We all will face health challenges at some point in our life. Although some people will pass away quickly, many of us will undergo a more gradual process. The disease that kills us may take only a few days, or it may take years in the process. Chronic disease starting at a very young age, sometimes back to the moment of conception, afflicts many of us. So it is a worthwhile task to examine how you will react to disease, how you will look at disease. Will we face it with courage, or will it overwhelm our spirit? In order to prepare yourself to act courageously in the face of disease, it can be helpful to look at Stiliyan Petrov, the Aston Villa captain midfielder, after he was diagnosed with acute leukemia.
Petrov was in peak condition, an active, professional footballer. The popular, consistent player had made 30 appearances for his team that season. Then after a game against Arsenal, he wasn't feeling well and made an appointment to see the doctor. He got some tests, which discovered that he had acute leukemia. Within one week. Petrov announced his retirement from football so he could devote his attention to the leukemia.
But then what did he do? He didn't hide from the public nor did he wallow in his new diagnosis. Instead, the very next day after his retirement announcement, he went to his team's game against Chelsea. He cheered them on and gave his team his support, knowing that they would support him back.
One important thing that Petrov did was to share his situation with his closest friends. As a public figure, he made the decision to also share it with all of his fans. By doing this, he was strengthened, and encouraged to give his all to overcome the disease. He shared what was going on with his family and friends, and got strength from their support.
Another important action that Petrov took was to take some of the focus off of himself. Of course, he needed to concentrate on fighting the leukemia, that's why he retired. Yet, in spite of the sudden serious diagnosis, he nevertheless still showed a genuine interest in, and concern for, his teammates. Through his outward, positive encouragement of others, he demonstrated for them his courage in the face of disease.
How will each of us respond to disease? When it comes upon us, will we look at disease with courage, or with fear? By building up courage today, perhaps through the regular practice of courage builders, we can help ensure a courageous response.
"If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream."
Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King was an inspiration leader of the civil rights movement in the 1950's and 1960's. He was perhaps best known for his powerful speeches, and his commitment to nonviolent means to bring about social change. The power of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream was that behind his dream, he had great hope. A dream often can seem so far off, so unbelievable, that we fail to act. If it is just a fantasy, why work hard at it? Without hope, despair, but with hope, courage. With a great, burning desire and overwhelming hope, your dream seems possible. It is a real possibility, not just a whimsy or a fantasy. It is the hope that builds consistent, courageous action. That hope is what Dr. King gave us, to build up our courage to do the right thing. To respect each other. When disagreements occur, resolve them with nonviolence.
To build up your hope, listen to some of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches. Learn about his life, and his struggles. Ask yourself, what gave King such courage? What gave him hope? Certainly, the conditions in the deep south during his life were unjust and highly segregated. Separate seating, separate facilities, separate treatment. In spite of this, something remarkable happened. The courage, strength, and hope of good people responded to King's calls for change. Nonviolence worked. Hope kept him going to the very end, which for him tragically ended in an assassination in 1968 at the hands of James Earl Ray. Yet his dream, his hope still inspires us today, almost a half century later.
Build hope through an optimistic outlook. In the movie Dumb and Dumber, Mary and Lloyd were speaking. Lloyd asks Mary what his chances are with her. Mary responds not good, perhaps one in a million. In response to Mary's one in a million odds, Lloyd replies, "so you're telling me there's a chance. Yeah!" Lloyd has an optimism outlook. He just doesn't seem to understand that he can't do something. What makes the movie endearing is the purity of the characters. Lloyd and Harry constantly have hope. They are too "dumb" to understand the long odds of their success. Yet, somehow they accomplish their objectives nonetheless, and they are happy.
Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream, powered by unshakable hope, changed the world. You can change your world, and that of everyone you touch, by having a great hope that fuels your dreams.
