Some big enemies of everyday courage

Last week we noted that courage is such a fundamental ingredient of everyday life and personal growth and that “having the courage to …….” features prominently in all four Lenses. But everyday courage has some big enemies which we explore in this blog.

For professional inspiration, I (Ian) often think of Dr Raff, a German surgeon. While saving my mother’s life after a car accident in 1972, Dr Raff also sewed her almost fully severed hand back on and she gained 28 years use of it.

Dr Raff used micro-surgery techniques which were in their infancy. He had only read about them in a medical journal.  Nevertheless he had the courage to attempt the operation in a small regional hospital without specialised equipment or a YouTube of microsurgery on severed hands. He had enough challenge just saving my mum’s life.

What are some of the enemies of such courage?  

A disempowering concept of “failure”

Do you find failure disempowering and discouraging?

Superficially success and failure are often perceived as being opposites and mutually exclusive – if you didn’t succeed, you failed. And if you failed, then it’s an emotional and disempowering low. However, is it a success or failure when:

  • you swim a PB but do not win the race?
  • you complete your comeback game injury-free, but your team doesn’t win?
  • you don’t win but you identify how you can next time?

On closer inspection, it appears that success and failure are neither mutually exclusive, nor opposites. Nor need failure be discouraging.

The most empowering perspective on success and failure we have found is that provided by Peter Senge. He defines ‘failure’ as “simply a shortfall, evidence of the gap between vision and current reality”.  It is simple and unemotive and it empowers you to recognise that gap as an opportunity to learn and as a source of energy for change. It also gives you the choice as to whether you work to improve your current reality or take the easy way out and rein in your vision.)

Dr Raff could easily have decided that saving Mum’s severed hand was too hard and the risk of failure too great. 

Fixed mindset

Do you believe that your intelligence and character are largely inherent and static, with your potential determined at birth? If so, then American psychologist Carol Dweck coined for you the term “fixed mindset”. She has shown that your fixed mindset makes you consider your performance to be a reflection of your total potential (not leaving much room for growth) and that consequently looking and feeling smart are important for you. Alternatively, if you believe that your potential is unknown and that you have the ability to learn and continuously improve yourself, then Dweck would say you have a growth mindset.

Experiments have shown that people with fixed mindsets stick to what they know, avoid failure and challenges; whereas those with growth mindsets confront uncertainty and embrace challenges as they are not afraid to fail.

Dr Raff’s ongoing study is clear evidence of his growth mindset.

Unwarranted perfectionism  

Do you strive for perfection in most things you do?

Striving for perfection is vital in world-class sport and music, in science and mathematics and in heart and brain surgery. But ironically in many areas perfectionism is unwarranted and doesn’t lead to success. Rather it can waste time, hamper learning and progress, and foster anxiety, sometimes even depression. If you can remove the burden of unwarranted perfectionism (in your mind or the minds of those around you), you are more likely to find the courage to deal with the contexts you face, take responsibility for the outcomes and more forward effectively.

No one is perfect and perceptions of perfect minds or bodies and expectations of perfect outcomes or relationships can lead you down dangerous paths (like the vicious circles which can result from harsh self-criticism).

Dr Raff could achieve a PB with Mum’s hand but not perfection. He even had to resort to using an ox bone as the principal connection between her wrist and her hand.

Comfort zones

These are risk-free contexts where your courage muscle doesn’t get a workout. You can find a comfort zone in:

  • an ideology, or in the topics you regularly revert to to avoid more personal or more challenging discussions
  • the familiarity of your old mates at your regular pub;
  • in the job you have done with ease for the past 3 years;
  • in relationships with people who never challenges you.

Ironically there is ultimately nothing comfortable about these. Most obviously comfortable jobs are never secure.

A general surgeon’s experiences in a regional hospital know few bounds. Dr Raff must have gone beyond his comfort zone many times.


Not knowing who you are

Do you know your values?  If not, you’re unlikely to find the courage to draw lines on your behavior or what you get involved with.

