When was the last time you felt courageous?
I recently saw a popular action movie with my two sons and, wow, was it full of courageous non-stop action! Every scene featured brave decision-making and situations that tested the limits of physical and mental strength. Although most of us don’t face such extreme challenges in our everyday lives, we are often faced with situations that require us to step up courageously and move out of our comfort zones.
If you have difficulty remembering the last time time you felt courageous, read on. In order to develop and practice courage in your everyday life and relationships, avoid these things:
Losing sight of your goal
When we are faced with a challenge, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with irrelevant details. We often seek comfort through the gathering of information and creating a plan before taking action. However, when our information gathering and planning are taken to an extreme, it can prevent us from actually moving forward. We can easily lose sight of our desired goals and find ourselves falling into a variety of rabbit holes such as excuses, rationalizations, and fears.
Allowing the past to predict the future
None of us are perfect. We all have situations when we look back and think, “Wow, that could have gone better!” Maybe you said something that you wished you could take back, behaved in a way that doesn’t reflect your values or hurt someone unintentionally. I am right there with you and have more than my share of cringe-worthy experiences to look back on. However, our past experiences certainly do not have the power to predict our future. We are all capable of growth and change. Yes, that includes you! Give yourself an opportunity to grow though new experiences.
Worrying about what others think
We can experience a lot of worry and anxiety when we step out of our comfort zone. You may be developing a new skill, performing in front of others, or confronting a difficult situation with family or friends. When we start to look around, we consider who may be observing us or be in a position to judge us. You might ask yourself, “What will they think of me?” “What if I get this wrong?” or “What if I embarrass myself?”
When we practice courage we are putting ourselves out into the world in a new way. We like to think we know how others will perceive us or what they might think of us but, in reality, we have no idea and no way of knowing. In fact, we often grossly overestimate the degree to which people are observing us or thinking about us at all.
When our sense of self is based heavily on our performance and accomplishments, we tend to have a perfectionist mindset. The idea of not mastering a skill perfectly or, at worst, failing in our efforts and having someone else see us in those moments, can be extremely threatening to our self-concept and our self-esteem. So, rather than take those risks, we tend to avoid engaging in new or challenging activities.
In an effort to protect ourselves and avoid judgment from others, we end up holding ourselves back from growing. Practicing courage means to allow yourself to be fully present in an experience, without self-imposed expectations of perfection and free of the judgement of others.
No one feels especially confident when practicing courage because, in order to be courageous, we are likely facing something that is testing our limits and abilities. What happens when we step out and it doesn’t work or we feel embarrassed? It can be easy to run and hide, or blame others or situational factors for why something didn’t work, even when it has to do with our decision-making and behaviors.
Taking personal responsibility for our actions is a significant and meaningful way to practice courage in our everyday lives. Doing so allows us the freedom to celebrate when things go well and a chance to learn and grow when things turn out differently than we would have liked. Use those opportunities to regroup, take inventory and make plans for future growth in that area.