In general, we experience two types of fear: the fear that indicates we’re in physical danger (for example, when we’re standing in the middle of a busy road), and the fear that indicates our ego is in danger (e.g. fear of public speaking).
In modern society, there are very few situations in which we are in physical danger, so most of the fear we feel has more to do with threats to our ego and self-concept than threats that could cause us physical harm. However, these two types of fear feel very similar and provoke the same primal fight or flight response in our body.
Boosting our courage isn’t about eradicating our fear; it’s such a primal, instinctive response that this isn’t a realistic goal. Instead, it’s about learning how to respond to our fear in a healthy way. Here are seven effective ways you can start boosting your courage today:
1. Remind yourself that fear isn’t always helpful.
Fear is helpful in situations where we have control and can take steps to minimize the risk of our disaster scenario coming true. For example, if we’re still standing in the middle of that busy road I mentioned above, fear is a good indicator to start moving. Equally, if we’re facing an upcoming public speaking gig, our fear might indicate that we need a little more practice.
In some situations, however, fear can do more harm than good. If we respond to every fear-inducing situation like we’re in mortal danger, we’re going to end up missing out on valuable opportunities to live fully and enjoy growth and new experiences. A helpful, courage-boosting question to ask yourself when deciding how to respond to a situation is: “Am I avoiding pain, or seeking growth?”
2. Expand your comfort zone gradually.
Boosting your courage isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a day-by-day process and you’re more likely to experience success in this area if you focus on expanding your comfort zone one step at a time.
For example, if you notice that you feel fear around talking to new people, start small by asking someone for directions or striking up a short conversation with people you encounter in your day-to-day life but are unlikely to see again (shop assistants, checkout staff, people waiting in line, and so on). Once you feel more comfortable doing that, start working your way up to longer conversations with people you are likely to see infrequently (new work colleagues, friends of friends), then people you’re likely to see on a regular basis, and so on.
3. Remember to breathe.
Our physical state has a huge impact on our emotional state. Try slouching over and drooping your mouth into a frown for 10 seconds, then sitting up straight with a dazzling smile for another 10—did you notice a difference in how you felt?
If we want to boost our courage in a particular situation, one of the most effective ways of doing this is to slow down our breathing. When we’re feeling fearful, our breathing unconsciously becomes faster and shallower. Taking a few deep breaths sends the signal to our minds that everything is OK and helps us relax.
4. Take a step back and get objective.
Usually, the fear we feel isn’t so much about the worst-case scenario we’re thinking of—it’s about how we would feel if that scenario comes to pass.
Using the public speaking example, let’s imagine the worst-case scenario is that you forget what you wanted to say. Even if the audience ended up booing you off the stage, all that would happen on a factual level afterward is that you go home and learn from the experience for next time. How you feel, on the other hand, might include embarrassed, ashamed, hopeless, and a host of other uncomfortable feelings. The next time you’re faced with a public speaking opportunity, it will be the feelings you remember and fear more than what actually happened.
To boost your courage, try to stay objective and focus on the facts of the matter. Pay attention to what actually happened, rather than the meaning you’re attaching to it.
5. Think of how you’d view a friend in the same situation.
One of the biggest challenges to our courage is the fact that we tend to be harsher with ourselves than we are with other people.
The next time you’re faced with an opportunity to expand your comfort zone, ask yourself how you would perceive your best friend in the same situation. Would you focus on the potential pitfalls, or would you admire them for taking the risk?
Thinking about how we’d view other people in the same situation can help reset any stories we’re telling ourselves and engender more self-trust and courage.
6. Ask, “Who do I need to become?” instead of, “What do I need to do?”
When it comes to stretching our comfort zone and committing acts of courage, we often focus on what we need to do. The real shift that needs to take place, however, revolves around who we need to become.
For example, if you decided you wanted to get active and train for a triathlon by the end of the year, information that will tell you what to do to get there is readily available. What will decide whether or not you have the courage to actually go out and do it, however, is thinking about who you need to become in order to be someone who does that.
What qualities would a courageous future version of yourself have? How would they start each day? What new habits would they develop? What old habits would they change?
7. Take action.
When we’re feeling low on courage, it’s tempting to sit and think about how we’re going to find the motivation we’re looking for, to read articles online (present company excepted, of course), talk about it—anything but actually do the thing we’re afraid of doing.
If you’re waiting to feel more courageous before taking action, you’re going to be waiting a long time. In reality, the longer you wait before taking action, the less courageous you’ll feel. The only thing that will help you feel more courageous is taking action, stepping outside your comfort zone, and sending yourself the message that you are a courageous person.