To The Stoneage

    The group was able to catch fish on the first day, then they ran out of food. By the fourth day of starvation, the entire group suffered from severe fatigue, insomnia and apathy. Three members of the group became dysfunctional and just spent the day lying down or sitting. One woman, a vegetarian, was very weak and inactive because she couldn't find nutritious vegetarian food. Another female member became very tearful, pessimistic, and emotionally unstable. This woman gave up on the fifth day of starvation, and exited the experiment.

    I, Caveman: Back To The Stoneage

    On the sixth day of starvation, a male member of the group just gave up, and said that they had no chance of getting any more food. He then exited the experiment.

    Fortunately, on the seventh day of starvation, the four group members that still had the energy and optimism to hunt, actually killed an elk using their caveman spears. To everyone's surprise, the vegetarian woman refused to eat the meat, and - had the experiment run longer - would have starved to death.

    By the 7th day of starvation, 4 group members were still functional (and saved the group by going hunting), 4 members were dysfunctional and immobilized, and 2 members had given up and exited the experiment. Thus, when facing starvation, in 10 days 60% of the group were unable to deal effectively with this adversity, and only 40% effectively dealt with it.

    The courageous individuals (i.e., the 40% of the group that passed this experiment) in this experiment differed significantly from the non-courageous individuals (i.e., the 60% of the group that failed this experiment):

    • Determination:
      The courageous individuals were determined to hunt game and avoid starvation. The non-courageous individuals gave up on hunting for various reasons.

    • Self-Confidence:
      The courageous individuals were confident that they had the skills to successfully hunt. The others lacked this self-confidence.

    • Optimism:
      The courageous individuals appreciated the difficulty involved in hunting an animal as big as an elk, but they were optimistic that it was possible. The non-courageous individuals let their pessimism paralyze them.

    • Independence:
      Repeatedly in group meetings, the courageous individuals kept asserting their view that the only hope for survival was to hunt elk. Then the courageous people set out on their elk hunt, despite the fact the majority of their group didn't join them.

    • Ability To Handle Separation or Rejection:
      Despite significant opposition to their viewpoint, and the fact that the majority of the group would not join their hunt, the courageous individuals went on their hunt and saved the group from starvation by killing an elk. Two of the non-courageous members quit the experiment, in part, because of their loneliness being separated from their friends.

    This novel caveman experiment illustrated all of the major characteristics of courage when facing life-threatening adversity.

Physiological Basis To Fear

    Research has found that there is a physiological basis to fear. People with anxiety disorders may look calm during interviews, but they have abnormally elevated heart rates, sweating, and blood flow when tested. They show physiological signs of prolonged arousal (of being locked in fight-or-flight mode). It is as if their bodies are constantly prepared to attack or be attacked. For anxious individuals, every day is like facing a lion in the jungle.

Facing Your Fear

    Courageous people see adversity as a challenge that will cause them to grow. Anxious and depressed individuals see adversity as an insurmountable obstacle that is best avoided.

    Courageous people are confident in themselves, and their ability to solve their problems. Anxious and depressed people give up before success arrives.

    Courageous individuals are focused on what they are doing that is right. Anxious or depressed individuals are focused on what they are doing wrong. Courageous people see the obstacles but are willing to work hard to overcome them. They are patient, but persistent. They keep focused, and learn from each setback. Courageous people are not afraid of failure; they know that few problems are solved on the first attempt. Success usually comes only after a long journey of struggle. They know that they must face their fears, or fear will overwhelm them.

Overcoming Adversity

  • Select achievable goals that you approach one step at a time:
    Focusing on the next step, rather than looking ahead to every step, will prevent you from getting overwhelmed.

  • Focus on your progress, not your regrets:
    Do not waste time regretting what you should have done. Focus on what currently is going right, instead of focusing on what is going wrong.

  • Focus only on what really matters:
    Don't get distracted by trivialities. When problem-solving in a group, speak only when you have something important to contribute. Don't bore people with idle banter.

  • Ask for help:
    Most problems in life are better solved when people share their wisdom. The best time to ask for help is when you first realize that it will be very difficult to solve your problem alone. Don't wait until you are totally overwhelmed before you ask for help.

