Every courageous act, no matter big or small, builds our courage
When we can muster more courage, inevitably our lives will improve. As will our relationships, work, and careers. I’ve been wanting to research courage for some time. But it’s not the easiest topic, I find. I guess I would love to dive much deeper than these 9 days have allowed me to do, especially given my very full workweek. Courage according to Dictionary.com means ‘the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery’. Thus, fear is a central element in relation to courage. I don’t fully agree with beforementioned definition. As I consider someone acting despite fear still, and perhaps even more, courageous. Therefore, although the definition suggests an absence of fear, I would consider acting despite of experiencing fear, to be an act of courage. Overcoming our fears, or acting despite our fears, is what it means to be courageous. That’s something we all do. The more we do so, the more courageous we can become. ‘Courage is a deep-seated, fundamental human competence that leverages our other abilities. It invokes within us our best selves’ (Lee, and Elliot-Lee, 2006). Thus, becoming more courageous lifts us on more levels than one. It’s a quality that deserves expanding. Hence this post.
Courage and fear
Only one in three believes he/she is courageous (Solomon, 2018). Thus, courage is such an important quality to develop. Therefore, to learn more about courage, I’ve spoken with Andrea Edwards who has written a book on courage, titled ‘Uncommon Courage’, inviting people to be more courageous in life. During our talk on courage, Andrea reflected on the fears we experience. ‘To address your fear is to know your fear. Don’t steer clear of it; address it head on’ (Bergman, 2019). Similarly, as Andrea explained, most people however are terrified to face themselves; they can’t cope with their own minds and thoughts. ‘But if you give yourself the time in silence, and this is not just a couple of days, you’ll find out what’s part of you, and what’s been put there by other people’ (Edwards, 2021). Many of our fears are not our own. We’ve adapted them from our environment and the people surrounding us. This is an interesting point. Because this also implies that when we sometimes don’t feel courageous, or think we can’t be courageous, this might actually not be our self thinking, but the fears adopted from someone else which is preventing our courage to surface. We’re too often held back by our fears. In order to figure out what is ours and what is put there in our heads, Andrea suggests seeking out silence. In this silence, we can confront our fears, instead of ignoring them or distracting ourselves and running from them.
‘Get out of your life and experience silence in your mind. Get out of your normal routines, and be by yourself, be lonely. Be excruciatingly lonely. Then, when you don’t have a conversation with any other person, the conversation with yourself can start. Through this process, in which there are no ways to escape what needs to be experienced, one can get passed past emotions and anger’ (Edwards, 2021). What this silence gives you is an opportunity to reflect on what is really yours and what is put in your mind by others. This process has two stages according to Andrea. The first stage is to look at what’s yours and what isn’t. Then ask yourself; Do I like it? Do I want it? Do I want to keep it? Or do I want to let it go? This process of ‘uncovering and examining ‘stories’ you have believed can help redefine your belief’ (Swoboda, 2018). The second stage is truly looking at your emotions. Investigate what comes up time and time again. Look at it and explore why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. This requires solitude and purity. No distractions. It’s a process of self-exploration for which we rarely take the time. This is a scary and uncomfortable process at times, but necessary for growth. As Andrea states, ‘we got to start creating silence to listen to ourselves. We got to learn to listen to this, and learn to believe it, and give it more importance. Through this, we can learn to commit to ourselves. You always know best. We have the answers inside of us’ (Edwards, 2021). Thus, though this process of introspection, and observing our fears and emotions, we become able to practice our courage. Then, by ‘understanding the role of fear in habitual routines, breaking them down, and creating different, courageous habits is how you change your life’ (Swoboda, 2018). First in small instances, and gradually with more impact. The point is to learn to accept oneself. As Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga state, ‘accept what is irreplaceable. Accept ‘this me’ just as it is. And have the courage to change what one can change. That is self-acceptance’ (Kishimi and Koga, 2019).