Do you know your purpose, your aims and your passions? If not, you’re unlikely to find the courage to seize the moment, prioritise some things and say “no” to others.

Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? If not, you’re less likely to find the courage to collaborate or to seek help.

Do you recognize and acknowledge your negative emotions? If not, how will you find the courage to deal with things causing you fear, anxiety, panic, boredom, loneliness or embarrassment.

Do you explore what you’re truly capable of? If not, you’re unlikely to take on challenges beyond your comfort zone.

Dr Raff knew himself, his values and his purpose. I know from speaking with him that he had a deep faith and a commitment to using his skills for the benefit of others.

Big opportunities can come from a little bit of extra courage. So it’s worth reflecting as to what aspect of a decision or potential action has held you back from giving your courage muscles a workout.

Courage and the Four Lenses

“A tortoise only moves forward when it sticks its neck out.“ Ricardo Semler

In choosing to blog on courage, we make no pretence of being consistently, let alone significantly, courageous. We have no experience of the bravery required in dangerous situations, which our world and the news are full of. Here we’ll stick to courage in everyday situations, personal and professional - the preparedness to take considered risks, deal with challenges, take action and push boundaries.

We’ve had a range of experiences demanding everyday courage. In those where we showed healthy courage we mostly experienced rewards:  and in those where we wimped out we typically missed opportunities or failed to deal with issues and let them fester. In some important situations our courage was enhanced by others who gave us the confidence that we had what it took to deal with a challenge.

Speaking of wimping out, one of our favourite children’s books (which we used to read together years ago) is “Willy the Wimp” by Anthony Browne.

Willy was frightened of everything and everybody but one day he answered an advertisement titled “Don’t be a wimp”. He built up his muscles, liked what he saw in the mirror and became much braver.  Willy then found the courage to defend his girlfriend Millie from the local gorilla gang.

Most ingredients of a happy and successful life depend regularly on courage, so you have lots of opportunities to give your courage muscles a workout and, like Willy, to build them up over time.

So it comes as no surprise that courage features prominently in all Four Lenses. Here’s a small selection of thought-prompters.

The Identity Lens – Do you have the courage to:

  • ask yourself “Who am I?”, “What things in life are deeply important to me?” and “What are my values?”
  • handle feedback with an open mind?
  • believe someone when they say you are capable of big things?
  • explore and face up to your feelings?
  • explore what mindsets are running your life?
  • be objective about your strengths and weaknesses?
  • seek objective feedback ?

The Opportunity Lens – Do you have the courage to:

  • dream big? …and tell others about your dreams?
  • move outside your comfort zone or travel to unfamiliar territory?
  • be a player not a victim when the going gets tough?
  • perform or display your creative work publicly?
  • acknowledge when you’ve closed your mind and then take steps to open it?
  • embrace change and look for opportunities in it?
  • recognize that you’ve got a lot to learn?
  • put a proposal to someone and risk rejection? 

The Impact Lens – Do you have the courage to:

  • commit to and prioritise a particular direction?
  • make decisions on the available imperfect information?
  • seize the moment?
  • tell things as they are and ask for help?
  • take on a challenge or experiment and risk failure?
  • be vulnerable?
  • back someone you believe in even though others may not? 

The Sustainability Lens – Do you have the courage to:

  • ask yourself whether the journey you’re on is fulfilling and sustainable?
  • ask yourself about the long term cost of continuing down your current path?
  • set boundaries? ….and say “No” even when that might disappoint others?
  • pursue your own path, not that prescribed by your family, culture or society?
  • be true to yourself, despite pressure from peers or your boss to do otherwise?
  • be objective about which of your life roles or relationships are regularly draining?
  • tackle the conversations needed to make your life more fulfilling and more sustainable?

So you have lots and lots of chances in everyday life to exercise your courage muscles. Do you notice when you do exercise them and when you choose not to? And do you sometimes notice the results of that?

