3 Strategies That Build Courage

Given any day of the week, many of us grapple with our fears. We think about a career change or putting that hand up for anchoring a key project or even about taking ownership of delivering a talk in the organization. But a voice within us cuts in saying that we aren’t really capable of doing that. We think we don’t have the confidence to step up and say yes to creating the life or the world we desire. So we resign to the busyness of life and ‘get back to work,’ only to have the thought resurface a few weeks later. And again, we go into that loop. We have a desire for change, but all the creeping self-doubts and the fear of rejection, or fear of uncertainty, or fear of what might happen can keep us stuck.

I am a big follower of author Dan Sullivan and have a lot of his books on my bookshelf. The guy enthuses me with a number of simplistic concepts and practical models to shift your perspective in life and in business. In one of his books, he speaks about a concept of 4 Cs - Commitment, Courage, Capabilities, and Confidence. Dan argues that it’s not the confidence that we need rather the art of practicing courage when it comes to scary situations.

Whether you call it fear or label it any other way — anxiety, stress, worry, challenge, inability — the fear cycle often plays out in the same way for each one of us. In her book, The Courage Habit, author Kate Swoboda contends that when it comes to fear, we often go about it all wrong. We think that courage is an inborn trait, and that we don’t have it in us. And so we rely on solutions (like procrastination or making excuses) to provide temporal and short-term stress relief.

The word courage actually comes from the Latin word ‘cor’ which means ‘from the heart.’ Over time and generations, the meaning of courage changed and we began associating it with heroic and brave deeds. Courage does not mean bravery. Courage is simply a way of being and a practice that can be built, one day at a time.

Redefine your relationship with fear.

When Dan Sullivan was 21 years old, he was drafted into the army. In one of his basic training sessions, they had to practice with live hand grenades. Just before the exercise, the sergeant asked the team, “Is anyone scared?” Of the 50 men who were to undergo the training, only Dan raised his hand. The sergeant replied, “Sullivan is the only person here I trust because he’s actually telling me what’s going on. There is no dishonor in saying that you’re scared. As a matter of fact, people who are scared and don’t say they’re scared are a bigger worry to me than the people who admit they are scared.” He further added, “I want to tell you the difference between fear and courage: Fear is wetting your pants. Courage is doing what you’re supposed to do with wet pants.”

Almost 70 years ago, Earl Nightingale said, “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice… it is conformity.” Faced with fear, you have two choices: there’s courage and there’s avoidance of courage. You can either engage your courage, or you can indulge in some sort of excuse to avoid courage, which shows up as paralysis and stuckness.

Those demonstrating courage aren’t without fear. They make a choice to move forward and take that first step despite feeling afraid. Instead of seeing fear as a sign of weakness and trying to get rid of it when it arises, you can choose to accept fear as part of the process of change and instead practice courage. Fear shows up in the body, often as sweaty palms or a constricted heaviness in the chest and shoulders, or even as shaky legs. Feel this fear in your body. Access and welcome that fear without rejecting it or getting pulled into your default fear routine. Hold that ground and experience the bodily sensations. Then, take a deep breath and just one tiny step.

I remember the time during my TEDx talk or my first speech at Toastmasters. You can actually sense me feeling the fear, facing it boldly, and easing into my courage as the TEDx talk progresses. 

Identify and strengthen your core values.

Courage is not doing something radical or heroic. It does not have to be anything rebellious. Courage is all about partaking in doing something that brings you joy and taking action in the direction that aligns with you and your greater cause.

In order to do that, you need to identify and associate with your core values. Values are what bring direction in life. They are like bumpers on the bowling alley that prevents the balls from going into the gutters. Values are the answer to the question, “In a world where you could choose to have your life be about something, what would you choose?”

The above word cloud represents what I stand for in life. Remember, your values can evolve over time. 

In order to practice courage, increase the awareness of your core values. Reflect upon the personal meaning and importance of these values – “What do you want your life to stand for?” Clarify the values that influence your decisions and behaviors. Being aware of your values will help you navigate your life in the direction that you choose and draw upon the courage that’s required to do so.

At the same time, also make a list of your value drainers. These are the activities, tasks, and decisions that currently make up your day but are not in total alignment with your values. Unconsciously participating in these activities and tasks could give you a sense of false-positive: a false sense of courage.

Be creative in your pursuits.

Do more experiments in life. Increase your explorations, exposures, and experiences. Bring creativity into these pursuits. American author Seth Godin emphasizes that creativity is a commitment to failure. He defines creativity as “the willingness to solve interesting problems for other people.”

Every time you creatively move through your challenges they become opportunities for growth, and accomplishments.  For some, this may come easily, while for others, it just takes a longer time. Sometimes, it is just a matter of taking a step back and simplifying our thoughts.

No solution begins with perfection. It gradually evolves and gets better and better. The key is to exercise practical empathy, knowing that other people may not see what you see or believe what you believe.

Creativity and courage are intimately connected. Your creativity feeds your courage and your courage, in turn, brings your creativity to life.

When was the last time you actually did something for the first time? How can you do work that’s worth doing?


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