How 20 Seconds of Courage can Change Your Life.

20 seconds.

Today I’m going to issue you a challenge, and it will only require 20 seconds.

And you’re going to do it. And it’s going to change your life.

Yup. 20 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.

What began as a fun mental strategy to overcome fear has since become a rallying cry for our community here at Nerd Fitness. 

And today, I’m gonna help you do that thing that scares the crap out of you.

The Discovery of 20 Seconds of Courage


Back in the day, I was on a plane and watched an obscure Matt Damon movie I’d never heard of: We Bought a Zoo.

In it, Matt Damon meets his wife by mustering up 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.

One decision changed everything:

So what does 20 seconds of courage have to do with leveling up our lives? It comes down to 2 realizations:

REALIZATION #1: Our lives are made up of a never ending series of decisions that require less than 20 seconds of action:

  • What to eat for breakfast.
  • What workout to do at the gym.
  • Which school to attend.
  • Which job to take.
  • Who we sit next to on the train.
  • What lane to drive in.

Although our life’s path seems fairly set in stone, the direction is often set in motion as a result of a single action that took less than 20 seconds: signing a document, picking a seat, saying yes or no, swiping left or right.

Each decision can cause a new branching path in our history.

As David says in Prometheus,”Big things have small beginnings.”

REALIZATION #2: We are a species (especially us nerds) that tends to be risk averse, comfortable, and wary of doing things that scare us.

This isn’t surprising or unusual: we’re hardwired to trust our gut and be cautious of things that raise our anxiety. The decision to avoid certain things is what kept us alive during our cave-dwelling days.

In other words, wome cautious cavewoman 120,000 years ago listened to that instinct, avoided the scary noise coming out of the brush, and lived long enough to pass along her cautious genes to you today.

These days, we’re still avoiding things that scare us – not animals in the brush, but rather conversations with strangers, activities that might embarrass us, and events that are anxiety-inducing.

If we are going to get the things we actually want out of life, it’s going to require us to overcome that fear mechanism to make a decision that is counter to 120,000+ years of DNA-sequencing.

Which ain’t easy.

Enter 20 seconds of courage. 

By using 20 seconds to do something you normally would have avoided, or saying YES when you normally say NO, three amazing things happen:

  1. If it doesn’t work out, you become more resilient. You quickly learn the world didn’t end, and you are more likely to try new things in the future because failure wasn’t that bad!
  2. If it DOES work out, your life is now better as a result of your targeted bravery. A relationship, a new job, a new hobby, lifelong friend, are often results of a single decision made by somebody. This is you taking action rather than waiting for fate to intervene. 
  3. You NEVER have to wonder “what if?” when thinking about what could have been had you done that thing!

How 20 Seconds of Courage Can Change Your Life.

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne, clearly a fan of 20 Seconds of Courage.

Here’s how to implement 20 Seconds of Courage into your life:

Identify the thing you terrified of. Put ALL of your focus into a single specific action that will take less than 20 seconds but will result in you attempting the thing you’re scared of. Work yourself up into a frenzy if you need to. Give yourself a pep talk in the mirror. Recruit a buddy if you have to.

Get scared to hell before.

Pee your pants after.

Just focus on the 20 seconds where you can make a different decision than you would have made in the past.

And then go do the damn thing:

  • Afraid of the free weight section at your gym?  Turn on Berserker mode.  Give yourself 20 seconds and walk into the section 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. Sign up in those 20 seconds 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.” 

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.

It’s how Jaime, after 3 decades of struggle, managed to change her life. It started with 20 seconds of courage and a single decision:

I’ve used 20 seconds of courage dozens of time in my life too.

Sometimes with health or fitness, sometimes with relationships, and other times with my own life level up quests, which I discuss in my book, Level Up Your Life.

I’m most proud of the time I used 20 seconds of courage to perform on a street corner in NYC:

A post shared by Steve Kamb (@stevekamb) on

“Steve this is great. But I’m still cautious and Matt Damon is cool and all, but give me more stories I can learn from regarding 20 seconds of courage!”

Fine! Here are my favorite examples of 20 seconds of courage: 

  • 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.
  • 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!”
  • Ancient Viking lore: Berserkers were Norse warriors who worked themselves into a rage before battle, and fought in a nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury.
  • Lord Urthstripe in the Redwall Series: A badger lord who goes into “bloodwrath” mode to vanquish his foes.
  • 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:

The 20 seconds Of Courage Challenge!


Today, I’m issuing a 20 Seconds of Courage Challenge. 

You have 7 Days. Not to watch a VHS tape, but to use 20 Seconds of Courage to do something you’re scared of.

Everybody is fighting their own demons and chasing their own dragons (not a euphemism), 

Change can happen in an instant, and your life’s path can change as a result of any single decision you make. And I think this quote paints that picture better than most:

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

Fortune favors the bold, and doing shit that scares us is often the only way to actually get what we want out of life.

So here’s how to not let that fear keep you prisoner: 20 Seconds of Courage!

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).
  • Leave a comment below on how it goes and what you learned.

Just 20 seconds!


