In my last post I mentioned using my ’20 seconds of insane bravery’ and promised to explain in a later post.

I love this idea.  I came across it originally in the movie: We Bought a Zoo.

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

― Benjamin MeeWe Bought a Zoo

Matt Damon’s character is describing how he had to be brave enough to ask his wife on a date.  He was given some advice that he didn’t need to be brave all the time, he just needed 20 seconds of insane courage – just long enough to ask her – after that, he just had to deal with the fall out, whatever her answer was.

As with many great ideas, you find other people also notice them, and when they do, they reference them in their work too.

So it was hardly surprising when I noticed Steve Kamb talk about using it as a strategy too, in his book ‘Level Up Your Life’.

Ok, so now I’ve proved I’m kinda-not-crazy with this idea (or at the very least, I am not alone in my crazy) here is how I think this works.

We all get scared of things – irrationally scared at times.  We can say ‘It’s easy for them, I’m not brave enough to….’  when we see others accept a great opportunity or do some thing new for the first time.  The difference between those who do and those who wish they could do, might only be that 20 seconds of courage.

The idea that you don’t have to brave for ever, but just long enough to say ‘yes’ to that great opportunity or to commit to something new is genius.

Here is my theory on why I think it works.  (This is based purely on anecdotal, and unreliable sources I have come across.   For once, not a single data point of proper science!)

Many people will admit that dealing with something once it is upon you is easier than you think it will be if you are imagining it before hand.

Yet there is also evidence to suggest that we take a huge cognitive hit when dreading an event.  Its like thinking about an event in a negative way just exhausts our mental capacity.  This robs us of exactly the creative energy we need in order to deal with the event well.

Most people recognise this and who can blame them from taking the seemingly logical step now of avoiding things that scare you or are difficult?

But there is another piece to this puzzle.  Luckily, adrenaline brings a remedy to that creativity sap.  Once we are faced with a scary or difficult situation, adrenaline kicks in.  We can’t contemplate avoiding it, its here, and confronting it is the only option.  Adrenaline kicks in, in response to our ancient ‘fight or flight’ programming.  And because the event is now unavoidable, its here, its now,  our only option is fight.

But what’s great is that adrenaline naturally enhances our mental focus – and by quite a margin.  This means we deal with things much better when we are a little bit scared than when we are calm and relaxed.  From an evolutionary point of view, this makes sense.  When faced with a big animal, with many sharp teeth, eyeing you up for dinner, you need to think fast!

So, next time you have to do something of which you are afraid, focus on that 20 seconds of insane courage and ignore the rest.   Once you are on the other side of that, well, you’re just dealing with the fall out.  And adrenaline will see you through that, so we don’t need to worry about that bit!

Whilst I was writing this post, I wondered if there were any other examples of this 20 seconds of bravery idea.  I found that, more excitingly, there are other things that 20 seconds is perfect for.  Here is a random selection, courtesy of google:

20 seconds of other things20 seconds

One of my favourite bloggers referenced it in his blog recently.  Eric Barker (Barking up the wrong tree blog) quotes Shawn Achor ‘s use of the 20 second rule to help reinforce good habits, and stall bad habits.

He aims to reduce his indulgence in bad habits by making them take 20 seconds (or even longer) to start.  Like hiding junk food at the back of the pantry where it takes longer to find and retrieve it.  Or like taking the batteries out of the remote helps your reduce TV watching.

This has the added advantage of changing the trigger / reward that is set up for his habit.  By having to wait longer for the reward, it weakens the trigger, meaning over time (in theory at least) he will be less likely to eat junk food.

Sometimes, if you want to change your life, the tiny things are what make a big difference.

I’d love to know if you’ve ever used this, and if so – did it work out?