“Courage consists not in hazarding without fear; but being resolutely minded in a just cause.”
Have you ever left a meeting feeling regretful that you hadn’t spoken up and said how you really felt? Maybe you’ve been disappointed in yourself for not taking the initiative and asking someone out on a date. Or you never took the time to work on that business plan.
Ask yourself: why didn’t you do these things? The answer is typically fear.
When most people think about courage, they think about acting without fear: of boldly leaping into action without concern for anything going wrong.
But that’s not what true courage is. Courage is all about recognizing fear and taking action in spite of it. It’s about deciding on the right course of action and then acting on that decision, even if it might be a scary one.
One of the best ways to think about courage is to understand what scares us, and then rationally confront that fear. If we let fear prevent us from acting, we allow it to have control over us: it stops us from taking the risks necessary to move forward and make the most out of our opportunities.
Fear of negative consequences can often prevent us from getting what we want in life. But all too often, the negative consequences are fleeting, while potential benefits could be life-long. In the above scenarios, and many others, we gain a lot more by taking action than we maintain through inaction.
Fear is natural. But giving in to fear can lead to stagnation. Courage is what we use to counterbalance fear. But building the courage to confront challenges and get what we really want out of life takes some practice.
“Courage is knowing what not to fear.”
Understand your fears
Before you can work with our fears, it’s important to identify them and give them a name. Don’t think of fear as something that’s holding you back, but rather something that you can work with to achieve what you want.
If you take the time to understand your fears, it’s much more likely that you’ll be able to identify how to overcome them, or how to become courageous in spite of them.
It can help to name the fears out loud, or write them in a journal. Scientific studies have shown that by putting our feelings into words, people are able to better process them and work through negative emotional experiences.
Acknowledging your fears is itself an act of courage: it’s not easy to approach your fears, and address what scares you. By recognizing your fears and understanding them, you are empowering yourself to act with courage.
Build courage by reframing fear
The biggest reason people don’t act with courage is fear: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of any kind of negative consequences. Fear can keep us paralyzed, and fear can keep us from achieving what we really want in life.
But fear can also be a good thing. Fear keeps us from engaging in actions that might be truly dangerous by activating our survival instincts. Fear tells us not to approach that snarling dog, or to take shelter during a dangerous weather event. In these kinds of situations, it’s a good thing to listen to our natural instinct for trepidation.
Instead of looking at fear as a negative, try to reframe it as something that can be beneficial to your growth. In the face of something life-threatening, fear helps us stay alive. But if the consequences are less imposing, fear could present an opportunity to act with courage.
Fear and courage are two sides of the same coin. Every time you fear something, it could be an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, and an opportunity to act with courage.