How 20 Seconds of Courage can Change Your Life.

20 seconds.

1/3rd of a minute.

1/4320th of a day.

Today I’m going to issue a challenge, and it will only require 20 seconds.  Sure, twenty seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time. But I’ve come to learn that when it comes to getting healthy, taking risks, and living a life worth living, twenty seconds is often more than enough to change one’s life.

Right now you probably think I’m crazy. Which is fine, because I definitely AM crazy.

But I’m also right, and I’m going to prove it.

The realization


Two weeks ago, I was in Brazil for Carnival, and my friend Chris brought up the concept of “20 seconds of courage.”

He had just recently watched the movie, We Bought a Zoo (which I’ve since watched and really enjoyed), in which Matt Damon’s character meets his wife by mustering up the strength for a mere 20 seconds of courage to talk to her…despite being a complete nervous wreck before and after.  Had he never taken those 20 seconds to step outside of his comfort zone, he never would have met the love of his life.

Last week I randomly made a comment on twitter about series of books I used to read as a kid, Redwall. If you’re not familiar, these fantastic books are basically epic fantasy novels, but with mice, foxes, weasels, and eagles.  I received a crazy number of responses, but there was one comment by my friend Reese that immediately started turning the gears in my head:

  • @reece: Salamandastron FTW
  • @SteveKamb: I know right? Lord Urthstripe’s bloodwrath is epic. If I ever get a chance to do anything with the term “bloodwrath”, I’m in.
  • @reece: What’s stopping you?

You see, Lord Urthstripe was the (badger) lord of an epic mountain under attack.  At one point in the book, Urthstripe flips on his “bloodwrath” switch, and goes into a super invincible, crazy badger attack mode…obviously laying waste to all of his enemies in the process.

Hopefully by now, you DEFINITELY think I’m crazy, but I swear there’s a point to be made here. The idea of “bloodwrath” got me thinking that this concept was just like “20 seconds of courage” or even the “Berserker” mode that old Norse Warriors would enter before going to battle:

Berserkers were Norse warriors who are reported in the Old Norse literature to have fought in a nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury, a characteristic which later gave rise to the English word berserk. Most historians believe that berserkers worked themselves into a rage before battle.

If you’ve ever played ANY video game, you’re probably well aware that the concept of a “temporary power up” is an important part of nerd history.

  • Super Mario Bros: Star Power makes Mario invincible for a short amount of time.  He’s normal before and after, but in those few seconds he can cover some serious ground and wipe out a LOT of Koopas.
  • Will Ferrell in Old School:  He puts together less than 20 seconds of pure genius in his debate with James Carville.  Sure, afterwards he has no recollection of his answer (and before he was probably freaking out), but this 20 seconds saved his fraternity.
  • Transformers: Some transformers had the ability to transform from a robot into an animal form, just for a time. This was referred to as “Beast Mode!”
  • NBA Jam: Score three dunks in a row with the same person, and that person is ON FIRE! They turn from a regular NBA player to a basketball God, capable of ridiculously amazing dunks.  BOOMSHAKALAKA!

And it hit me: If Lord Urthstripe could have his Bloodwrath, Norse Warriors their Berserker mode, and Matt Damon his “20 seconds of courage,” why can’t I have a Berserker Mode of my own?

And why can’t you?

The application

fire poi expo

Now, a real life application of Bloodwrath/Berserker mode might be slightly different than described above; we’re not gonna send you into battle, and we’re not expecting you to fill yourself with so much rage that you black out.

Instead, your twenty seconds will help you overcome real, everyday barriers:

  • Afraid of the free weight section at your gym?  Turn on Berserker mode.  Give yourself 20 seconds and walk back there before you realize how scared you are.  After your 20 second are up, you can go back to being afraid, but you’re already IN the free weight section, maybe even with a weight in hand. Might as well do the workout now, right?  Who cares about the people around you – they’re too busy being self conscious anyway.
  • Don’t think you can start your workout? Too tired?  Turn on the Bloodwrath, baby!  Put on a great freaking pump up song, jump around, psyche yourself up, and just GET started. Don’t worry about what happens in the 20 seconds after you get started. JUST focus on those 20 seconds that are needed to get you out of bed or out the door.
  • Afraid to sign up for a class?  Afraid to try something new?  No problem, be afraid. Then turn on “ON FIRE” mode.  Sign up in those 20seconds and make your commitment before you have a chance to back out.  All of a sudden, you’re signed up and have to follow through!
  • Are you typically a push over?  Do you never stand up for yourself at work?  Beast mode.  At the next meeting, take 20 seconds to really stand up for yourself and present YOUR opinions.  Work up the courage to begin the conversation with your boss about getting that raise you deserve.  Once you’re in the office and the conversation has begun, you might as well keep going.
  • See that cute girl/guy at the coffee shop?  Normally you say NOTHING, and then go home and wish you had?  Give yourself 20 seconds of courage.  Be scared shitless before and scared shitless after, but give yourself 20 seconds of courage: “Hey, I need to get back to my friend/work, but I saw you from across the room and think you’re really cute. Can I buy you a cup of coffee sometime?”  At the very least, give them a drive-by compliment. You’ll never have to wonder “what if…”

Chinese philosopher Laozi once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Well, a life where you actually get what you want and deserve begins with 20 seconds of courage. Make the step. Approach that girl/guy. Sign up for that club/class/speaking engagement.

True story: I am TERRIFIED of public speaking.  I literally have to look into a mirror and give myself a pep talk before I go out on stage, whether it’s at Google, TEDx, or a classroom of college kids.  However, once I get through my Berserker Mode of 20 seconds, I find that everything else becomes so much easier.

I guarantee in EACH AND EVERY ONE of the instances above, that thing you’re afraid of is much less complicated, scary, or difficult than you’re making it out to be.  So don’t worry about the task or your fears.

Just focus on your 20 seconds of courage.

The 20-second Beast Mode Berserker Challenge


“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“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.” – Matt Damon in We Bought a Zoo

Today, I’m laying down the gauntlet.

I’m issuing a challenge to myself, and I want you to join me.

I am challenging us to implement 20 seconds of Berserker Mode every day, in some way. Try: 

  • approaching somebody you find interesting and talking to them.
  • taking more initiative at work.
  • doing a new workout/exercise
  • talking to a complete stranger.
  • saying yes to something you’d normally say no to.
  • going to that part of the gym that you’re afraid of.
  • signing up for a new class.
  • eating a new food that you’d normally avoid.
  • leading an army of Transformers against the Decepticons.

And so on!

Do you have a “20-second” mode?  

What do you call it?  

What kind of things are you capable of in those 20 seconds?

We’ve created a new thread on the NF Message Boards in the Woot Room where you can share your 20-second Berserker Mode success stories.  And I want to hear about it!


Who’s with me?!!?



photos: berserker, watch, fire poibeast mode

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