• Carolyn Prins

Courage in the Pursuit of One's Goals

All other sounds fade out, and it is perfectly silent except for the racing thoughts in your head. You can feel your palms beginning to sweat and your heart is racing. All you can think is,

"Why did I even come? It would have been better to avoid this altogether."


"Is everybody looking at me? Why are they all I have something on my face!?!"


"Should I share my opinion too, or will I look foolish?"

Have you ever felt this way in social situations? I know I have, and in these moments it feels much easier to just duck your head and hurry away. It is often hard to see the benefit of pushing yourself to interact with unfamiliar people when the thought of it makes you anxious and desperate to stay inside your comfort zone. While there is nothing wrong with being introverted (in fact both introversion and extroversion have their own advantages and disadvantages), experiencing social anxiety to the point where one avoids positive interactions and experiences within their community can cause one to miss out on valuable opportunities and social connections.

While most of us don't experience social anxiety to the extent of social anxiety disorder, many of us experience degrees of social anxiety in our lives. For youth, this may prevent the formation of new friendships with their classmates, as well as full engagement in their school community. If we aim to promote positive communities for youth, we need to consider factors such as social anxiety that are limiting individuals from experiencing and contributing to this goal. When we understand these issues, we can then support them in overcoming their own barriers.

Relevant to the considerations above, research out of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia examined factors impacting one's likelihood of tackling their fears and anxieties. The 2018 study by Chockalingam and Norton aimed to understand the relationship between anxiety, behaviour, courage, and most importantly, the mediating role of perceived task-importance on behavioural displays of courage. Courage theory proposes that for individuals who experience anxiety towards an object or situation, the act of confronting and overcoming that fear constitutes the individual accomplishing a courageous behaviour. [1] Building on previous (novel) research that explored the moderating role of courage on the influence of anxiety on behaviour, this study aimed to further understand how task importance impacts one's motivation to exhibit courage in overcoming their anxieties.

The researchers defined task importance as, "the weight an individuals assigns towards achieving a task/goal."[1] The relationship between goals and their assigned value is outlined by Förster et. al who explain that only once one ascribes a value to a goal can the individual be motivated to willingly pursue it. [2] Therefore, demonstrating and displaying the value of a task may be a way to actively increase courageous behaviour. [1]

Participants selected on the basis of displaying a spider phobia were assigned to the behavioural task of moving their hand as close they felt comfortable towards a taxidermy display of spiders. Prior to the experiment, individuals completed a courage measure and during the experiment participants rated their severity of fear/anxiety on a distress scale. [1]

Two experimental groups were formed and assigned a different set of motivational conditions . One group was informed that they would be financially compensated $20 regardless of the distance they stretched their hand, while the second group was informed they would receive $1 per every 3 centimeters stretched towards the display (with a maximum of $20). Therefore, in the first condition there was low task importance, as the degree to which an individual performed the task was unimportant to their obtaining the goal of the $20 reward. In contrast, for the second group their attainment of the goal was directly dependent on task achievement, and therefore displaying courageous behaviour was of high importance. [1]

Upon analysis of the results, the researchers concluded that one's courage scores predicted their behaviour (distance stretched toward the spider display) only when influenced by the importance condition (method of financial compensation). Whether someone was courageous or not didn't significantly effect their behaviour except when they were motivated by a high level of importance being associated with their task. [1]

Though this study focused primarily on phobias and importance as measured by degree of financial compensation, the concepts and results have an valuable role in the importance of wellness education and promotion. In order for youth to actively engage in their community and courageously face social anxieties they experience, they need to be educated on the importance of positive community and the benefits it provides. In doing so, there is the potential to increase the importance that youth place on social connection. If one truly believes that being connected to their peers is important, they will be more likely to challenge their fears such as joining a sports team, sitting with new people at lunch, and working collaboratively on a group project.

Positive communities are important, and they rely on engaged individuals who feel confident in their ability to contribute, and who place high importance on the betterment of the group. In an individualistic culture, it is important that we teach youth of the benefits of community, as it is in a positive and supportive community that individuals have the greatest potential to flourish.

How do you plan on making your community a more positive place? Share your ideas in the comments, and be bold in making a difference!


[1] Chockalingam, M., & Norton, P. J. (2019). Facing fear-provoking stimuli: The role of

courage and influence of task-importance. The Journal of Positive Psychology,

14(5), 603-613.

[2] Förster, J., Liberman, N., & Friedman, R. S. (2007). Seven principles of goal activation: A systematic approach to distinguishing goal priming from priming of non-goal constructs. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(3), 211-233.


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