Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow”.
This article is part of an 8 part series to help you develop more confidence in the pursuit of your goals. Here is a list of all articles within this series:
- Improving Self-Esteem
- Transform Your Self-Concept
- Boosting Self-Confidence
- Developing Self-Worth
- Building a Healthy Self-Image
- Pursuing the Ideal Self
- Fake it ‘Til You Make it!
- Developing Superhero Courage
The Courage of a Superhero…
We’re all no doubt familiar with what it takes to be courageous. We watch television shows and movies showing superheroes and ordinary people performing courageous acts in the pursuit of justice; to right a wrong, or in an attempt to attain their goals. But what does being courageous really mean? What does it mean under a surface that’s normally hidden from view?
All those superheroes or supermoms and dads we see in the movies or observe in real life are courageous not because they have no fear. We see them as being courageous because they successfully confronted their fear head-on and overcame the greatest of odds stacked against them. These people are courageous because of the fear that initially held them back; they are courageous because they stepped head-first into a world of uncertainty that gives no guarantees.
These ordinary people achieved the greatest of feats not because they have a PhD in “overcoming fear”. For the most part they probably struggle to understand their fears, and yet they still find something within themselves that helps them overcome the greatest of odds. How is that possible? What do many of these people do to prepare themselves mentally to overcome these fears that gives them the self-confidence they need to move forward towards the attainment of their desired objectives?
These are no doubt interesting questions that I endeavor to answer within this article, however let’s first look at a more descriptive definition of what courage is all about.
When it comes to raw courage, if we could summarize what it actually means, it might sound something like this: Courage is the ability to successfully act despite fear, uncertainty and risk. It is the ability to effectively manage the fear you face in an attempt to ensure that it doesn’t paralyze forward movement or action. Moreover, it is an ability to face potential hardship and difficulty head-on without being overwhelmed by fear or without being deflected from your chosen course of action. In other words, courage is your ability to face potential pain, embarrassment, intimidation and hurt without losing faith or confidence in your ability to pull through in the end.
Given all this, courage certainly seems like something that’s somewhat “superhuman” like. It’s certainly not something that many of us can easily muster, because the easy choice is of course to hold onto the security of our comfort zone. We often fall into this trap because stepping outside the confines of our comfort zone means we will often need to attempt new things, and this immediately breeds uncertainty.
New and unfamiliar things mean that we are more likely to make errors or mistakes, and for most people that’s never a pleasant experience. Therefore to be courageous must also mean being willing to step outside the confines of your comfort zone to try new things and openly risk making errors and mistakes that could potentially derail your efforts. Moreover, it means admitting the mistakes and errors you make so that you can use them to improve on the next attempt. And that’s essentially the thing that lies at the heart of courage. It’s about making another attempt when things don’t go as expected, and another, and another, and then another… up until the moment you succeed. That is what true courage is about, and that is what it takes to develop superhero courage.
Daily Practice and Preparation
The best way to develop courage is to treat it like any skill. When you learn a new set of skills you go through a period of preparation where you are presented with the theory behind the skill; given instructions on how to work on developing that skill; and provided with coaching to help you develop the necessary mindset required to apply the skill successfully into your life and circumstances. When it comes to developing superhero courage, the process is no different.
What follows within this section are some very specific guidelines that will help you to prepare yourself both physically and mentally for the development of courage. Many of these guidelines are quite straightforward and will be very easy to implement and practice. Other guidelines will seem so common sense that it will be easy to just glaze over them without giving them any further thought or attention; and that is where the danger lies — the trap that you don’t want to fall into.
In order to develop the courage you need to achieve your desired aims in life, you will need to prepare yourself using these guidelines. This process requires time and effort, especially if the magnetic pull of your comfort zone is often too difficult to resist. Daily practice and discipline is what will be required on your part to pull this off.
The goal is of course to get to a stage where through daily practice and implementation your courage eventually translates into self-confidence. When you get to a stage where you are working through “self-confidence” rather than through courage, that is when all your fears dissipate and you finally break-free of the shackles and constraints of your comfort zone. We of course won’t ever be completely free of our comfort zone, but can certainly be free within specific areas of our lives where we choose to work on developing courage.
