Building Your Courage Muscles

Last time we talked about graduating, and one of the points I brought out from Maria Shriver’s book was, “Courage is what you need more than anything in life, because in tough times it tells you you can get through it even when it feels like you can’t.”

So how do we get more courageous? How can we face our fears? You have probably heard the greatest fear of Americans is public speaking. Our second greatest fear is dying. (We think public speaking is scarier than dying?)

In her book, Stand Up For Your Life, Cheryl Richardson says, “The way to create an extraordinary life is to make the challenge of fear work for you by building your courage muscles.” She explains how we can use fear to our advantage. She believes fear can challenge, motivate, and energize us into action.

Maybe you are afraid to fail. Maybe you are afraid to succeed. Maybe you are afraid to make changes even though you know you need to. Maybe you want to try something you have never done.

I remember the first time I went off the high diving board at the swimming pool. I was probably nine years old. I climbed up the tall ladder, hesitantly walked to the end of the board, looked over the edge, stood straight up, and didn’t move. 

I was frozen. Eventually I looked over at the life guard, then my eyes moved down to my peers on the deck, and then to the water below. Everyone was cheering me on saying, “You can do it!!” I don’t know how long I stood there, but it seemed like forever.

And then, just like that, I stepped off the edge of the board and soon hit the water. I easily found my way to the surface, and shaking, swam over to the side. No pain, no injuries, no drowning, nothing. What on earth had petrified me so?

Life is like that for all of us. When we need to move forward with courage whatever the circumstances, we begin to build up a story in our minds that details every possible aspect that could go wrong. We can “what if” ourselves so much we become frozen like I was at the edge of the diving board.

Instead of approaching something new pessimistically, why not imagine how well everything will turn out? Why not consider all the great results if you move forward? Why not build up the best possible scenario in your mind instead of the worst? 

When clients need courage, sometimes I ask them to contemplate what could possibly end up so terrible if they go ahead. Then we bounce off ideas about how everyone can benefit if they make their move. How we choose to think can completely affect whether we live courageously or like a coward. 

Cheryl Richardson offers six steps to build your courage muscles. She says, “Take action quickly, so your anxiety will not have time to build.” When we hesitate, we often end up stopping ourselves all together. 

Secondly, celebrate your mistakes. “Making mistakes is mandatory when learning to build your courage muscles.” Ask for help to get things turned around if you need it, but do not dwell on it. Usually, it is no big deal.

Thirdly, give yourself permission to change your mind and do something else if needed. Fourth, call on someone in your life who you feel is braver than you to talk you through what you want to do. 

Fifth, give yourself a deadline so you can stay committed and keep on track. And lastly, ask someone close to you to hold you accountable. Being challenged by others provides inspiration and motivation.

The movie, Soul Surfer, tells the true story of a girl who loves to surf, but was attacked by a shark that bit off her arm. Everyone would have understood if she never surfed again. 

However, once she got the okay from her doctor, she headed straight for the ocean, hopped onto the surfboard and hasn’t looked back since. Surely if she can do that, we can do anything! I feel braver all ready.

© - Cindy D. Whitmer (June 4, 2011)