The 20 Seconds of Courage Challenge

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It’s been a while since we’ve done a “newsletter” challenge…

As part of my operation “Revisit the past 15 years of Nerd Fitness,” and after writing about our Never 2 in a Row Rule, I updated one of the most popular posts and ideas I’ve ever put together:

20 Seconds of Courage.

What started as an obscure line from an obscure Matt Damon movie, We Bought a Zoo, has since become a rallying cry for the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, our community of nerds.

Feel free to read the full article, but here’s the quote from the movie, where Matt Damon is recounting to his son how he used 20 seconds of courage to meet his wife:

You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it.

Our lives are made up of a ton of quick actions that often take far less than 20 seconds. Starting a conversation. Walking through a door to the gym. Deciding where to sit in a restaurant.

And because we’ve made so many of these decisions, there’s a ton of inertia and history that might make us think we’re incapable of change.

However, as Alan Watts points out, “you are under no obligation to be who you were five minutes ago.”

And as my friend Tim Urban from Wait But Why shares, the paths behind us might be closed, but we always have choices moving forward:

Use 20 Seconds of Courage to Do Hard Things

Brandon Sanderson gave a great virtual talk during the pandemic about doing hard things. He encourages us to adopt the following mentality rather than just “hope things will work out!”:

“I can do hard things. Doing hard things has intrinsic value, and they will make me a better person, even if I end up failing.”

And sometimes we might need to do a hard thing that’s scary. Whether it’s joining a gym or standing up for yourself at work, or finally setting boundaries with your family…

It’s okay if you’re scared, by the way.

Doing scary things is tough, and we’re wired to trust our fears and avoid scary scenarios, which has kept us alive for hundreds of thousands of years as a species.

But doing hard things is usually a prerequisite for change, and our fear often doesn’t match the reality of the event itself.

As Seneca shares in his letter to Lucilius:

"There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality."

Which is where 20 seconds of courage comes in!

The 20 Seconds of Courage Challenge

I think this quote from Jerzy Gregorek paints an interesting picture:

“Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.”

Change can happen in an instant, and your life’s path can change as a result of any single decision you make.

Here’s how to participate:

  • Pick something you want to do but have been too scared to attempt.
  • Freak the F out before you do the thing.
  • Muster up 20 seconds of courage and take that one action.
  • Pee your pants after (optional).

And here are some prompts to get you started:

  • Saying yes to something you’d normally say no to.
  • Going to a part of the gym that you’re afraid of.
  • Establishing boundaries with your family.
  • Having an uncomfortable conversation.
  • Talking to a complete stranger.
  • Taking more initiative at work.
  • Signing up for a new class.
  • Standing up for yourself.
  • Leading an army of Transformers against the Decepticons.

Try it this week, and then hit reply on this email and let me know how it turns out!


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Hi there. I'm Steve.

I founded Nerd Fitness way back in 2009. Wherever you are coming from, I’m glad you are here. Every week, I send out a short email that’s guaranteed to make you live a tiny bit better, think a little deeper, and overcome the obstacles that get in the way.

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