Let’s now break down the daily rituals you can partake in to help you develop more courage.
Recall Past Successes
One of the most effective ways to work on developing courage simply involves recalling your past successes.
No matter how grim things look right now, there have been moments in the past where you have succeeded. Not necessarily in the area you are working towards today, but in another area where you might have initially struggled.
Thinking back to those past successes helps provide you with some confidence that you can successfully overcome adversity in the pursuit of your goal. Ask yourself:
What are some of my biggest successes?
Where did I excel in the past that I could use for inspiration today?
How did I manage to overcome the obstacles that stood in my way?
What specifically did I do? How specifically did I think? How did I talk to myself?
What act of courage specifically stands out?
You no doubt took a series of steps that might not have been planned, but nevertheless these steps helped you to move forward beyond your problems and towards the attainment of your goal. Have a good-long-hard think about what specifically stood out, then use this process and try to apply it to your current situation where you would like to muster up a little more courage.
Acquire Practical Experience
Often we lack courage because we simply do not believe we have enough skill, support, knowledge or experience to pursue our desired objectives. If that’s the case, then it’s important you begin developing your resource list.
A resource list simply means piecing together all the relevant things you might need to begin feeling more courageous and confident when it comes to pursuing your goal. It’s very much like packing a backpack for a hiking trip. You will of course need water, snacks, a blanket, spare socks, a GPS, maybe a compass, a phone, and several other items that might be of value. You may of course never need to use many of these items, however they are there just in case you need them; and as a result you can leave on your hiking trip with full confidence that you have all you need for the journey ahead.
When it comes to your goal, it’s helpful to list everything you might need that can help you muster up the necessary courage to pursue it successfully. For instance, you might need to develop relevant skills, or maybe read a few books that can provide you with some valuable information, or just maybe you need to ask a friend who has gone through what you are about to go through for some support and guidance. Whatever it is, it’s important to take stock of what you might need along your journey and prepare yourself in advance before heading off.
The final component of course comes down to acquiring practical experience. You can have all the knowledge in the world and maybe even trained up your skills for weeks and months at a time, but without some kind of practical experience, you may very well struggle with your confidence moving forward.
Going back to our hiking example, you might want to gain some practical experience hiking some shorter distances within familiar surroundings at first. Then progressively work your way up to longer distances within unfamiliar surroundings. This progression will help provide you with the necessary confidence and courage you need to successfully get through each step of the process. And that’s essentially what “building courage” is all about. It’s about taking small progressive steps building up to an ultimate goal.
Ask Solution Focused Questions
When it comes to developing courage, it’s all about creating forward movement. This is especially true when you’re confronted with unexpected obstacles and setbacks. During moments such as these a courageous person doesn’t suddenly retreat back into the confines of their comfort zone. They instead look to move forward. But in order to move forward they must break down the obstacles that stand before them. To do this they ask solution focused questions:
How can I get through this?
What is the next step?
What opportunities exist?
How can I use them?
Getting into the habit of using solution-focused questions will put you into an optimal frame-of-mind that will encourage you to think flexibly when faced with difficulties. This flexible thinking approach opens doors to unexpected opportunities that you can then take advantage of to move yourself forward towards the attainment of your desired objectives.
This is all of course all about preparation. You must prepare and practice asking these kinds of questions when it doesn’t matter, so that you can get into the habit of asking them when courage will be required.
Exercise to Increase Physical and Mental Stamina
Mustering the necessary courage you need to overcome life’s toughest challenges takes mental, physical and emotional strength, which of course you can build through a regular fitness/exercise regime.
What exercise does very well is it helps raise your stress threshold. What this means is that you will be able to deal with higher levels of stress without breaking down emotionally. In other words, you will have the capacity to take courageous action for longer periods at a time before resting or retreating.
Another factor to consider here is that “motion” generates positive emotion. Therefore through the simple act of moving your body you immediately put yourself in a far more positive frame-of-mind than you would if you were to simply stand in one spot. In other words, the act of “moving” your body instantly makes you more courageous and encourages forward movement.
For more information about the link between the body and mind, please have a read of The Physiology of Excellence.
