Why You Need To Practice Everyday Courage…And Three Ways To Start Doing So Today
When I say the words courage or a courageous person, what comes to mind for you?
Maybe you see Mel Gibson in Braveheart leading his clan to battle or Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman bravely fighting the Nazis. Or perhaps you see a firefighter running into a burning building that others are trying to escape from. It could be that you think of someone like Rosa Parks or Mother Teresa, who quietly and with dignity stood up for the rights of others. Or maybe you see someone who has some type of physical disability battling all the odds and competing in the Olympics or professional sports.
Each of these people is courageous and inspirational as they do what they can to help change the world. But sometimes we stop our definition of courage there. We say that courage is reserved for those big once-in-a-lifetime events where you have to do something huge like stand up in front of a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square to protest the massacre of people standing up for their rights or continuing to go to school after being brutally shot for doing so in the first place or disarming that shooter in the school, theater or church.
But courage is so much more than just the big actions, and when we overlook the ways that we have the opportunity to bring courage forward in our everyday lives, we overlook ways that we can continue to be true to ourselves and our ideals and live authentically.
Everyday courage is not big and flashy. It doesn’t usually get written up in the news. In fact, very few of us will have the opportunity in our lives for those “big event” courageous moments. However, every one of us has opportunities everyday to be courageous. Here are some other people that we might not notice or recognize as being courageous:
- The woman who decides to leave her abusive husband, even though she has no idea how she is going to support herself and her children.
- The son who goes against the family tradition of working in the family business and pursues his dream of doing a completely different type of work.
- The school child who tells the other children to stop calling another child names.
- The person who makes eye contact with and starts talking with the homeless person instead of just walking by and pretending the person didn’t exist.
- And the person who breaks out of his or her normal routine and tries something new, whether that is taking a different route to work, or going to a new restaurant, or trying a new type of food or social activity.
This is courage too. I call it everyday courage and it is extremely important for our own wellbeing!
Julius Caesar, in William Shakespeare’s play with the same name, said:
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.”
William Shakespeare was spot on with this one. Every time we give into our fear, whether that fear is preventing us from going after our dream job, moving to that part of the world that makes our heart sing, or holds us back from saying hello to that person that we are interested in, we die a little inside. We move just a little bit away from what it is that our heart and authentic self wants for our life.
In that moment when we give in to our fear, that little movement away from what we want for our life may not look like much, but over time, we can end up completely off course and far, far away from the life we desired — similar to how a boat or a plane, if off by even just one degree on its route can end up in a very different place altogether. We end up farther away from who we are because we have held ourselves back from being who we are because of our fear.
And we feel it inside of us.
We feel that slight snuffing out of part of our life spark. We feel the sadness or other negative feeling that accompanies giving into our fear…even while we are telling ourselves that our decision was the “safe” or “logical” or “right” one. Our minds can make up any type of story to justify why we do or do not do something. It repeats that story over and over again, like a mantra, until we almost believe it ourselves.
But unlike our minds, our bodies are incapable of lying to us. When we are connected to and in touch with our bodies, we can use our bodies as a barometer of the truth. We’ve all felt that sick feeling in the pit of our stomach at some point in our life that alerted us to the fact that the path we were on or the decision we were about to make was not the right one.
Learning to listen to our bodies is key step to knowing when we are giving into our fear and not living courageously in our everyday life.
I often do a meditation with my clients who are trying to make a decision and aren’t sure which direction to go in. I have them visualize doing both options and connect to how they feel in their bodies in each case. Every single time they get clarity because the meditation quiets their mind, tones down their fears, and allows them to connect to how each decision feels in their body. As they connect this way, they can better able to pinpoint the fears that are holding them back and begin to figure out how to move through those fears.
Moving through our fear and living courageously is like a muscle that we have to exercise. When we lift weights, each repetition that we do makes us stronger. Each time we walk through our fear and do something aligned with our heart — no matter how small it is — we become stronger and more able to face the next fear.
Let me give you a simple example.
Have you ever seen a little kid at a swimming pool go to jump off the diving board for the first time ever?
Inevitably, they all go through the same process: he (or she) confidently walks the length of the diving board, with mom and dad calling out encouragement from the side. When he gets to the end of the board, he stands there, looking over the edge to the water below. Even though the board is only a foot or so above the water, it is just high enough to make it scary for a little kid who has never jumped before.
The kid stands there for what probably feels like an eternity, looking over the edge, trying to decide whether or not to jump.
Some kids don’t jump. They retreat back to mom, maybe even crying from the fear and possibly vowing to try again another day. But most of the kids do eventually jump, and then discover that it is fun to jump. They swim to the side of the pool, get out, run over to the diving board, and spend the rest of the day jumping and laughing. The next time they go to the pool they don’t hesitate to jump in and may even begin trying different types of jumps. They flexed their everyday courage muscle and discovered that what they had feared wasn’t really that scary and, in this case, was a lot of fun.