  • Don't play the blame game and be a victim:
    Don't hold a "pity-party" and play the victim while blaming others for your problem. Don't keep repeating how unfair or unlucky it is to have your problem. Accept responsibility for the role you played in causing this problem, learn from it, and move on.

  • Think For Yourself:
    Don't blindly follow the latest trend or public opinion. Form your opinions carefully, based on the facts. Be willing to change your mind if new facts support this, but otherwise have the courage of your own convictions. Don't be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. Einstein said "question everything". Inspire people to explore new ideas.

  • Welcome Disagreement:
    Don't react defensively to dissenting opinions on how to solve a problem. You don't know everything, and someone else might have a better solution. Care more about solving the problem than always being right.

  • Don't Overreact If Someone Makes A Mistake:
    Your social relationships are very important, so don't let an emotional overreaction harm them. Wait and think before reacting. Treat others the way you want others to treat you, if you made a similar mistake.

  • Congratulate yourself on your resilience:
    Your ancestors faced similar problems to yours, and they survived (and thus made your life possible). Thus you have your ancestors' resilience; their "survival DNA". Your ancestor's "survival DNA" gives you the resilience to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Your ancestors didn't let failure overcome them and drain their resolve. They found a way to rise from the ashes. Now its your turn; you have the same time-tested "survival DNA". Now use it.

Hope For The Best, But Prepare For The Worst

    Before starting any major undertaking, it is wise to ask: "What is the worst that could happen?" Many of our failures are preventable - if, before starting, we identify the dangers involved. Even if we blindly walk into danger; we can escape if we have a good backup plan. Yet many people lack the foresight to see the danger they are facing, or to create a backup plan.


    Research has found there are concrete ways whereby individuals can increase their self-confidence:

    • You will make many mistakes before you solve a major problem. So don't focus on your mistakes; instead focus on the effort you have made and what you've learned. You should be proud of your hard work - even if your hard work did not immediately lead to success.

    • Set small achievable goals and build from there. Each success with these small goals will further increase your self-confidence as you tackle more difficult goals.

    • Get support from people that believe in you. When you are told "you can do it" by someone you respect, you believe it. This sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you believe you can do something, the harder you work at it; hence the better your chance of success. Thus it is better to be in a high-performing and high-expectation social environment versus a low-performing and low-expectation one.

    • Make a list of all the things in your life that you are thankful for, and another list of all the things you are proud of accomplishing. These lists will remind you of your past good fortune, thus increase your confidence that future good fortune awaits.


      "A leader is a dealer in hope." - Napoleon Bonaparte

      "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill

    Research has shown that:

    • Life's obstacles are seldom permanent, and usually there is an alternative way around them.

    • You are resilient - eventually you will figure out the solution to your problems.

    • You must actively persist in your problem-solving. The worst thing you can do is hide from your problems.

    • You should ask others for help, rather than face a major problem alone. Socially isolating yourself and staying at home won?t help you to overcome your problems.

    • You can increase your optimism by every day writing down something that you are looking forward to doing.

    • Your optimism can also be increased if you write down your life history. This will remind you of past adversities that you successfully overcame, and goals that you successfully achieved.

    Research has also found that it is not the stressful event, but how you interpret the event, that determines how much harm the stress will do. For example, if people are fired from their job; they can either interpret it as a disaster, or they can view it as an opportunity to get a better job.

    People that interpret stressful events as disasters are much more likely to become anxious and depressed than individuals that view stressful events as challenges that they can overcome.

    Research has found:

    • Stress is usually not harmful if we believe that:

      • Stress mobilizes us to overcome life's challenges, and teaches us that we can handle stress

      • Stress mobilizes us to ask others for help, and deepens our connection to others

    • Stress usually is harmful if we believe that:

      • Stress immobilizes us and causes harm

      • We are left to face stress alone

    There is a cautionary note about optimism.

    When you are crossing the street, optimism won't stop cars from hitting you. You shouldn't turn a blind eye to life's dangers. Optimism must be realistic in order to help you solve life's problems.