Courage and vulnerability
The essence of courage might well be simply showing up as ourselves. Allowing ourselves to be seen and heard. We all fear rejection and not being loved or appreciated. However, when we’re just showing one side of ourselves, or when we are wearing a mask, the interactions we’re experiencing are not with our full self, or merely only with the mask we wear. Instead, we need to learn to embrace all that is ours and show our full selves. We need to learn that it pays to dare to be vulnerable. Which is, when you look closely, being courageous. Andrea says that she believes ‘we’re giving ourself all the power when we’re being vulnerable, because when you’re not pretending, when you’re not covering something up and are not hiding anything, or when you’re not busy trying to remember who you’re supposed to be based on who you’re speaking with, then you can be fully present as yourself, all the time whenever you show up’ (Edwards, 2021). Therefore, she says with a smile, ‘vulnerability is the secret to contentment’ (Edwards, 2021). I recognize this very much. The more I allow myself to be seen, the more content I feel about who I am. I’ve seen this too over and over again in my university teachings around the topic of vulnerability. Every time when people drop their masks and start to see each other for who they really are, something physically shifts. This is hard to explain, but when people do this, the energy changes and tension subsides. Therefore, let us have the courage to be vulnerable and show more of ourselves. We are all unique beings who deserve to be seen. ‘If you can be truly who you are and dare to be vulnerable, you can also be accepted and loved for who you really are’ (Edwards, 2021). What if we’re just pretending? That would mean all our relationships are built on facades, and any love and appreciation we might receive is not for who we actually are, but instead for who we’re pretending to be. Yes, it takes courage to show up as yourself. Yes, it’s difficult, because we’re being less of the social chameleon, we often end up being. But, when we’re being ourselves, it’s all there is to be. So be courageous and be yourself.
Building our courage
Anaïs Nin has beautifully said it; ‘Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage’. We therefore should aim to grow our courage, and thereby expand our lives. We sometimes think courage is something unattainable, and beyond us (Solomon, 2018). But we can learn to be (more) courageous. We can train our courage like a muscle. Like discipline, the more we practice it, the more it becomes us. This is true for courage too. Cindy Solomon speaks about building courage. In her research on the topic, she has identified 3 inhibitors of courage, what she refers to as ‘Courage Stranglers’:
The myth that courage is big. Courage isn’t limited to the big and heroic gestures. It’s in the small things too, in the everyday actions. Sometimes, getting out of bed and starting a new day can be courageous.
If you are courageous, you have no fear. As you could have already read at the beginning while trying to define courage, this certainly is a misconception. Courage is not about the absence of fear, it’s what you do despite it being there.
You either have courage, or you don’t. We’re not born with, or without courage. Actually, we’re all courageous in our own ways and at different moments. And we can learn it, cultivate it, and strengthen it by being choosing to be courageous, on step at a time.
Cindy Solomon invites us to think back of a moment when we were courageous in the past. Then, reflect on how you felt right after that. This feeling, of overcoming oneself, no matter big or small, is amazing, and should serve as inspiration for us to be more courageous. Imagine all that could happen, once we’d be more courageous like those moments before. In order to build our courage, Solomon has three suggestions:
Recognize the opportunity. Every time you experience a slight bit of fear, or anxiety, recognize this to be your moment to train your courage. Choose consciously, to act in spite of your fears and exercise your courage muscle.
Get comfortable with the discomfort. It’s not going to be easy. And you’ll feel anxious. However, recognize that these feelings of fear and anxiety are indicators for you to learn. So, embrace the feeling and enjoy the learning and growth.
Ask what is the best thing that could happen. Thinking back on our past courageous moments will help us recognize all the good those moments brought us. Reflect on this when faced with an opportunity to be courageous, and simply wonder, what good could come from this? Then, let that be an inspiration and fuel for your courage to grow.
Sonia McDonald, author of the book ‘First Comes Courage’, suggests an additional 15 ways to build your courage. She’s made a perfect summary which I’ve taken from her website. Find her very useful suggestions below:
Saying sorry. It takes courage to admit when you are wrong. It’s a bold act to admit when you make a mistake. Saying sorry takes you out of your comfort zone and enhances your relationships. That’s big. Do it!
Be yourself and own it. Don’t imitate anyone. Take off your mask. Allow yourself to become vulnerable. Share your flaws with others. See perfection in your imperfections. Who you are is a gift to the world. Allow yourself to shine.
Take responsibility and accountability. You are where you are in life because of the choices you make. If you don’t like what you see, change it. Reflection and choices are the keys and I often ask myself – I am living and leading a life I truly want? Responsibility brings freedom.
Keep your commitments and make goals. Write down everything you say you are going to do and want to achieve. Write down the promises you make to others and what you want to achieve in your life. When you keep your promises, you build self-respect. Others respect you as well.
Have a voice and say no. Speak up. Make a difference. Share your feelings when you witness an injustice. Practice sharing your opinion. Don’t allow someone to take advantage of you. Learn to say, “no.” Refuse to hold back when your gut says to move forward.
Let go and forgive. Stop wallowing over what could have been. Forgive yourself. Forgive everyone. What happened is over unless you keep it alive by reliving it in your mind. When we know better, we do better. It takes courage to move on.
