Every month for the last several months we have focused upon one of the top twelve contributing factors to a FabYOUlous Life as determined by Dan Baker, Ph.D and co-author of the book, What Happy People Know.
This month’s Fab Factor is probably my personal favorite of the twelve and yet it is also the one that I struggle with the most. This month’s Fab Factor is COURAGE.
I love the fact that courage makes the list because I believe wholeheartedly that courage is the one attribute that can make the biggest difference when it comes to living our most FabYOUlous lives. In fact, Winston Churchill called courage “the first human quality” because it is the one quality that guarantees all others. At the same time however; I know that courage is something that can be so, so difficult to muster when faced with uncertainty and possible peril.
I distinctly remember the first time that I (as an adult) really pondered the notion of courage. I had made the decision to leave my dangerous and toxic marriage even though I knew that leaving would mean that I’d be fully responsible for providing a good life for my two little boys (my ex barely provide for them when we were married so I knew that he wouldn’t pony up once we were divorced.) A friend who was helping me move into the little condo that I had rented made a comment about how fearless I was. I remember how hearing that comment made me burst into tears and start sobbing. Seriously you guys–we’re talking big, ugly, body wracking sobs here. My poor friend was beside herself trying to console me while also trying to figure out how something that was intended as a compliment could have upset me so much. When I was finally able to reign it in enough to talk, I explained to her that I most definitely was NOT fearless. At that particular moment in time, I feared everything. I was scared of being alone, I was scared of the unknown, I was terrified of not being able to financially support myself and my sons, I feared retribution from my soon-to-be ex and I was scared of being seen as a failure by my family and friends. I was the exact opposite of fearless–I was fearful, as in FULL OF FEAR.
That’s when my sweet, and oh-so-wise friend said to me, “well in that case, you’re something even better than fearless–you’re courageous”. She then sat me down, put her arm around me, handed me a box of tissues and explained to me that true courage is demonstrated in one’s ability to push on in spite of one’s fears; because let’s face it–it doesn’t take courage to do something that doesn’t scare you.
That stopped me in mid-sniffle. I had amassed a lot of adjectives to describe myself over the years–but courageous was never one of them. And yet, sitting in my new little place surrounded by packing boxes with my two young sons playing in our new little (postage stamp sized) backyard; I, for the first time ever, began to see myself in a new light. Instead of the sad, beat down, broken spirited little victim that I had felt like for years; I now began to see myself as someone who was courageous enough to take the steps to remove my boys and myself from a sad and scary situation. I still had no clue as to how I was going to make everything work, but I was determined to press on despite my fears and uncertainties. I was (by my friend’s definition) truly exhibiting courage.
That one courageous decision to take my life back all those years ago, has made all the difference in setting my boys and I on a solid path to FabYOUlousness. There certainly were difficult times (plenty of them), but throughout every ordeal, I forced myself to keep moving forward despite my fears. Now, I get to enjoy the benefits of living a full and FabYOUlous life of financial security, meaningful commitment to a man who is truly my partner and my love, career success and getting to watch my (now older, but still amazing) sons thrive in young adulthood. All of this is possible because of that one courageous decision that I made (albeit out of desperation) back when I was terrified to leave but even more terrified to stay.
This makes me wonder though…if courage is an attribute that has so much potential to so drastically alter our lives for the better, why is it such a struggle for so many of us?
Well, the answer to that question is simple. It is hard to be courageous because fear is such a powerful (though usually deceitful) force. In fact, I would dare say that fear, more than anything else, is what holds people back from making positive changes. We fear the unknown, we fear change, we fear failure, we fear pain, we fear heartbreak, we fear so many things and therefore we remain stuck in our “safe” little bubbles of predictability without ever experiencing the full range of our FabYOUlousness. And yet, when we look at those people who we admire and who have made significant contributions to society, we will see that they (like us) also experience fear–unlike us however; they have mastered the skill of moving through their fear into action. They have learned to be courageous.