PS: This week’s Rebel Hero is Mike, who took his daughter and niece on an epic hike in his Nerd Fitness gear:

Want to be the next Rebel Hero? Send a photo of you doing something epic in your NF Gear to so we can feature you in future posts!


photos: berserker, watch, fire poibeast mode

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  • Great way to get motivated!   You can do ANYTHING for twenty seconds-and more than likely-you’ll do more!

  • Nicole Johns

    I apply this idea to my life as much as I can. I think about the midwife teaching us in birth preparation class- ‘you can do anything for one minute’. I think about that when I want to stop on a run or procrastinate a phone call or confront a friend. I love the idea of ‘bloodwrath’ and will prbably use that the next time I really need to kick ass or defend an empire. Thanks for consistently writing awesome, spot-on pieces. 

  • Cate

    Totally did this the other day! While running I kicked it up to “beast mode” for 20 seconds and some times a little longer, for some faster intervals. I love this idea of digging down deep even if its for 20 seconds!

  • Aww, thanks Teri!  Glad to hear it resonated with you 🙂


  • Neuroboy

    I did this a few weeks back, before actually reading this. I really told them what’s what at work and let the handle fly after realising they really didn’t care about anything beyond exploiting me, even after going back to work following cancer treatment and time off for stress. Depending on the outcome of the next few weeks, I could be:

    (A) out of a job
    (B) right where I want my job to be
    (C) doing the same old job

    Of these three outcomes, only (C) really bothers me…

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  • Alex Smith

    So, I read this article a couple of days ago at work, and this morning at breakfast in the cafeteria at my university, I see this cute junior whom I’ve been freaked out of my mind to talk to.  For the last two months I’ve been constantly thinking up excuses anytime I get the urge to go say hi. I decided today would not be one of those days and I worked myself up into berserk of friendliness and confidence, all the while thinking, just 20 seconds then you can run back and hide behind your spinach omelette.  Turns out 20 seconds was all i needed. She was really friendly and we ended up talking for about 10 minutes and i got her number!  I’m so freaking happy i read this article, thanks, Steve.

  • Jenny Weidner

    I like the term “Berserk mode” ^_^ If someone had asked me to come up with a name for this anomaly before I would probably have called it “bouncing in” because to me, that’s what it feels like. I hold back, hold back, hold back, then finally get up the gumption to bounce that ball right into the court and then, well, all you can really do is roll forward ^_^

  • Dane Lindblad

    Not necessarily the same thing, but I’ve tried meditation a few times, and I’m starting to see some benefit from it.

    I tend to get too far ahead of myself in my thinking, and don’t devote enough thought to the present. Now whenever I notice myself doing that, I choose to stop, and get back in the present. It really simplifies things.

    For instance, last night I wasn’t riding the bus to meet and try to socialize with some strangers for the entire evening, I was just riding the bus.
    Matt Damon’s character wasn’t talking to his future fiance, he was just talking.

    You aren’t lifting all the weights you’ll ever lift today, you’re only doing today’s routine.

  • Steven

    look on netflix, there are two seasons of Redwall adventures

  • I recently went rock climbing (indoor wall), tired of being so afraid of heights. I did the 20 seconds of courage bit, and when that 20 seconds was over, I did it again. Then some more. Eventually I’d spent nearly an hour there and my grip strength was gone. My body gave in before my mind. I always take that as a win.

  • bradel you
  • Spud

    What? $19.99 per month. You’ve got to be kidding. I’m unsubscribing. LOL.

    another good work: “sold out”


    These are the major changes you can expect, but I think you’ll agree they’re not too bad:

    1) Our revenue model will switch from original Nerd Fitness products, to advertisements.You’ll start to see ads from various fitness products and supplements from my parent company or its affiliates around the site (side bar, header, pop-ups, etc.). Ads are the future of the online fitness industry, and we’re glad to get in on the ground floor.

    2) A focus group of people who hadn’t seen Star Wars determined that “The Rebellion” was too confusing and controversial of a community name, potentially alienating those who feel threatened by alternative thinking.

    Thus, instead of “Join the Rebellion!” we’ll be urging people to “Join the Fun Fit Squad, or don’t. Either way, you’re great!”

    3) Last but not least, the Nerd Fitness Community will now be sponsored by Teamocil*, one of Natural Food Life Company’s most popular supplements. You’ll also be required to pay a 19.99 per month membership fee to view or post on the forums.

    In my opinion, it’s $19.99 well spent, as, your membership will include a free bottle of Teamocil*.*(I’m required by law to mention that Teamocil may decrease your sex drive).

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  • Vincentas


  • Vincentas

    A very interesting story,thank you for sharing!

  • Vincentas

    How were you feeling when talking to her?I know,you were pumped,but anything else?Did the fear dissapear or reduce?Very interested in this

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  • Daniel San Pedro Nunga

    Good job on connecting the dots.

  • Vincentas

    So,How’d it go?