Learning From Facing Adversity

    Seligman studied 1,700 people who had experienced extreme adversity. Even though many had intense depression and anxiety after facing their extreme adversity; in the long run, they arrived at a higher level of psychological functioning than before. The more episodes of extreme adversity they experienced (e.g., being raped, tortured, and being held captive), the stronger they were when compared to those with fewer episodes.

    There's a lot of truth in what Nietzsche said: what does not kill us can make us stronger. The important thing appears to be that, when you face adversity, always ask yourself what you can learn from it.

Excessive Self-Blaming

    Some individuals are constantly at war with themselves.

    They believe: "I am stupid", "I am a failure", "Nothing goes right for me". They constantly analyze themselves and their behavior for flaws. They are cynical and pessimistic. Because of their gloomy, depressed or angry mood, they withdraw and socially isolate themselves. This lack of cooperation with others makes them feel even more hopeless, depressed or angry.

    These individuals are at a high risk for developing Persistent Depressive Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder. Healthy people are self-confident, optimistic, sociable, and feel accepted and supported by friends.

    Individuals suffering from excessive self-blaming are pessimistic, socially withdrawn, and feel rejected by others.

    If you suffer from excessive self-blaming; here are ways you can remedy this by learning increased self-compassion and social cooperation:

    • Practice Being More Positive:
      Strive to replace your unrealistic, pessimistic, negative thinking with more realistic, optimistic, positive thinking. Be kind towards yourself, instead of always blaming yourself for everything. Accept and love yourself for who you are - with all your human imperfections. Quit constantly comparing yourself to others.

    • Stop Brooding:
      Learn from your mistakes, then move on. Don't keep ruminating over your failures. Your failures are the price you pay for your eventual success. Much of your life is not under your control; hence you can not change it. You are only responsible for the small part of your life which is under your control - the part you can change.

    • Help Others:
      In order to feel good, you have to do good. Thus to feel better, you have to get out and help others.

    • Be Patient:
      Be patient with others and with yourself. It takes time for people to change. You are a work in progress, and you will make many mistakes on your life journey. Your learning on this journey requires patience and tolerance of human frailty - especially your own

    • Be Friendly:
      You can not control how other people behave towards you. All you can do is control how you behave towards other people. Thus remain friendly and out-going - especially towards people that haven't accepted you.

Avoiding The "Poor Me" Or "Victim" Role

    History has shown that we must not see ourselves as passive, helpless victims or indulge in self-pity. Individuals should not adopt a "victim role" in which they become crippled by their own self-pity and "poor me" attitude. Regardless of the adversity, we must face it with courage and determination. Courageous people may express their feelings about their challenges, but they don't waste time complaining.

    It is not what we endure, but how we endure it that defines courage.

Persist Despite Failure, But Don't Keep Repeating The Same Mistakes

    Philosophers teach that we must be determined to achieve our goals, and persevere in the face of failure. We must be able to endure repeated failure if we are ever to eventually attain success.

      "Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." (Henry Ford)

      "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again." (W.E. Hickson)

    These philosophers emphasize that we should bravely face danger to defend our personal principles (e.g., fighting injustice) without expecting personal reward. These philosophers also warn that we should avoid seeking glory (like a celebrity) because glory depends on the whims of the crowd. Also, we should not withdraw from life. It is our duty to overcome our fears and actively toil to make our contribution to society, rather than hide from the world and help no one.

Happy Vs. Unhappy People

    Research has found that many of the factors that make people courageous are also those that make people happy. Professor Sonya Lyubomirsky reviewed the research findings showing what the happiest people have in common:

    • They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.

    • They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.

    • They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.

    • They practice optimism when imagining their futures.

    • They savor life's pleasures and try to live in the present moment.

    • They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.

    • They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values).

    • Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies. They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.

