Maya Angelou, echoing Aristotle, famously said,
"Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without it, no other virtue can be practiced consistently."
Yet, courage often escapes us. Doing the hard thing in the face of our fears is, well, hard.
The good news? Research shows that courage can be learned (Pury, 2008). Here are 3 immediate and powerful steps you can take to live more courageously.
1 Doubt Yourself
When faced with a challenging task — giving tough feedback, asking for a promotion, giving a presentation — many of us try to reduce our anxiety and increase our confidence through self-talk.
We say things like:
"I got this!"
"I'm a badass!"
"I can do this!"
Although we know self-talk improves performance, not all self-talk is equal. Studies show — in contrast to much of the advice in self-help books — that when people use self-talk to doubt themselves, they significantly up their performance.
Questioning yourself means asking, and answering, the following:
Can I do this?
If so, how?
The magic of this approach is that you go beyond a pep-talk and begin to think strategically: preparing, focusing, and upping motivation.
2 Create a “Couraging” Scrapbook
Brene Brown said that just as swimmers get better by swimming, we get courage by “couraging.” This works not only because we get stronger and more confident with practice, but also because past actions provide a galvanizing reference point. Research shows that if people are asked to remember past episodes of courage, they are more willing to act courageously. (Osswald, 2017)
For example, if I’m afraid to be more vocal in team meetings, I’ll remind myself: “I ran a tough study group in college, so I can contribute to our work meetings now.”
The formula to plug in is: “I did X. Therefore, I think I can do Y.”
For those who think, “But I’m not the courageous type,” I’ll leave you with the words of artist Mary Anne Radmacher: “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is like the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.
3 Make Courage About Others
Show me your courage and I’ll show you what you care about. Research shows that one of the most powerful ways to engender courage is to link your behavior to something other than yourself (Pury, 2010). Too often, we get in our own way by ruminating about how failure will impact us
What if I say something wrong?
They’ll think I’m stupid.
They won’t like me.
I’ll lose face.
I’m going to bungle this.
I’ll be the skunk at the picnic.
The solution to this self-centered mindset is to flip the script. Make your courage about others: Who will benefit from your action? What values are at stake? What cause can you link your courage to?
As Sara Blakely, founder and CEO of Spanx, explains, “It’s amazing what you will find yourself able to do when you make your journey about something bigger than yourself.”
At NextArrow, we're dedicated to helping people get out of their own way by developing courage in themselves and in others. To learn more about our program offering, click here.