I have never considered myself courageous....how about you? Do you think of yourself as courageous?
I think part of the reason I never really considered myself courageous was because I believed being courageous meant that you weren't afraid. It meant that you took action in the face of danger without fear.
But what I'm realizing, is that being courageous doesn't mean taking action when we aren't afraid, instead it means taking action when we ARE afraid!
This past weekend I had the opportunity to speak at TEDx Colorado Springs. I stood on a stage in front of almost one hundred people and shared my story. I explained why being dumb, dangerous and different is a great way to achieve more in life. Now, the fact that I'm a professional speaker probably makes you assume that this didn't take a lot of courage, but nothing could be further from the truth.
I should explain...
I graduated from a very small high school with only 10 classmates. Since our school was so small, we were all afforded a great opportunity, or at least that's how the school viewed it. As part of our graduation ceremony, we were all required to speak to the audience about our high school experience. Unfortunately, this was part of our graduation requirement.
Most of my classmates viewed this as an amazing opportunity, but I viewed it as a total nightmare! The idea of standing up in front of anyone and speaking absolutely terrified me. I guess the fact that public speaking is one of the most often cited individual fears, it makes a lot of sense!
I spent hours trying to figure out how to get out of speaking at my graduation ceremony, I even seriously considered not graduating! I tried to convince my family and my teachers that getting a GED would be just as useful and a lot less stressful than speaking. You can imagine that at 18 years old I didn't get a lot of sympathy or support for that plan.
After weeks of agonizing and hours of working with a coach, I sort of survived my graduation speech. In the end, I spoke on stage for less than 60 seconds (after calming my nerves with valium, which I wouldn't recommend!) and completed my graduation requirements, but I hated every minute of it.
In college I took a public speaking course as part of my undergraduate curriculum. I didn't use valium each week, but I definitely did not enjoy the course! The good news is that I did learn to stand up in front of my classmates and share my very well rehearsed and somewhat poorly delivered speeches. What I didn't realize was that this experience was helping me build courage.
Flash forward a couple of decades and a lot of opportunities to face my fears later, and professional speaking has become part of my career path. But the truth is that standing on that stage last weekend still took courage, but not nearly as much courage as it took to stand up on the stage in high school.
The great thing about courage, is that it is a skill you can learn, just like other skills. It takes time and perseverance, but it is one of the most important predictors of success.
Here are three steps to start developing courage:
1. Face your fears
As I discussed a few weeks ago, we all have fears that we have to learn to face, so finding opportunities to stretch ourselves is usually no problem. When we avoid our fears they actually gain strength and power over us. The longer we allow ourselves to sit and worry about things, the bigger the problem starts to seem.
When we are faced with fears, it is critical to ask the following questions:
- What am I actually afraid of?
- Should I be afraid of it?
- How can I move towards a favorable outcome?
Once we are able to answer these questions, we can evaluate our options and take reasonable steps to achieve our goals and move forward. By facing our fears we gain confidence in our ability to move forward.
2. Adopt an action mindset
Adopting an action mindset simply means not allowing ourselves to settle or stop when fear shows up. It means taking small steps, but consistent steps in the face of what feels like danger.
Consistency is one of the hallmarks of courage.
It means stepping a little bit outside of our comfort zones on a regular basis and moving forward even when we are afraid and don't know how things will turn out.
Remember, being courageous doesn't mean we won't feel fear, it just means we are able to take action even when we feel afraid. Taking action makes us stronger and allows us to make progress in our personal and professional lives.
Sometimes it just comes down to taking a leap of faith and trusting ourselves to achieve our goals and overcome obstacles. When you face your fears it's amazing how much you can accomplish. I used to be terrified of public speaking and now I'm a professional speaker in part because I was willing to take consistent action to overcome my fears.
3. Build your confidence!
Courage means taking action even when you aren't feeling confident. The good news is that the more you practice these skills the more confidence you will gain in your abilities. Courage leads to confidence and confidence leads to courage.
Having a belief in your skills and abilities is the first step in gaining more confidence and building your courage. The second step is looking for ways to continue to improve and grow. As we learn and grow, we gain confidence and the skills to move forward even in the face of fear.
By taking these three steps, you can gain confidence and build your courage. The next time you face something that makes you nervous or causes some fear, remember to be courageous. Face you fear head on, take consistent action and tap into your internal strength to give you confidence in your endeavor. I have no doubt that you are courageous.