Rich People Think Differently Than Poor People

    Tom Corley asked 233 rich people and 128 people living in poverty questions about their beliefs. He found:

    • Rich people believe their habits have a major impact on their lives:
      "Daily habits are critical to financial success in life."
      Rich people who agree: 52%
      Poor people who agree: 3%

    • Rich people believe in the American dream:
      "The American dream is no longer possible."
      Rich people who agree: 2%
      Poor people who agree: 87%

    • Rich people value relationships for professional and personal growth:
      "Relationships are critical to financial success."
      Rich people who agree: 88%
      Poor people who agree: 17%

    • Rich people love meeting new people:
      "I love meeting new people."
      Rich people who agree: 68%
      Poor people who agree: 11%

    • Rich people think that saving is hugely important:
      "Saving money is critical to financial success."
      Rich people who agree: 88%
      Poor people who agree: 52%

    • Rich people feel that they determine their path in life:
      "I believe in fate."
      Rich people who agree: 10%
      Poor people who agree: 90%

    • Rich people value creativity over intelligence:
      "Creativity is critical to financial success."
      Rich people who agree: 75%
      Poor people who agree: 11%

    • Rich people enjoy their jobs:
      "I like (or liked) what I do for a living."
      Rich people who agree: 85%
      Poor people who agree: 2%

    • Rich people believe that their health influences their success:
      "Good health is critical to financial success."
      Rich people who agree: 85%
      Poor people who agree: 13%

    • Rich people are willing to take risks:
      "I've taken a risk in search of wealth."
      Rich people who agree: 63%
      Poor people who agree: 6%

Core Factors In Happiness

    Murray and Peacock in 1996 identified the core factors in a happy life. These core factors were number of friends, closeness of friends, closeness of family, and relationships with co-workers and neighbors. Together these features explained about 70 percent of personal happiness.

    Lin and Putnam found that what religion you practice or however close you feel to God makes no difference in your overall life satisfaction. What matters is the number of friends you have in your religious community (10 or more is the magic number). Going to church is scheduled friend time.

    Research has found that money definitely can make you happier - when you spend it on other people. People who spent money on others in experiments were found to be happier than those who spent money on themselves. Even taking turns paying brings more happiness than always paying half.

There Is No Single Survival Strategy That Works Every Time

    Animals have three basic strategies for dealing with environmental adversity: (1) fight (oppose the adversity), (2) flight (flee the adversity), or (3) forbear (patiently endure the adversity).

    For example, severely cold winters test an animal's ability to survive:

    • Fight:
      Many animals grow thick coats of fur to fight the winter's cold.

    • Flight:
      Birds survive winter by migrating to warmer environments.

    • Forbear:
      Bears survive cold winters by hibernating. They basically shut down their body functions to the bare minimum, and sleep through the 6 months of winter.

    Humans use these same three survival strategies.

    Most of the time, humans can fight adversity. However, sometimes they have to almost hibernate to survive (e.g. during a famine, starving villagers try to sleep most of the day to conserve energy while awaiting the return of their hunters with food).

    There are other times when the only life-saving option is to flee. For example, most of the German Jews that survived Nazi Germany in WWII were those that fled Germany.

    Humans have two additional ways in which they respond to adversity:

    • Fold:
      In response to adversity, often people give up. They accept that the situation is hopeless. Sometimes, to survive, it is essential to accept defeat, so that your plan can be redirected towards a more successful alternative. However, giving up can go to an extreme where people become overly pessimistic, lonely and depressed. Depressed individuals often isolate themselves and shut down into near hibernation. They become immobilized; often with disastrous consequences.

    • Fantasize:
      In response to adversity, some humans escape into fantasy. Sometimes these fantasies are comforting and harmless (e.g., fantasizing winning the lotto). However, such fantasies can become lethal. For example, a suicide bomber might fantasize that his suicide will be rewarded in paradise. These fantasies can become firmly held despite all evidence to the contrary.

    So, in determining the best survival strategy, it is essential to determine if it is better to:

    • Fight or oppose adversity (e.g., when unemployed, seek a new job in the same city).

    • Flee adversity (e.g., move to a new city to get a job).

    • Forbear adversity by waiting it out (e.g., stay on unemployment benefits until the job picture improves).

    • Fold and give up in the face of adversity.

    • Fantasize and believe some comforting fiction.

    Nature teaches that there is no single survival strategy that works every time. Fighting adversity with relentless determination is not always the best survival strategy. Waiting or retreating at times are far more successful survival strategies.

    The trick is to know which survival strategy is best for a particular situation.
Internet Mental Health 1995-2018 Phillip W. Long, M.D.