In next week’s blog we’ll explore some big enemies of everyday courage.


Transition & Australia’s Forrest Gump

“Times of transition are strenuous, but I love them. They are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits. We can make our new normal any way we want.” Kristin Armstrong (American Cyclist)

With the Olympic Games just finished there will be hundreds of athletes that will be coming face to face with the prospect of retiring from their sport. Some will be ready to hang up their shoes, others will be already balancing another professional life, but for some starting their journey into life outside sport will begin with a shock awakening.

Regardless of how prepared many of us think we are to take on a major transition, the bumpy road to change is often scary, uncertain and anxiety-filled (even for those who are prepared). For you, your major transition may be having your first child, changing careers, the death of a loved one, moving countries or leaving a relationship. We thought we would explore this topic by sharing our favourite story of transition and some insights it provides, as you embark on your next transition.

This is the story of Australia’s Forrest Gump. At the age of 88 after the death of his wife of 60 years Marj, Alan Waddell sat in his doctor’s office being told that if he didn’t start moving he would lose the use of his legs. So Alan started walking. First he looped his local suburb of Lane Cove, but before long he had started to adventure into neighbouring suburbs. This is when the Lightbulb came: 

“I wonder how many suburb of Sydney I can walk every street of?”

From this Lightbulb “Walk Sydney Streets” was born. When Alan passed away at the age of 94 he had walked every street of over 292 suburbs in Sydney, kept the use of his legs, conquered his fear of public speaking, became a celebrity featuring in national and international media and was sponsored by the Heart Foundation. He found his second wind and a new sense of identity. Most importantly, he was able to spend the final years of his life in daily contact with his sons who all contributed to making Alan’s walking, website and book possible.  

This story is the perfect example of a very difficult transition being transformed into a Lifechanger through a simple daily habit. We both had the chance to walk with Alan at multiple points and were always struck by his youth, warmth and humour. In this story lie so many great lessons. What are some of the simple things we can learn from his story of transition?

What we can learn from Alan about transition

Identity Lens

  •  Are you willing to learn and adapt? Perhaps the most important thing to note in Alan’s story is his resilience and how he responded to his doctor’s pleas to get moving. He spotted this important signal or ‘coachable moment’ and used it to redefine his transition after the death of his wife.
  •  Do you have an open mind to new possibilities? While he wouldn’t have anticipated having such wide acclaim, his open mind allowed this opportunity to blossom.
  • Do you deeply believe in the possibility of new beginnings? Transition requires hope and belief that even though today may be tough, new possibilities are waiting to be found. “If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.” Paulo Coelho
  • Is there a way of channeling your strengths and passions into a new beginning that can help others? Alan's story inspired and captivated thousands of people. Can your next chapter involve sharing the lessons you learnt through your transition and channeling that into something that can positively impact others? 

Opportunity Lens

  • Is this transition the opportunity to get in touch with a new part of you? Inside all of us is so much untapped potential. Alan never thought he could be a public speaker or that he would feature on national television. Does your transition present you with the opportunity to get in touch with some of your untapped potential?
  • Have you considered the multiple dimensions of this transition on your life? While this story at its foundations is about a daily walk, the impact was much broader. Have you considered the true breadth of the impact of your transition?  
  • Is this an opportunity to set new and clear benchmarks in your habits and mindsets? Transition often offers the chance at a reset button. Alan set the consistent objective of one daily walk in new streets. It was attainable, while also allowing him to explore new parts of Sydney - a smart plan to keep it simple yet interesting. 

Impact Lens

  • Can a simple mindset or habit transform your transition? Walking for Alan created a virtuous circle as hew enhanced his health and wellbeing, walked with new people, saw new things and developed ‘Walking Sydney Streets’. Similar to Alan are there one or two simple habits or mindsets that could make your transition easier and more successful?   
  • Are you letting others help you? Alan’s story would not have been possible without the support of those around him, especially his sons John, Graham and David. While it sometimes takes courage to ask, learning to tap into the resources and support of those who would love to help you can drastically alter your transition path. 

