Can You Find Courage When You Think You Have None?
Be fearless. Be bold. Follow your path. Many life coaches, speakers and authors focus on the need to be fearless and authentic.
Wonderful advice. Fear's the primary barrier between us and personal evolution. And we all appreciate the beauty of finding the guts to be authentic whether others like it or not. "Be fearless" makes me feel inspired, ready to act come what may. The only problem is that shortly after, fear returns, followed by an inner critic attack because you're not a fearless warrior taking on the world with ease like other people.
Here's the problem: while this is good advice, without a path it's only an inspirational platitude.
First, just hearing you should "be brave" rarely works. Beyond that, the word fearless isn't quite right. No one's fearless. The people we admire the most — the ones doing amazing courageous things — they're not fearless. What they're good at is moving through their fear.
There it is. Bravery is feeling your fear, then taking steps anyway.
Which means the real question is: How do we find courage when we have none?
Here are a few foundational principles to catalyze your courage:
1. Ditch the drama.
It's important to admit to yourself when you're stuck in fear. Too often, though, this process allows you to feed the fear. In recognizing fear, you'll pose your unconscious a question like,"What does it mean that I'm afraid?" Then you'll fill in the blanks with whatever answer matches your most fear-driven inner beliefs, such as, "I'm scared because I can't handle it."
Whatever your story is, it's just that: a story. It lacks validity and adds to your stuck-ness.
Don't aim to be fearless. Aim to stop adding drama and intensity to your fear by ditching the storylines. What does it mean that you have fear? Mostly that you're human. Pretty simple.
2. Check in.
You admit you're afraid. Time to move past it right? Not quite. Sometimes fear is wisdom that you're in danger or on the wrong path. In fact, many of my clients need to learn to be afraid more!
Take your time to get clear. If the fear's grounded, decide whether to proceed with caution or to back off of the situation. If there are no real signs of threat, take a breath and proceed.
3. Recognize you're in great company.
As I said, everyone feels fear, even your role models. We seem to have some idea that if we're strong or on "our path," fear will melt away, leaving only brave conviction. This creates confusion and self-criticism when we feel afraid.
Instead of putting yourself down, you can recognize that fear links you to a tribe of people across time who have taken a risk to move beyond safety for something more. To join the ranks of these "fearless" people you admire, don't focus on what you feel; focus on what you do about it.
4. Relate to fear as a good sign.
The truth is that having fear means two things: that you're human (which should be a big relief) and that you're on the verge of growth. Once you've ruled out danger, you can take fear as a good sign, a marker that you're alive and engaged. Feeling fear lets you know that you're genuinely present in the moment and you're stretching past your comfort zone. You can draw strength and self-assurance from that.
5. Breathe into your heart.
The word "courage" is related to the French word "coeur," which means "heart." What you're aiming for in anxiety-filled moments is a connection with your heart. In this case, heart for me has a dual definition: the energetic area in the center of your chest out of which wisdom, warmth and ease flow, and the meaning behind whatever action or choice frightens you. In other words, the heart of the matter.
Knowing WHY you're doing what you're doing bolsters your spirit. But when your drive weakens or doubt creeps in, keep yourself on your path by doing a heart-centered breath. Place your hand on your heart and imagine as if you could breathe in and out of that heart space. If fear or anxiety arises, just let it be there without judgement and hold true to the breath. Over time you'll watch the fear melt away leaving a fresh experience of your resiliency in its place.
Remember, real bravery isn't about fearlessness; it's about taking steps in spite of it.