Grow and learn. Learn something new. Step into the unknown. Change the way you do things. It doesn’t matter if you get it the first time. Try again. Give yourself permission to learn. Seize the opportunity. Growth brings new opportunities.
Help others. Help someone who doesn’t help you. Help others when you don’t have the time. Help someone who can’t pay you back. Help someone when you are the one needing help. Learn to be of service. That’s why we’re here.
Courage is Love. Be kind to each other. Be truthful. Accept differences. Spend time together. Act like a loving person. You can love difficult people as well. Forgive them and wish them the best. Let them go with love.
Practice gratitude. Count our blessings. Tell the people in your life “thank you.” Be grateful for the people you love and for the people who love you. Focus on what you are grateful for.
Choose happiness. Make a decision that you will think happy thoughts, speak kind words, and spend time doing things that bring you joy. Have a good attitude. See the glass half full. Look at the bright side. Expect the best. Choose to focus on what’s good.
Learn from your mistakes. Reflect on what went wrong and what you could have done better. Look for your lesson. Choose to grow forward. Be compassionate. Make a new plan. Refuse to give up.
Embrace the small things. Take time to love the small stuff. The taste of a glass of cold water, the different shades of red, a child’s laugh or an elderly person’s worn hands. Enjoy the sunrise and walk in the park. Enjoy…
Love Yourself. Accept your imperfections. Be your own best friend. Show yourself compassion, understanding and respect. This is the most courageous act of all.
Committing to, and accepting ourselves
During my talk with Andrea, I asked her about inner commitment. As she explained, many people put their toe in and then step out again. They don’t dare to fully commit. There is a lot of commitment phobia in today’s society so bombarded with options. I know I struggle with this too. The biggest challenge in the world, according to Andrea, is self-belief, or a lack thereof. She rightfully argued that our experiences are uniquely ours. There is not a single person in the world who has a similar experience than you do. Not one. You are the real deal. For that matter, we should develop and cultivate our self-belief. You are the only person with your unique perspective and experiences. You have a point of view that is valid (Edwards, 2021). As Andrea suggests, first, we need to intellectually commit to our chosen path, and then from there, our heart and soul need to connect with that commitment too. From there it can become our mission, and then a purpose (Edwards, 2021). When our intellect, our heart and soul are a part of our commitment, we can become committed to what we’re doing on a deeper level. Courage is about facing what’s in front of us and showing what’s inside of us. ‘Courage is the ability to stand up, speak up, show up, and be your true self, be who you are with no more layers’ (Edwards, 2021). We’re giving other people too much power by giving other people our truth (Edwards, 2021). Instead, let’s be courageous and focus on accepting ourselves and committing to us. From there, we can muster the courage to show ourselves and be heard. That in turn can inspire others to be courageous too. As we know, courage is contagious (Solomon, 2018).
Interview Andrea Edwards
To learn more about courage, and how to expand our ability to be courageous, I’ve talked to Andrea Edwards, a business-to-business communications specialist, focused on authentic and real communication.
Andrea has previously written two books on social media and social media in the context of leadership and has now recently added her book about courage to this list. This book, titled ‘Uncommon Courage’, was written as an antidote to all the fear, rage, and diversion in the world today.
During our talk, we’ve covered a lot of topics ranging from fear, to dealing with our emotions, (inner) commitment, and accepting ourselves. It was a very interesting conversation which I hope you will enjoy!
Andrea Edwards website: https://andreatedwards.com
Andrea Edwards Uncommon Courage podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/uncommon-courage/id1581795253
Berman, Ryan, 2019, Return on Courage. https://amzn.to/3opTIN6
Edwards, Andrea, 2021, Uncommon Courage. https://amzn.to/3uvZtK7
Kishimi, Ichiro, and Koga, Fumitake, 2019, The Courage To Be Disliked. https://amzn.to/2Y8HU7j
Lee, Gus, and Elliott-Lee, Diane, 2006, Courage, The Backbone of Leadership. https://amzn.to/39XJATo
McDonald, Sonia, 2020, First Comes Courage. https://amzn.to/2YkWisS
Mackenzie, Mindy, 2006, The Courage Solution. https://amzn.to/3mfnEsD
Solomon, Cindy, 2018, How to Build Your Courage, TED Talk. https://youtu.be/P5H0rDWgEeU, accessed on October 1, 2021.
Swoboda, Kate, 2018, The Courage Habit. https://amzn.to/3uwPBzN