Regularly practice these courage strengthening behaviors:
Sometimes, the brain can build up excessive recurrent thoughts, some good, but also some that are harmful. As discussed in the Wake-up Call of Courage, the intentional development of good habits is a key component of developing and strengthening your courage. But what is also needed is to eliminate and reduce the impact of negative thought memes, also known as thought viruses . The best way I've found to reboot the brain is by going through the following exercise, based upon a system by John Reese.
You need to have approximately one hour to complete a reboot of your brain. Make sure you are in a quite place where you won't be interrupted. Have available your favorite writing tools, perhaps a pen and paper or an online, private journal.
First, write down everything that you need to do. Some people call this a brain dump, others call it the to-do expedition. Your task is to make the list complete. Keep going until you cannot think of anything else. Concentrate on this task for at least 10 minutes before moving on to the next step. This is your to-do list. When you are done, put your list aside and take a short break of 5 minutes.
Now, write down all of your dreams, wants, and desires. Write these down regardless of the financial costs. For now, don't worry about how much effort it will take, or how likely you think it is possible for you to achieve. Just get these desires out of your brain. Write down your perfect life as you picture it. Write down the physical things, and also the metaphysical things. These are the physical and spiritual things that you really, really want. Completely empty your thoughts on this topic. This is your goal list. Keep going for at least 10 minutes, then take a short break.
The third step is to confront your fears in writing. Put all of your fears down on paper. It doesn't matter how small, how large, how real, or how imagined. The important thing is to put it all down. This is your list of fears. Again, keep working on this for at least 10 minutes then take a 5 minute break.
Now it is time to read out loud all of your entries from each of your three lists: a) your to-do list, b) your goals, and c) your list of fears. Read them aloud in the order you wrote them down. When doing this, if any new thoughts occur to you, write these down on the appropriate list.
Closely examine your fears, and while doing so, think about solutions that could help you overcome these fears, or decrease the fear. If you think of a complete solution, then add this to your to-do list and strike the fear off of your fear list. For example, maybe you are afraid of premature death. You come up with the idea that by walking for 20 minutes a day, you will greatly diminish this fear because you know you are taking active steps to improve your health. Write down "walk for 20 minutes a day, more days than not" on your to-do list.
Next it is time to closely examine your goal list. Think of possible solutions. Also check to see if you have any fears associated with any particular goal. As your ideas come forth, write them down on either the to-do list or the list of fears.
Finally, prioritize and begin work on your to-do list. This is the final step in your brain reboot. This completes the process, because now you can relax knowing that you have begun definite action steps to move you towards your goals and away from your fears. This builds up your courage by helping you become a person of action, not just words or thoughts. After performing a brain reboot once, it becomes much faster the second time. Do this on a regular basis as part of your personal improvement system, and watch your courage grow as your fears and anxieties decrease.
"Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit."
Start out your day on a courageous note by consciously and intentionally waking up with a strong, healthy, and optimistic attitude. This initial direction to the day makes a big difference! By starting out on the right foot, the rest of the day is much more likely to fall in place. So make the commitment to begin every day with a Wake-Up Call of Courage.
The first attitude to have when waking up is gratitude. Be grateful for having another day. Be thankful for having another opportunity to help and serve others. Even when facing great challenges, find something to be grateful for.
To turn this attitude of gratitude into a strong habit, connect this pattern of thinking with a specific action that you take every morning. Many people find that a good trigger for this is the action of placing your feet flat on the ground for the first time when getting out of bed. Connect putting your feet solidly on the ground with the thought pattern of giving thanks. Do it intentionally every morning, right when you put your feet flat on the ground. After a short time, this will soon become a powerful and self reinforcing habit. To make it a strong habit faster, pause for a few moments and dwell upon your feeling of gratitude as you get up. Think of the things you are thankful for, and internalize a strong feeling of gratitude. Emotionalize your thoughts. Let your gratitude completely fill you up.
Now, as you get fully up out of bed, summon up your courage. Think of your goals and your dreams. Visualize your goals from the perspective of a courageous person. Your goals are not simply fantasy and pipe dreams. No. Your goals are real. Your goals are achievable. Your courageous actions will cause you to achieve your goals!
