Courage is considered by many to be one of the most important human virtues; yet, often times, many choose fear or comfort, over courage. And since we aren’t born courageous, we shouldn’t expect to miraculously acquire it without practice. Courage is a muscle you must practice flexing if you want to display it more easily, which some professions and/or organizations realize, and then strive very hard to develop courage in their teams.
But since most of us don’t work in a profession that demands daily demonstrations of unrivaled bravery—like a soldier fighting for his country, a police officer risking her life, or a firefighter who rushes into a burning building—how can we learn to become more courageous? Courage is defined not as the absence of fear; but as being afraid and acting anyway. And when you think of courage you may picture physical bravery, but there are other forms of courage—ranging from physical strength and endurance to mental stamina and innovation. History highlights social activists, such as Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela, as two individuals who chose to speak out against injustice at great personal risk. Entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs and Walt Disney, took huge financial risks to follow their dreams and innovate, exemplifying the rewards courage can bring.
But sometimes, each of us comes face-to-face with this choice: courage or comfort? As it’s been said, you can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can’t choose both. They are mutually exclusive. If you want to experience new things, demonstrating courage is often a necessary component. Trying something you’ve not done before, is likely uncomfortable and sometimes, downright petrifying. But how do you know if you’ll like something if you don’t try it? But whether it is doing an exciting activity for the first time like zip-lining, or throwing your hat in the ring for a leadership role at work, or stepping up and having a tough conversation with someone you care about, choices like these require courage.
Perhaps you are confronted with taking a chance when others will not, or your idea is very unpopular. Maybe you desperately want to follow your vision, no matter where it takes you, but you are meeting intense resistance. Perchance you are simply trying to do the right thing, even though far easier options exist. Most of us are called to be courageous more than we think, and we likely already possess many of the qualities that other remarkably courageous people have demonstrated. But if building definition in your courage muscle is a strength-enhancing exercise you want or need to target, highlighted below are 12 ways to grow that muscle:
Stop procrastinating and give courage a try. Do your best. Learn from the results of that first attempt and avoid becoming discouraged.
Face what you fear. Look it in the eye and determine exactly what you are afraid of. Rejection? Being laughed at? Not being accepted? Then once you know what you fear, face it and tell yourself, “This fear will pass.” Take one small step, then another. Action builds courage.
Step outside your comfort zone. By being open to meeting new people, visiting a city you have never been to but are curious about, or tasting an appealing entrée, one that you hadn’t considered before, you gradually strengthen your ability to be courageous.
Stand up for others who need it. Find your inner strength to take a stand when necessary. Start by demonstrating courage when someone else is in need, rather than standing up for yourself first, since that is often times less intimidating.
Demonstrate self-discipline. Be very clear about what you want and don’t want, and remain steadfast even when you are enticed to veer off course.
Write an entry in a journal every time you do something you’re scared to do. You’ll start to realize that you do brave things with some frequency. You’re already much braver than you think.
Find courage in numbers. It’s usually much easier initially to act in the company of others than dissenting solo.
Find role models of quietly courageous people. When you’re trying to stretch yourself beyond your apparent limits, there’s a part of you that likely wonders whether it can actually be done. A role model is a constant reminder that it can.
Avoid self-doubt. Rather than over-analyzing whether or not you can act courageously, leave your lack of self-confidence in the rear-view mirror and push forward.
Lean into risk and uncertainty. Conquer your fears by learning to deal with life’s uncertainties. If you fear losing a huge account, figure out what it takes to keep it. If you fear becoming ill with cancer because of family history, be ruthless about annual check-ups, precautions, and pre-screening exams.
Don’t hesitate. The more time your brain has to come up with excuses for not being courageous, the more time you will have to panic about hypothetical negative outcomes.
Be willing to fail. True learning happens when things don’t go your way; when you fail or lose. Be willing to fail, but never willing to quit. Failure doesn’t feel good, but the result, if you learn from it, is powerful.
Rather than succumbing to the learned behavior of fearfulness, know your limits, but commit to exercising courage more. If you want to transform your life and not reach the end of your line with regrets, make courage a conscious virtue you need to live with, versus without.