Sustainability Lens

  • Is the beginning you are choosing sustainable for the long haul? If Alan had chosen an activity he did not particularly enjoy or that would take a large toll on his body he could not have continued to walk for the rest of his life. Can you pick a new path that will be both sustainable and fulfilling?
  • Can this new beginning feed positively into your other life roles? We all play a range of life roles. Transition offers the chance to rebalance your life to make the time for those roles that really matter to you. For Alan this transformation offered him the time to develop his inner explorer, while also investing time in being a father. What life roles do you play that matter to you and how can this transition offer you the opportunity to invest more time in those people and things you love? 

 ‘Alan Waddell...proved you are never too old to change the world.’ - Think Big magazine

‘This site has turned a simple idea into a real treasure’ - The Sydney Morning Herald

This article is intended as inspiration for how to look towards a new beginning with optimism and hope. It has not touched on the grieving process that accompanies many major transitions. If you feel like you need help dealing with a transition it may be worth seeking help from friends, a counsellor or psychologist or you can always call Lifeline on 131114.

Thanks for reading and we would love to hear what you think. If you would like to hear more about Alan’s story, you can explore to his website Walking Sydney Streets by clicking here. We will be back next Tuesday with our weekly exploration of the Lenses in your Life.  

The Four Lenses & The Road To Mastery

We’re midway through the Olympics and watching great athletes always makes us reflect on mastery. While this topic has no boundaries we like to use the four Lenses as a framework to focus on different elements of the road to mastery. Whether that is designing your artistic practice regime, your training for an upcoming sporting event or even increasing your productivity at work, this post offers a range of questions to help you reflect on your current path.  

Identity Lens

Why am I trying to master this activity and how does this shape how I see myself?

Essential to surviving and thriving on the path to mastery is developing a deep understanding of who you are, what drives you and how that impacts your identity. Some essential identity questions surrounding mastery include: 

  • What is it that I love about this activity and how can I keep that passion burning?
  • Is my mindset or how I think about myself setting me up for success? Am I curious, creative and open-minded about where this road is taking me?
  • Do I deeply believe in my ability to improve?
  • Am I confident enough to take the support and advice of those around me?
  • Am I developing my ability to bounce back after the next roadblock? Sacrifice comes hand in hand with success. The courage to persist in the face of disappointment, disadvantage and overwhelming odds is the untold story of every great performance.
  • Who is my support crew? Behind every great athlete is a great team. It is up to you to cultivate a community of reciprocal support around you. 
  • What habits have I created around this activity and are they setting me up for success? One way to think about this is from a SWOT perspective. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Where are your areas of opportunity and what threats can you face up to or overcome (self-doubt, conflicting commitments, not enough support, afraid to ask for help, etc)?


Opportunity Lens

What opportunities can I spot and create to leapfrog my progress?

Opportunities for enhanced performance invigorate and leapfrog the path to mastery. For athletes they are often sought out in technology, training methods, psychology, physiology, tactics, leadership and diet to name a few examples. Key to finding the opportunities that will impact you is having a curious mind and open eyes to spot and experiment with new opportunities that cross your path. There is no one right way to do things and finding the path that suits you takes active spotting and picking. Some essential opportunity questions surrounding mastery include: 

  • What is next on my learning list and how can I get to that information?
  • Who are my role models and what can I learn from them?
  • What can I learn from someone working in another field/sport?
  • What could a coach do for me (technique, inspiration, discipline, support)?
  • How could I make myself more coachable?
  • In what other areas are my skills and experiences of value? Should I consider making a change to that area?
  • The normal training path isn’t working for me, is there another way?


Impact Lens

How can I maximise my progress?