Prepare Thoroughly by Planning Ahead
One reason why you lack courage is because of uncertainty. When you are uncertain of what might happen you will be reluctant to move forward. And of course one way to reduce that uncertainty is to plan ahead.
Planning ahead means effectively assessing the risks in advance and laying down a suitable plan of action to help you minimize the impact of the potential obstacles you might face along your journey. In other words this requires you identify the kinds of problems you might face; assess the impact that these problems might have; and develop a plan of action to help you respond to these problems accordingly. This works because it effectively minimizes the uncertainty moving forward. And with less uncertainty on the horizon, you no longer need an overwhelming amount of courage to push you forward. There is less courage required because you now have more confidence in yourself and in your ability to push through these difficulties.
Study Successful and Courageous People
One of the most effective ways to develop courage is to hang around courageously successful people.
These people have very specific beliefs, values and attitudes that help them muster up the courage they need to achieve their goals. Moreover, these people speak to themselves a certain way, ask specific types of questions, and take very clear and decisive actions that help them get what they want most out of life.
Hanging around such people puts you into their world; allowing you to observe and study their behavior up close and personal. Then subsequently over time their behavior and attitude will rub off on you, and you will end up following in their footsteps by actively learning from their experiences and applying those lessons to the courageous pursuit of your own personal goals.
But of course if these kinds of people are difficult to come by, then you can read books or watch movies showing people living courageous lives. Now of course books and movies are no substitute for the real thing, but they are certainly great alternatives if mentors are hard to come by.
Create Empowering Mantras
Courageous people have a very specific way of talking to themselves that helps them stay focused and moving forward through the toughest of challenges.
The way they talk to themselves often helps push them forward through their fears. This of course doesn’t mean that their fears dissipate, in fact far from it. Their fears are still there, but they push through anyways despite their fears.
One way to do this is to create several mantras you can use during difficult moments along your journey that can help you muster up the courage you need to push through fears and obstacles. Here are some examples:
I am courageous…
My fears excite me…
What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger…
Yes, I realize that these are only words. However, words are extremely powerful especially when spoken aloud with positive emotion. In fact, verbalizing these mantras aloud to yourself can immediately put you in a more positive frame-of-mind that can indeed help you push through any difficulties or fears you might face. It works because words are anchored to specific emotional experiences. And therefore by verbalizing certain words you immediately generate a corresponding emotion within yourself that can help move you forward.
For more information about the power of language and its impact on our emotions, please have a read of Upgrading Your Language Patterns.
Create a Fear Journal
A fear journal doesn’t sound like something very pleasant, I mean who in their right mind would want to verbalize their fears and bring them to life all over again? However, the miraculous thing about the process of journaling is that it will help you gain deeper insights about your thoughts and the fears behind them. And with this clarity in mind, you will begin to see your fears in a new light. In fact, by writing down your fears you might even come to the conclusion that they aren’t as overwhelming as you initially made them out to be. You may even come to understand your fears, and with understanding comes the confidence you need to overcome them.
There is however another advantage to journaling your fears; and it all comes down to the lessons you can gather from your experiences. For instance, let’s say that you dealt with one of your fears a little earlier in the day. That evening you can sit down with your journal and ask yourself the following questions:
What can I learn from this?
How can I use this to build my courage?
No matter what your experience, asking these questions immediately challenges you to think about your fear in a new way. Moreover, it helps you to plan ahead for the next time you will likely face this fear in the future. And as we have already discussed, having a plan in place immediately gives you more confidence that you can successfully handle this particular situation the next time around.
Study Relaxation Techniques
Practicing relaxation techniques and breath control seems rather uneventful, however the value of these techniques can put you in a far calmer state-of-mind. With a calmer approach you are no longer overwhelmed by fear and can therefore muster up the courage you need for longer periods at a time.
There are of course plenty of relaxation techniques you could learn and practice. Doing a quick search online will no doubt give you plenty of options. However, the simplest and most convenient way to calm your emotions comes through breath control.
Whenever you have an overwhelming experience, simply take a moment to close your eyes then inhale and exhale slowly one, two or three times. This simple process — that should only take you a few seconds — will immediately refresh your mind and help you to move forward once again with more confidence.
