"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear."
— Mark Twain
That quote from Mark Twain holds what psychotherapist and life coach Antoinette Giacobbe calls a key in living a more courageous life. "Being courageous is not jumping in front of danger or taking empty risks; rather, it's about living your life honestly and truthfully," she explains. "And while our judgemental society can make that very scary, we can overcome fear and live how we want."
Just like with any process, going from cowardly to fearless takes some time and dedication. Follow Antoinette's advice to create momentum to your ultimate courageous goal:
- What are you afraid of? "Fear of failure and fear of the unknown are common fears that can lead to procrastination and even paralyze us," says Antoinette. Take a minute to write down what fear is holding you back from, say, voicing your opinion during a meeting or asking a noisy neighbour to tone down their loud weekend parties.
- Have a clear goal in mind. Once you have a better idea of what fear is holding you back, you can then look it in the eye and concentrate on achieving your goal by using visualization and affirmations.
- Transform the negative into a positive. "Before you take any physical action, accept that you can change," says Antoinette. "That requires positive thinking and self esteem to overcome your inner critic."
- Embrace the struggle. It's through struggle that we grow, learn and get stronger. So rather than be afraid of being afraid and not even trying, know that working through fear will help you realize what you want out of life.
- Accept your imperfections. Remember that it takes courage to be imperfect and making mistakes is part of learning. If you make a mistake, analyze what happened and try to figure out what you can do differently in order to be successful. A trusted friend or co-worker may help you see things more clearly. Then try again based on what you've learned.
- Take a baby step out of your comfort zone. Start with something small — like trying something new, asking a question or voicing your opinion in a meeting or a group. If that's too difficult, ask a friend to join you to get your back and step up if needed, or use email to ask your question or give your opinion.
- Fine-tune your coping techniques. Try to develop coping techniques like deep breathing, meditation and visualization to help you work through any stress on the spot. To help your body manage the build up of stress away from the situation, try yoga, tai chi, or music or art therapy.
- Then take bigger steps. Fear has a way of making us exaggerate potential outcomes; once it's over, the prick of a needle or giving a presentation at work is often not nearly as bad as we thought it would be. Keep reminding yourself of that fact as you take a bigger step outside your comfort zone toward your goal. Take a public speaking course or volunteer to lead a meeting or give a short presentation to your co-workers. Enjoy a meal alone at your favourite restaurant. Approach your noisy neighbour about the late-night noise. Say hello to someone you want to meet.
- Take risks — often. "Take conscious steps to keep flexing your courage muscle," advises Antoinette. "By flexing them, you'll become stronger and better able to face your fears so that you can lead a happier more balanced life. And you'll be better equipped to handle your next challenge!" And your daily act of courage doesn't have to be extreme. For some of us, ignoring judgemental coworkers, risking rejection by asking someone out or standing up to an overbearing sibling can take more guts than taming a lion.