  • Vincentas

    Yes,fear is in the mind.You only fear what’s gonna happen next,not what IS happening.When you confront a bear-you don’t fear it because it is attacking you,because it’s not doing anything yet.You fear the fact that it COULD hurt you.You don’t fear jumping out of an airplane with a parachute-you fear dying.Fear is letting your mind loosed and NOT focusing on the moment.Thank you for writing this 🙂

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  • ScurvySpider

    I’m not sure if it makes sense to comment on old posts but just in case —
    I selected the mini-scare of “ask for something you don’t think you could get” and wrote to the owner of the advancedriskology site, asking him to write me a limerick.

    He sent me a limerick, with a message for Steve in it: below:

    If it’s a limerick you want, I’ll be your host
    It’s really not much; I don’t mean to boast
    But if you’ve been challenged by Steve
    To to write an email this eve
    Please tell him to read my post.

  • Daniel

    I’ve been doing this without even naming it for a while, I call it my Rage Mode (Godzilla reference xD). When I’m dead tired, but need to get home, I turn on the heaviest song I have, usually Five Finger Death Punch or Eminem, and just go. I force my muscles to work, to run/pedal faster than I thought they could, and just maintain that for about half a minute. It does wonders.

    Thanks for the article Steve, I’ll try to improve my Bloodwrath further! 😀

  • Samaya Cristina Shuput

    I always think of the second Evangelion movie. “Mode: The Beast!”

  • Regalo

    I don’t have a name for my 20 second awesome me mode, but for now I like to call it Devil Trigger or Fusion (yeah I’m big on Devil May Cry and Shadow Hearts). I used it to do one more set of pull ups and one more set of sprinting. I ended up performing a little better than I had anticipated before flipping the switch. I also used this to ask out this girl I had my eye on in a bookstore. Though without the raging craziness that I have during my workouts. Unfortunately I was rejected but I walked away feeling good because I mustered up the courage and I can go home without thinking what if she had said yes.

    P.S. I really do like to pretend I actually transform into a devil or fusion monster, sort of.

  • Chrissy

    Salamandastron is my favorite one!! The badgers are some intense crazy awesome little BEASTS!

  • Tomas

    Hi, I just want to say I read this post yesterday and using it the past two days has been REALLY helpful, especially in conjunction with the other pieces of advice in the Talk to People series. I am prone to confidence swings and often feel intimidated by others, even my closest friends, and have a feeling that if I am outspoken and kind it will put me in a lower social role (compared to somebody who’s “always” cool and confident for example).

    However, the 20 second bursts are enough for me to have short, successful conversations during my low points. They are not perfect and at times have an awkward tinge, but when my mood does pick up and I see the same person later, it’s easier for me to maintain a good mood because they already expect me to react that way. Plus, being nice doesn’t put me in a lower social role; I think people really like it, even cool, confident people (I go to a super art school and there are a lot of these here). I will post again in a couple weeks to let everyone know whether the technique stays useful past the first couple days! Thanks so much!

  • Asuraffuu

    ill call my 20 second mode my cast off mode (kudos to those who get it) though i still cant find a reason to do it daily u.u

  • MayBPhoenix

    I usually get this productive when I get finally pissed off by my own procrastination and inner excuses I’m trying to pull off with myself. The second I realise how lame it actually is, I get mad at myself and I go do the fucking thing right away. Whatever that is, I just do it and then it feels even sillier to me that I’ve been avoiding it all the time. I literally think how could I be so stupid to give all that energy into avoiding something that by itself doesn’t take almost any energy, just a little courage and action taking. The weirdest thing, it keeps on happening again, even though I know how silly is that! I hate that fact and it’s one of my personal goals to practise switching that productive, mad-with-myself mode on more often to experience the feeling of “I just fucking did it, that’s it”. No more waiting, no more excuses and no procrastination related stress at all. What a dream to go to that mode and act. Do it. Just fucking do it now.

  • Charles Michael Davis


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  • SubtleXplosion

    You forgot berserker mode in final fantasy when you’re getting low on life and get a burst of strength

  • Michael

    Ok, I just fell out of my chair laughing at this.

  • Eight

    After reading this I realize I actually have a similar rule. it
    doesn’t have a name (yet) but it follows the same principle. Whenever I
    procrastinate instead of taking action, I tell myself I’m gonna count up
    to three and then I’m gonna get to business, no matter what happens next. I usually use this in the morning to get out of bed, but it does have other areas of application.

  • This is Fit Workouts

    How did you know I needed to read this today? DAMN.

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  • Evan

    This directly applies to me learning how to ride my motocross bike fast! When I come up to a big jump that makes me nervous, I usually back off the throttle and roll it. I should switch on my 20 second beast mode and go for it!

  • Blood and Vinegar! (Martin’s story was always one of my favorites. 😀 )

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  • Aces

    I call it Badger Mode, named after my Gaming rig.

  • Maybe I’ll call mine “Nayru’s Love.” Sounds cute, but imagine all the good/insane things I could do with it.

  • sddragontat

    I really needed this today. My job hunt has stalled out (after a year of working part-time after finally attaining my sought-after higher degree) and one of the reasons is that I’m TERRIFIED of bothering/offending people with my pleas for a job. After I get off my part time job today, I’m intending to go “beast mode” and start actually calling people and sending off my resume, whether they have expressed an interest or not.

    Additionally, I love that the advice here applies to life inside AND outside the gym.