I wish courage felt wonderful. When facing a mighty challenge, I’d love to feel confident and capable. It hasn’t happened to me yet. The finest state I’ve achieved is relaxed optimism — mixed with nausea.
I know people who can successfully overcome this nausea with a Zen-like “leap and the net will appear” approach. I get it; words are powerful and can get you off your butt. If these mantras are working, feel free to leap ahead. However, if “JUST DO IT” isn’t doing it for you, keep reading.
Build a net.
There’s jump-out-of-a-plane courage — and it’s pretty badass — but I’m far more interested in everyday courage. Maybe you are going to a scary medical appointment, your first hip-hop dance class or you want to change jobs.
My courageous act is surfing. I love it and hate it. I’m still a beginner and most surfing fundamentals are challenging. For every 15-second thrill ride, I’ll put in at least 30 minutes of effort. It takes courage for me to keep doing something I haven’t mastered. Especially when I’ve choked on salt water.
Things do get easier — but only in tiny, incremental bits. Usually my progress is barely noticeable. With each attempt, it’s a tad easier to secure the surfboard to the top of the car. I’m slightly better at carrying a board that is too wide for my arm. I feel more comfortable judging waves. My timing and balance improves a smidgeon. I like to think about these tiny corrections as an orchestra tuning up before a performance. Practicing in each distinct area is what improves the overall sound. You can focus on fine-tuning the specific skills needed to achieve your act of courage. Confidence comes through action so I encourage you to break things down. Basically, think small.
Tackle the bane of your resistance.
It’s normal to experience resistance/nausea toward our courageous acts. You’ve probably heard this Nelson Mandela quote; “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Sounds fantastic. HOW DO WE DO THAT!? I recommend tricking your brain.
“It doesn’t matter if you feel silly or doubtful about rewarding yourself — rewards work. If you give yourself something pleasant, your brain will release dopamine…You don’t have to consciously will your brain to release these neurotransmitters or to create associations; that happens outside your conscious control. Why not take advantage of that brain fact?”*
Dopamine causes stimulating and pleasurable effects, making you more focused and interested in what you’re doing. Here’s how this works in my life: I take small action toward my courageous act. Then I’ll reward myself with something delightful — I’ll watch a 30-minute sitcom, buy a fancy green smoothie or listen to a podcast in the sunshine. The rewards are fun, but something far more valuable is happening in my head. Since I’ve activated the pleasure center of my brain, I’ll experience less resistance toward that courageous act in the future. But really, who cares how it works? It just does. You can reward your brain and reduce your resistance.
Courage may not look cool.
You may be tempted to downplay your courageous act in case things don’t work out. Maybe you don’t want to tell other people because the outcome could be messy, ugly or uncool. When this fear creeps in, I remind myself of the many reasons I want to do courageous things. I’ve already experienced not doing them — and that hasn’t felt cool. Honestly, my only true failure would be regret. There’s a part of me that says, “I can’t NOT do it!” Fear may be there, but I don’t have to listen to it.
Are you willing to attempt your courageous act even if it sucks, hurts and there’s no guarantee?
If some part of you said “yes”, then perhaps it’s time.
MORE THIRST AID
Here’s a short + simple article about training your brain: The Neuroscience of Resistance and How to Overcome It.
Bravery 101: Lessons from Daring Greatly
Listen to a free class where I share lessons from Brené Brown’s best-selling book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
Speaking of Brené Brown, her latest book is Rising Strong. “If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about what it takes to get back up.” Here’s a sneak peak. I’m planning a Rising Strong Book Club for early 2016.
Next month I’ll share highlights from my adventure to become a master coach. Why shouldn’t you benefit from my hard-earned lessons?
Until then, may you be brave —