Bravery is often considered a trait that you either have or you don't. Sure, you might consider certain people "brave" in a particular situation — but they don't always "have bravery." By contrast, someone with blue eyes always "has blue eyes": one cannot develop blue eyes. But unlike eye color, bravery can be developed. Like a muscle or a skill, one must practice being brave in order to get better at it.
There are certain actions that everyone agrees are brave. Tightrope walkers are brave as they walk across a three inch wide rope hundreds of feet up in the air. A lion tamer is brave as he faces down a 400-pound, ferocious, wild beast, taunting it with a whip and teaching it to jump through flaming hoops or to allow him to put his head in the beast's mouth.
Many professions also require bravery. Doctors must be brave as they perform surgery on a child in critical condition, who might die if they make a slight mistake. Astronauts must be brave as they venture into space and the unknown.
Yet bravery can often emerge in more unexpected a ways than we're used to. There are some actions that require great bravery depending on who is performing them: to be brave is relative. Some people must work up their courage to drive in the city. Others find public speaking beyond their scope of bravery. For some artists, sharing their work with the world can take a tremendous amount of bravery.
So, if you feel you're lacking in the bravery department, all you need to do is work out your bravery muscles a little more. Anyone can do it. Here are a few basic exercises that will help you get fit in the bravery department ...
1. Start small.
If public speaking terrifies, don't sign up to be a presenter at a TED talk — even if you are in the mood to take a risk. Start smaller at the get-go. Raise your hand in class and answer in front of the twenty or so other people in the room. Volunteer to introduce a guest speaker at your next book club or approach a small group of people you don't know at the next party you attend. Each small step will increase your comfort, and that's the first step.
2. Praise yourself.
If you hate driving in the city, and you drive to the bus stop at the edge of the city and then decide to take the bus in, you still need to give yourself kudos for your preliminary step! If you fear sharing your art with others and you read a passage of your short story out loud at your writing group, talk about the experience with others outside the group.
Journal to yourself about the great accomplishment. Rather than recounting everything you did wrong or wishing you had done things differently, praise yourself for your bravery.
3. Keep your goals incremental.
If you wish to be braver at something, write down three small goals you would like to achieve that will bring you closer to your desire. For example: you want to talk to more new people when you go to parties. But rather than approach this goal as one big obstacle, write down three goals to get you closer to your desire.
For instance: 1. Talk to one stranger every day. Practice at the grocery store or the gas station by striking up a conversation even if it's just to say hi to a store clerk or passer-by. 2. Read up on current events so you have something common and interesting to talk about with all sorts of people you may encounter. 3. Role play starting a conversation with a friend so you'll feel less anxious, and more comfortable, at your next party.
4. Take action.
It's one thing to think about being braver, and even to plan out concrete ways you will be braver. But you have to take action for the change to occur — even if the changes are small. Just as you can't think about exercise to develop strong biceps, you can't just think about brave actions to be brave. You have to acknowledge what you fear and take action toward facing it.
Everyone is brave. Some just know how to face and act on their fears more than others. With practice, goal setting, and specific action, you can increase your bravery muscle and face your fears. Everyone feels fear. It's about not allowing that fear to stop you. It's about continuing to pursue your desires despite your fear. That is what it means to be brave.