Opportunities are not significant if you don’t have the courage to grab them with both hands and the ability to nurture them. Impact is all about working smarter not harder and getting the greatest return from your efforts. Some essential Impact questions surrounding mastery include: 

  • Do I have the courage to risk giving this 100% (at the expense of other things)?
  • Am I willing to take risks in experimenting with my learning or techniques?
  • Do I have the time and energy to dedicate to this right now? If not, should I wait till I do or do I need to make the time now?  
  • Do I regularly evaluate the effectiveness of my approach? Is there a way to celebrate achievements and plan next steps in one weekly exercise? 
  • How can I practice more deliberately and find more moments of flow?
  • If I can make my training more fun will that increase my commitment to it?


Sustainability Lens

 Is my current practice/training/work path sustainable and fulfilling?

Humans have limits and while working towards mastery it is likely you push against those boundaries. From injury in sport and music, to overwork and burnout at the office, it is vital to reflect on the sustainability of your practices. No two people have the same notion of ‘balance’ and your ability to recognise when your balance is (and is not) sustainable and fulfilling will keep you in the game for the long haul. Some essential sustainability questions surrounding mastery include: 

  • Am I feeling fulfilled at the moment?
  • Do I give myself the right to rest and to slow down when I need to?
  • Do I know when to let go and when to say no?
  • What are my signs that I am starting to get into unsustainable territory?
  • How many different life roles am I playing at the moment and how is the weight of those roles making me feel? (mother, sister, athlete, worker, friends, volunteer, etc….. all of these add up and can start to tire you out)
  • If I spend so much time on one area what does that mean for other areas?
  • While at times the notion of perfection is important in mastery, am I taking that idea unnecessarily (and potentially dangerously) into other areas of my life?  Am I fun to be with?
  • I have a transition coming up. Am I prepared?  How can I start to open up other doorways?


Thanks for reading and we would love to hear which of these questions resonate with you on your quest to mastery. We will be back next Tuesday with our weekly exploration of the Lenses in your Life. 

Gamechangers, Lifechangers and the Identity Lens

This is our first blog post so we have decided to start with one of our favourite and most fundamental concepts: GAMECHANGERS and LIFECHANGERS. 

life changer.jpg

Every day there are SIGNALS in your world - you meet a potential partner, you read something that changes your opinion, you react to events in a new way, you put on weight, etc

The SIGNALS you notice and you think have the potential to impact your life in ongoing and at times enormous ways become LIGHTBULBS.

You are then likely to do one of three things with each LIGHTBULB: 

1 Ignore it. Either consciously, because it is not worth pursing, or subconsciously because you are too busy and/or don't have the energy.

2 Convert it into a GAMEGHANGER. It will have a significant impact on your life. This may be through:

  • changing your attitudes and opinions;
  • making life easier;
  • lowering the pressure on you; or
  • increasing your productivity

3 Convert it into a LIFECHANGER. It will fundamentally change your world. It may alter:  

  • the direction of your life or the major relationships in it;
  • core assumptions you make about yourself; or
  •  the way you view your life and engage with it

One great example is the start of any creative or business project: 

Most of us would agree that we would like to experience more Gamechangers and Lifechangers. To do this we first need to be able to spot more Signals and derive from them more Lightbulbs. This is where the Lenses for Life come in and represent our way of exploring your life with you.

For this post we will just focus on the Identity Lens and how it can help you in this task. Your Identity Lens is all the resources and questions you have at your disposal to help you better answer the question of ‘Who am I?’ As you increase your self-awareness (rather than flying blind) by spending more time learning and engaging with these questions, the greater the odds will be that you will be able to spot the signals that impact who you are and how you see yourself .

Some core tools that may help to build this Lens include:

  • What are your priorities?
  • What are your top five values?
  • What mindsets are running your life?
  • What habits are directing your autopilot?
  • Do you keep an eye out for your blind spots?
  • What do you really love doing?
  • What gives you a sense of purpose?
  • What are your strengths?

This project is our way of exploring your life with you, to help you spot and act upon more Gamechangers and Lifechangers in the world around you.