Your strongest, most motivating goals will be ones that bring about the greatest benefit to others. This will result in the deep personal satisfaction that comes from helping others. Goals that are selfish or small do not inspire courage. Have big goals, that serve a grand purpose. Have goals that you enjoy pursuing and that you find deeply satisfying. These are the thoughts that nourish and strengthen your courage.
You will find that as you go about the rest of your morning routine, thoughts of gratitude and courage will continue to grow and strengthen. Encourage this growth. Reinforce positive thoughts and ideas. Just as watering plants makes them grow and thrive, nourishing these thoughts will cause gratitude and courage to become stronger.
The wake-up call technique can help you build up and strengthen your courage. Although the technique is simple and straightforward, it has real power.
SUMMARY: THE WAKE-UP CALL OF COURAGE
1. As you wake-up, think of the things and the people for which you are grateful. Emotionalize and internalize this feeling.
2. Anchor this feeling with a specific action you take every morning, such as putting your feet flat on the floor as you get out of bed.
3. Now, summon up your courage. Feel the strength and the boldness fill you up.
4. When your courage is strong, visualize your goals and your dreams. Have the attitude that your goals and dreams are 100% realistic, and that through your courageous actions, you will achieve these goals.
5. Remember that your goals that serve a greater purpose other than just yourself have the greatest power. Go for your goals that will bring you the greatest satisfaction while at the same time bring about the greatest good.
Published by Tom Heston MD 3/26/2012
Tom Heston MD is a Johns Hopkins trained physician who practices clinical medicine in the Pacific Northwest.
Mary likes the blue cup. It's her favorite color. The size of the cup is just right for her morning coffee, and the design, well it's a peaceful, relaxing combination of an abstract drawing in black on a background of charcoal speckled blue. It's Mary's cup.
So when we get up together, after walking the dogs, I make the coffee and get her cup. Any random cup for me is fine as long as the coffee is strong, but Mary is more artistic. To her, what makes good coffee is pleasant company, a relaxed conversation, a warm home, and of course, the tranquility of the blue cup.
The Sea of Tranquility is a basaltic basin on the moon that appears relatively black, juxtaposed against the predominantly white moon. The early astronomers Grimaldi and Riccioli thought these dark areas were actual seas, and in 1651 named one the Sea of Tranquility and another the Sea of Serenity.
The Sea of Tranquility was where the first man ever walked on the moon. When looking at the Sea of Tranquility on a clear night with a full moon, there often appears to be a touch of blue luminescence radiating out from the moon. The sea itself also gives off a bluish shade because of the relatively higher metal content in the area.
When gazing upon the Sea of Tranquility and its neighbor, the Sea of Serenity, a comfortable quiet and sense of wonder is experienced. Is it any surprise the early astronomer's used "tranquility" and "serenity" to describe these great wonders of nature so far away, on the moon?
Today as I write this, I am alone, and missing Mary. She is out of town for work and I've been feeling a bit lonely. Twenty five years together is a lot, but I selfishly want more. Although I am enthralled by the evening sky, and find the moon to be an amazing beauty of nature, Mary is my Sea of Tranquility, and my Sea of Serenity. As I rush to get my strong coffee in a jelly jar if necessary, she will take the time to find her blue cup. As I am already thinking of the business day ahead, she will turn the conversation around to deeper, more meaningful issues. From her comes this infinite, indescribable, yet clear sense of tranquility and serenity. Though we often only get a few minutes to talk, she doesn't ever just give a raindrop of tranquility, or a pond of serenity. She gives an entire sea of both.
So this morning, while waiting for Mary's return, the day starts as usual. Get up. Walk the dogs. Eat breakfast and make the coffee. But when the coffee was ready, I grabbed the blue cup. A small, trivial thing. A cup is just a cup. But then... patience... then peace.