This past June I chaperoned thirty Guatemalan high school kids on their weeklong senior class trip throughout various parts of Guatemala and I saw the exact same thing happen here with the “bigger kids.” We went to a couple places with waterfalls and large pools of water for swimming. Most of the boys would immediately run and jump off the top of the waterfall into the pools below, cheered on by their classmates.
But there was one teenage boy who stood at the top of the waterfall area for a good 20 minutes, afraid to jump. From my vantage point, I could see that he was terrified to jump and this moment was a huge test of him overcoming his fear and being courageous. His classmates cheered him on and teased him good-naturedly when he didn’t jump immediately. To try to save face, he made a bit of a game out of it, dancing and doing funny moves at the top of the waterfall.
Because we were at a public place, there were people there who were not part of our group. They started to notice him and laugh at his antics, all the while cheering him on to give him the courage to jump. Finally, he jumped. Everyone cheered and clapped for him, and he took a bow in the water…and then, ran back up to the top of the waterfall to jump again. (He kept his little dance at the top of the falls as part of his jumping routine, but was only dancing for a minute or so before jumping.)
I truly believe that the encouragement and validation that he got from everyone at the site gave him that extra bit of confidence he needed to flex his courage muscle.
So when we think of living in everyday courage, we need to remember a couple things:
- First, courage is a muscle that has to be used and toned for it to be effective…which means that we have to practice courage all the time;
- Second, we can never underestimate the value that having others believe in us and giving us encouragement has on our ability to do something courageous.
- And third, just like when we exercise, the more we flex our courage muscle, the stronger our courage becomes and we are able to tackle bigger and bigger things that require courage.
That boy on the high school class trip?
The day before we were at a public swimming pool and he had no problem jumping off the diving board into the water. That part of his courage muscle was fit and toned. And the next day, he added more weight or a bunch more reps to be able to jump off the top of the waterfall.
That’s how everyday courage works. It strengthens us for the more complex things that come to us in our lives…the things that we face as an adult may require a deeper well of strength and courage to face.
Obviously I don’t know this for a fact, but I do think that that boy’s jump from the top of the waterfall, and the support he felt from the people there, will give him the resilience and strength for the next new or big thing in his life that will require him to have courage.
The really good news is that there are opportunities for you to flex your courage muscles every single day so that you are ready for when that “big” courage moment may come in your life. Here are three ways you can get started today.
- One way to do so is to be responsible for your life. When you are responsible for your lives, you are in effect saying that you will not view yourself as a victim or give someone else control over your life. You may still have something bad happen to you, but you recognize that you always have a choice in every situation…and that at a minimum that choice is how you respond — not react — to the situation. When you are responsible for your life you are empowered and have the strength and courage to pick yourself up and keep going forward.
- Another way to practice everyday courage is to say “no” when you don’t want to do something. Saying no can be scary stuff! You may worry that people will think less of you or make fun of you or maybe even stop liking you. But when you say no from a place of being fully connected to yourself and your needs, while also taking into account the situation and sending love to those impacted by your decision, you are being courageous.
- A third way you can start living everyday courage in your life is to use your voice and speak up for yourself, for others, and for what you want. It takes a lot of courage to ask for the raise or promotion or to ask someone out on a date or share your opinion in a meeting or with your family. The risk of ridicule and rejection can be high.
Of course there are many other ways you can begin living courageously everyday. Some other ways include identifying and releasing personas and limiting beliefs, honoring and using your gifts and talents, being true to yourself, living in integrity, and being willing to take that first and then subsequent steps toward your dreams.
So, how do you find the courage to do that one thing today to practice flexing your courage muscle? Here are a couple ideas:
- Do the meditation that I mentioned earlier so that you can fully submerge yourself in how you would feel if you weren’t courageous and held yourself back. Sometimes just comparing the feelings gives you the nudge you need to overcome your fear.
- Ask yourself: What is the absolute worst thing that could happen? Come up with the most ridiculous scenario you can think of, with all the details…and then find something to laugh at or at the very least, recognize how unlikely your “worst case scenario” is.
- Look for inspiration in others who have done something similar to what you are considering. Maybe it’s a friend or family member. Maybe it’s someone famous or a character in a book or movie. Regardless of the source, imagine the power and confidence they had when doing their courageous thing, and then imagine that they pass that power and confidence over to you for you to use.
- Take a deep breath, close your eyes, connect with your heart to feel the truth and wisdom there and then just do it.
Want to learn more about living courageously? Visit spiritevolution.co and download your free copy of my e-book or email me for your free link to the meditation. And visit my radio show/podcast for a deeper look at other ways you can live courageously.
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