Fortunately for all of us, courage isn’t just something that you either have or you don’t. Instead, courage is like a muscle–it can be developed and strengthened over time. Try implementing these courage building strategies into your own life so that the next time you really need to take courageous action, your courage muscle is primed and ready to go.
Simple Steps to Cultivating Courage
1.) Try something new. Not every act of courage has to make you break out in a cold sweat. Try adding new experiences to your life that make you stretch just a bit out of your comfort zone. For me, this meant attending a blogging conference last year even though FabYOUlous Life was so new that I didn’t even have five posts on the site and I felt like I was in completely over my head. That experience was so valuable to me though because it helped me to get my site started off on the right foot and I met several other bloggers who have become mentors and friends.
No one likes to feel like an inexperienced newbie but the only way to become great at something is to start something. Yes, you’ll face a learning curve and you’ll screw up more times than you can count, but having the courage to start something new might just lead to your greatest breakthrough.
2.) Speak to someone you don’t know. Who knows? The woman beside you on the bus might just be an expert in the very skill that you are trying to learn–or at the very least, she might be able to tell you the best place in town for a decent calzone. Too often, we shut ourselves off to the world by burying ourselves in our smartphones thus missing the opportunity to connect with others. It takes courage (especially for those who tend to be more introverted) to strike up a conversation with a total stranger but the benefits can be astounding. I have a good friend who met her amazing husband simply because she commented on his tattoo while they were both waiting in line at the grocery store–imagine if she had been too engrossed in Candy Crush to notice his tat.
3.) Express what is in your heart. The word ‘courage’ comes from the Latin word ‘cor’ which means ‘heart’. It makes sense then that expressing what is truly in our heart takes courage. All of us at one time or another has suppressed our feelings due to a fear of rejection or judgement. A good way to work our courage muscle however, is to start expressing ourselves more freely. Give your opinion when asked, dare to (respectfully) disagree with someone, ask the cute guy for his phone number, stick up for someone who needs support. Yes–expressing yourself in these ways does mean that you will incur some risk and might be rejected or ridiculed; however, it also means that you are someone who has the courage to give voice to the things that matter to you. The more you learn to freely express that which is in your heart, the easier and easier it will become to do so.
4.) Analyze less, act more. How do you enter a cold swimming pool? Do you ease yourself in slowly, inch by frigid inch or do you cannon ball yourself off the diving board? My parents have a swimming pool at their house so I’ve done plenty of both and I can tell you from experience, jumping in will get you used to the cold water much more quickly than easing in will. I believe that the same is true when it comes to taking action. Obviously, it is important to assess any situation before we leap in (I’ve jumped into many a cold swimming pool in my lifetime but I would NEVER jump into a cold swimming pool full of hungry crocodiles) but sometimes we are too cautious and err on the side of over analyzation. While there is nothing wrong with gathering data in order to determine the most prudent course of action, there does come a time when planning and analyzing become nothing more than a justification for procrastination. Flex your courage muscle by taking action on your dream rather than waiting around for perfect conditions–because the truth of the matter is, conditions will never be perfect.
5.) Embrace failure. As you begin to act more courageously in your life, you will start to see your world expanding with new experiences and opportunities. You will also, however; experience more set-backs and failures. University of California, Davis professor Dean Keith Simonton explains that creative geniuses from Mozart to Darwin are prolific when it comes to failure–they refuse to allow their fear to stop them. They understand that failure is simply a part of the success process rather than a defining factor of their work. In order to experience our most FabYOUlous life, we must learn to be less afraid of failure because the more courageous action that we take, the more opportunity we will have to fail. On the other hand, the more courageous action that we take, the more opportunities we will have to experience success. Failure is not fatal, it is simply a learning tool on our way to success.
These five courage building steps will (if practiced on a regular basis) help to strengthen your capacity for courage so that when the time comes that you need to draw upon your courage reserves, there will be plenty there to utilize. Start exercising your courage muscle today so that it will be strong when you most need it to be. Having the courage to act in the pursuit of your dreams is one of the most surefire ways to reap the rewards of a truly FabYOUlous life.