Regularly Attempt Something You Fear
In order to strengthen your “courage muscle”, it’s important to do things you fear as often as possible when you don’t have a great deal on the line. This might include simple things such as speaking to strangers, standing up for yourself by expressing your opinion or desires aloud, or it might mean simply challenging yourself in a new way that helps push you outside your comfort zone.
Whatever it is for you, it’s important to train this “courage muscle” daily. The more you practice, the stronger it will become, and the more confidence you will have in yourself and in your own ability to get things done the next time you have something of value on the line.
Help Someone Live a Courageous Life
One of the most clearly overlooked methods for developing courage has absolutely nothing to do with you, and everything to do with other people.
The act of helping someone else overcome a fear or to muster up the courage required to overcome a difficult situation can no doubt be a very rewarding experience. It’s no doubt rewarding for the person you are helping, as it allows them to move forward in a better way. However, it can also be incredibly rewarding for you as well because through the act of helping another person, you in-turn help yourself. You help yourself because you come to the realization that:
If this person can do it, then why don’t I take some of my own advice on board and muster up the courage I need to overcome my own personal fears…
It’s like a mental switch comes on in your head and you suddenly see things more clearly than ever before. And mind you, you might have spent years trying to courageously overcome your fears without much success. This process never worked for you because you needed to step outside of your own shoes and live through this experience from another person’s perspective. Only by seeing it from “outside yourself” do you now have the necessary perspective and inspiration required to take your own advice on board. Therefore if nothing else seems to work, why not help someone else perform an act of courage? You may be pleasantly surprised with the outcome. 🙂
Daily Guidelines for Developing Courage
Within this final section let’s take a look at some things you can do each and every day to help you live a courageous life. Again as before, there’s nothing complex here. Every one of these guidelines is simple and straightforward. In fact, some of them just require simple “mindset shifts” that will get you seeing the events and circumstances of your life in a more optimal way.
Individually each guideline is helpful and can provide the impetus for positive action, however it is only when you use several of these guidelines in combination will you begin to drive forward with the full force of courage behind you.
Immediately Stop Indulging in Debilitating Habits
Knowingly or unknowingly, all of us at times indulge in less than optimal habits that prevent us from living to our full potential. And when it comes to living a courageous life, these debilitating habits can certainly get in our way.
Habits such as making excuses, overly stressing when faced with uncertainty, procrastinating because of fear, indulging in perfectionism as a form of procrastination, or even the simple habit of putting significant weight on other people’s opinions; all these habits literally get in your way and prevent you from living a courageous life.
It’s time to STOP yourself. It’s time to put a stop by consciously taking control of your habitual patterns of behavior that are taking over your life. But this of course won’t be easy. Debilitating habits are supported by deeply ingrained belief systems and unhelpful thoughts. Take charge of these areas, raise your personal standards, manage your personal expectations and you will progressively begin taking back control over your automatic impulses.
Cultivate a Courageous Mindset
What goes into building a courageous mindset? That’s actually a good question. In fact, you could ask many people and they would probably give you a wide variety of answers. So there is no right or wrong answer here. However, if we were to list some traits that can help you live a courageous life, they would be: Hope, Confidence, Independence, Optimism, Laughter, Curiosity and Resilience.
When you act with courage behind you, you are hopeful and optimistic of a positive outcome. You do so independently despite the consequences you might face. You of course also need some confidence in your own ability; while curiosity and resilience keeps you intrigued and moving forward no matter the difficulties or fears you face. And then there is laughter. You need to be somewhat lighthearted because you will fail miserably and make mistakes. This is all about trial and error, and laughing at your errors certainly can help you move forward through the toughest challenges in a more optimal way. You must therefore give yourself permission to make mistakes and get excited about uncertainty, if nothing else but to open yourself up to new experiences.
Yes, this is the mindset required to live courageously, and it is the mindset you must bring forth into every situation you face where courage is needed to help pull you through times of adversity.
Get Clear About What it is You Want
Knowing what you want is absolutely paramount, because without knowing exactly what you want there is no fuel to “burn the fire” that helps courage thrive.
