04/11/2012 04:02 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2012

Living a Courageous Life

What do you do when you're afraid? Do you try to ignore your fear by running from it or pretending it's not rumbling around your belly? Do you get caught, like a deer in the headlights, frozen in your tracks? Are you doing your best to live a fearless life? I tried to live a fearless life, but I failed. There are times when I still feel afraid.

I used to assume that I was broken, doing something wrong. In my mind, everyone else was living without fear, so why couldn't I? I was happy to gain a different perspective of my "living a fearless life" story when I saw Tony Robbins as the guest lecturer on Oprah's Lifeclass.

From the first moment he walked on stage, he debunked the myth of living a fearless life. He said, "There's no such thing. Fear is a natural instinct that we are born with. Living fearlessly isn't necessarily accurate. You can't live a totally fearless life, because if you're never afraid, you can't be courageous. To have real courage, you have to be afraid of something."

With so many people reinventing their lives, stepping outside their comfort zones, losing jobs, and experiencing other drastic life changing events, Tony Robbins' way of accepting fear rather than ignoring it or pretending it doesn't exist seems gentle. It reminds me to embrace and accept my humanness.

Trying to live a fearless life is to set yourself up for failure. Instead, set yourself up for success by working at living a courageous life. It might be easier said than done, but according to Tony, courage is a muscle that has to be strengthened. That means it will take a workout especially designed for you. Then all you have to do is repeat it every chance you get.

In other words, living a courageous life is a lifestyle that takes practice.

First, it's important to understand where the fear is coming from. What story are you telling yourself? Oprah told herself a story that became an integral part of her success. "I didn't believe what I was told about being poor and black and female in Mississippi. I actually believed in a greater consciousness ... I was able to align my belief with the power that was greater than myself and I allowed that to be the current that flowed through my life."

Oprah's story was that she was God's child. To her that meant that she could do anything. And she has, inspiring millions of us to understand that we are what we believe. According to Tony, "The story we tell ourselves can make or break our lives no matter who we are"

Tony's advice: Don't try to convince yourself you're not afraid. Instead, face your fear and get to the heart of the matter.

Everyone has to find his/her own personal strategy. Jane Fonda, another "believer," says, "When I'm afraid of something, I embrace it, I become its best friend. I know everything I can about it and my fear dissipates, breaking the wall of silence. That's what happens when you face your fears."

Get to the root of what you're telling yourself and why. Once you understand where your story originated, then you can change it. Oprah changed her story from being poor in Mississippi with no opportunity to being God's child with endless possibilities.

Choose your personal approach. Determine what you'll do to strengthen your courage muscle when you feel your fear. You want to change your state of mind. Tony uses his physicality and moves. Some people pray, some meditate and others write. Fear is personal, so find what works for you. Take all that powerful fear energy and transform it, redirect it and focus it on something else. That energy has the power to help you build your dreams.

One great way to change your emotional state and get out of your story is to focus on someone else. According to researcher Carolyn Schwartz, ScD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, "The act of giving to someone else may have mental health benefits because the very nature of focusing outside the self counters the self-focused nature of anxiety or depression."

No matter what methods you choose to live your courageous life, stop making yourself wrong for feeling fear. Approach your fear with a strategy, take a few deep breaths and smile. You're not alone; we all feel afraid sometimes. If you want to see how strong you really are, then face your fears. When you consistently practice your workouts, you'll find yourself living a happier, more rewarding and courageous life.

For more by Carolyn Ziel, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.