7 Habits That Build Courage (And A Better Life) 

Written by Kate Swoboda

Image by Leandro Crespi / Stocksy

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We all want to face the challenges of our lives with more courage. What gets tricky is figuring out just how to do that when (once again) we've gotten caught in our own fear, stress, doubt, or worry. It's easy to talk about courage when we're feeling pumped up and motivated, and harder when we're facing a scary health diagnosis, navigating a breakup, or too anxious to take the first step in the name of a big dream. How can you be courageous when fear keeps looming large?

Across more than a decade of working with clients and speaking with organizations about courage and emotional resilience, I've found that the ability to act with courage isn't something you're born with. In fact? Courageous people have simply made courageous behaviors into a habit (which I detail in my book, The Courage Habit).

Courage encompasses the ability to feel your fear without letting that fear dictate your options—in other words, the fear might be there, but you don't get stuck in it. I often think of courageous people as people who have decided to accept that fear will be along for the ride--but the fear has to ride in the passenger seat, not at the wheel steering where you go. If you've been getting stuck in fear, you're probably practicing fear-based habits that have been operating for so long that they run on autopilot.

The good news is that anyone can change a habit—starting now, starting today. You can build a better life and start seeing more courageous, emotionally resilient behavior by implementing these seven habits:

1. Get committed.

It's time to get real about the requirement of commitment to behavioral change if you want to feel less stressed in your life and more courageous. Commitment is a habit rooted in making a decision that you're going to stay the course of your dream, followed by showing up for that dream consistently. "I'll try," is not a commitment. "I'm going to show up and make mistakes and keep showing up," is a commitment.

2. Become aware of the things that don't build courage.

In the rush to practice the habits that do build courage, we might be tempted to skip the step of looking at what doesn't work or what gets in the way. Most people who are trying to become more courageous focus on avoiding, placating, or attacking their fears, but this isn't what truly works for building courageous habits in the long term. When you're actively feeling stress, fear, or overwhelm, make a point of stopping to assess—how am I tempted to respond? Is there an element of avoiding fear, placating my fear by trying to "do everything right," or attacking my fear by telling it to shut up and go away?

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3. Identify the fear-based patterns that get you stuck.

Perfectionism, people-pleasing, pessimism, and self-sabotage are the common fear-based patterns that hook people. When you know what each of those patterns looks like, you'll have an easier time noticing when you're in them and consciously choosing to shift out of them. The best time to work on this habit? Taking time when you're not afraid, to learn about these patterns and how they specifically show up for you. 

4. Get into your body when the fear kicks up.

Your fear isn't logical; it's primal. We feel it in the body, so in order to build courage, we need to deal with the fear in the body. When you're feeling afraid, Netflix and chill will only temporarily decrease stress (and then the fear and anxiety just come right back). Instead, use body-based practices to access the body and teach it that it can handle fear—it's safe. This can include yoga, meditation, running, weight lifting, slow walks, or any other body-based practice where you get conscious about what you feel.

5. Listen without attachment.

Your fearful thoughts will spin all kinds of stories about how you're not enough. Rather than attack those thoughts by telling them to shut up and go away, several psychological disciplines (narrative therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, dialectical behavior therapy) have found that it's more helpful to listen to what the fear is saying. The key? Not getting "attached" to what is said by taking it on as a "truth" about who you are and what you're capable of.

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6. Reframe your limiting stories.

No one is perfect, and we all have limitations. So how do you not let the fear of those limitations hold you back? Reframe your limiting stories. At any given moment we can use our known limitations as evidence that we "can't," or we can reframe them, deciding things such as, "Even if I can't do this right now, I'm willing to practice until I figure it out."

7. Reach out and create community.

Fear and self-doubt thrive in isolation, and they diminish in community. It's not fun experiencing setbacks or failures, even though we know that they are part of every journey. In those moments when things are tough, we might be inclined to isolate and hide out—but instead, that's when we most need to lean in to the community around us.

At the end of the day, everyone experiences setbacks and losses. When you're cultivating the courage habit, you're deciding to consciously do something different with those challenges. With time and practicing these seven habits, you'll build courage and start seeing the results of that throughout your life.

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