Being courageous for the sake of “just being courageous” can temporarily push you forward, however for long-term success it’s important to have a bigger purpose and goal in mind. With purpose behind your actions it’s far easier to find the courage necessary to get through your fears. Without it, you will just be coasting with an empty fuel tank, which will come to a standstill the moment you slide into a pothole on the road.
Stay Focused on What Matters Most
When performing a courageous act, it’s critical that you stay focused on what matters most. You are now of course clear about the goal that you would like to achieve, but of course when faced with challenges that raise your stress levels and threaten to push you right back into your comfort zone, it’s easy to lose focus on those goals.
In such instances, above all else, it’s absolutely critical to instead focus on your personal strengths. Focus on what makes you special and unique; focus on what has helped you get through tough challenges in the past; and focus on the very best of yourself that you can bring into this very moment. All this “focused attention” will allow you to tap into the deepest strengths that can help you muster up the courage you need to move mountains.
However, focusing on your strengths will sometimes not be enough. You must also approach every challenge you face as a problem that you have been assigned to solve. This of course requires a flexible solution-focused approach, and does also at times require you see the very best in a grim situation:
What is the value in this problem?
What can I do to move through it successfully?
What will I gain by taking this step?
Again, all this comes back to the mindset you bring forth into every situation you face. With the right mindset in place, you will naturally find the necessary confidence you need to plow through anything that stands between you and the goal you are wanting to achieve.
Be a Mentor/Leader
Whenever you are struggling to find the courage to push through, don’t despair. There is something you can do. And all it takes is a slight shift in perspective in how you see yourself.
When we think about mentors and leaders, we see them as taking charge of the situation during difficult times when everyone else is frozen with fear and uncertainty. It’s during these moments that they step up and put everybody else on their shoulders and make a big courageous move that inspires action. That’s what mentors and leaders do, and that’s exactly what you can do too.
Even if you’re not a mentor or leader, you can still see yourself as one. You might for instance be a mentor for your kids. Yes, this goal your working towards might have nothing to do with your kids, however in order to show a good example for your kids, don’t you just want to muster up the courage necessary to push through this situation? Of course you do! And that’s exactly what it takes. It takes a slight shift in the way you see yourself, from which you can easily begin building momentum towards your desired aim.
Take Small Steps
Finally, man didn’t just suddenly step on the moon. As far as I know, there are no teleportation devices just yet. But there certainly was a series of steps that “man” needed to take to get to the moon.
Did uncertainty exist? Of course it did. Were we riddled with fear? Of course we were. However, we didn’t allow those things to stop us. In fact, we didn’t give uncertainty and fear the attention they wanted, and instead focused on taking that next step… then the next… then the next… and the next. And after each step everything started to become clearer and we could see further ahead than before.
These steps of course took courage; a lot of courage. But because we took small progressive steps, we didn’t get to the point where we overwhelmed ourselves with fear. And because we didn’t get overwhelmed we just kept moving forward and stayed out of the “decision-paralysis” zone. Then of course after hundreds if not thousands of consecutive small steps and numerous setbacks, we finally managed to get to the moon. What an incredible journey, riddled with fear and uncertainty, and yet also with an overwhelming amount of courage.
Taking those first steps onto the moon’s surface would have been absolutely frightening. And those astronauts certainly would not have chosen to go on the journey if they didn’t have an incredible reservoir of courage behind them. And it’s this same courage that will also push you over the edge and help you accomplish incredible feats; as long as you keep an open mind and keep persevering forward through an infinitely uncertain world.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 5 Ways to Live Courageously @ Huffington Post
- 8 Ways to be a Courageous Leader @ Inc.
- 10 Traits of Courageous Leaders @ Forbes
- A Complete Guide to Developing Courage @ Lifehack
- Building Bulletproof Courage @ Psychology Today
- Build Your Courage by Learning from the Hunger Games @ Psych Central
- Developing Manly Courage @ The Art of Manliness
- How to Build Courage @ WikiHow
- How to Increase Your Courage @ Goodlife Zen
- The Psychology of Courage @ American Psychological Association
- The Six Attributes of Courage @ Psychology Today
- Understanding the Psychology of Bravery and Courage @ Aston University