8 Ways You Can Build Real Courage in Your Life Right Now
Hollywood portrays courage in grandiose ways, a person risks their life for others, terrorists are stopped, someone saves the world from aliens. Like sitting around the campfire, we tell each other dramatized stories to teach, inspire, and entertain.
But these stories can also hide the opportunities for courage that come from our commonplace experience, the kinds that don’t require us to become broad-shouldered heroes or risk our own life.
Here are eight acts that require real courage and are available to us everyday. Acting on them helps build our own courage, inspires courage in the people close to us, and produces growth and transformation.
1. Telling the truth
It takes courage to share what we are actually noticing in the moment with others and reclaim the dignity of our own experience.
Telling the truth is hard because it’s so counter to the way we’ve been taught to operate in our culture. As children, we have our secret life and our goody-goody performance we make for teachers and parents. This performing carries over into our adult life where we pretend all the time. At work, with our families, with our partners.
2. Being Curious about the difficult stuff within
It takes courage to acknowledge and become curious about all parts of who we are.
Developing the curiosity towards all the sensations, thoughts, and emotions that are happening within us is the key to experiencing this life for ourselves. We may employ a thousand different control patterns to resist the difficult stuff within but respecting and experiencing our anger, envy, grief, and sadness are the first steps towards lessening our attachment to them. They are the guides to a deeper exploration of who we are and what matters to us.
3. Having difficult conversations
It takes courage to reach out to the work colleague, parent, sibling, friend, or ex-partner and say what needs to be said.
The payoff for having the conversations your mind tells you not to have is huge. Not only does it release the energy bound up in resisting the conversation (and all the rehearsed conversations in your head), but it gives you an opportunity to see how you stop yourself from doing things that are uncomfortable.
When you don’t address the difficult conversations in your life, the backlog begins to inhabit all of your relationships and makes it more challenging to be open to the present moment. Somewhere in your psyche, you’re still walking on eggshells afraid to say what is real for you.
4. Expressing anger directly
It takes courage to drop the mind’s taboo and share your anger directly both for your benefit and for the person you are sharing it with.
We don’t want to be seen as someone who gets angry. And yet we all do. When we maintain an internalized taboo against direct expressions of anger, we end up expressing it indirectly.
Gossip, complaints, distancing ourselves from others, forgetting agreements, standing people up, writing people off, silently resenting, text ghosting, having accidents, and forgetting people’s names are all indirect expressions of anger.
As challenging as it is for our mind to accept, direct expressions of anger work better than suppressing it both for yourself and for the person you’re angry at.
Yes, both are irritating, take time, and require us to squirm a bit, but there’s no way around it. Squirming is technical language for learning.
The point of expressing our anger directly is that we have the best shot of getting over it, experiencing forgiveness, and moving on.
When we break the taboo against sharing our own anger, we realize that getting angry isn’t such a big deal. We learn to catch our anger early, share it and get over it. In doing so, we realize it’s also not such a big deal for other people to get mad at us.
Over time, we may let go of the anxiety of having to be polite in order to never show our anger or play it safe so that no one ever gets mad at us.
Contrary to our mind’s obsession with safety, buried underneath our anger are lots of other unexpressed and unacknowledged emotions. Grief and sadness are often there as well as love and joy.
Psychologist Brad Blanton, Phd., writes:
“I believe joy is the most primitively repressed emotion, and the one closest to the original source experience of unity in the womb and early in life.”
5. Asking directly for what you want
It takes courage to ask directly for what you want as a request rather than a demand and recognize that asking is the most important part.
When we ask openly for what we want, we reveal a desire that matters to us and that the other person may not give us. Susan Campbell, Phd., writes:
“Based on early life experiences, we may have learned that expressing wants brings disappointment. So we carry the expectation into our present life that feeling and expressing wants leads to pain. . . So either you go over the top with demands, threats, or manipulations, or you minimize your wants by hinting, being indirect, accommodating or giving up too soon.”
The key to clearly asking for what you want is to make the request specific and something you might actually be able to receive in the moment. In addition, pay attention to how you resist asking, the way you ask, and the sensations in your body while asking.
6. Sharing when you are pretending
It takes courage to share when you are pretending with others. Your courage gives us all permission to let down our guard and connect.
We’re all pretending all the time, and we’re all pretending the same things. We pretend we know what’s going on when we don’t, that we’re happy when we’re sad, that we’re interested when we’re bored.
Sometimes we tell overt lies, or exaggerate, but most of the time we pretend by withholding what we feel, think, and experience. We’ve convinced ourselves along the way that our performance is who we are and that we need to maintain it at all costs.
The odd thing is that when you share your pretense with others, it actually builds intimacy. It let’s both of you off the hook for a moment, and allows actual connection between people rather than performers.
7. Coming back and coming clean
It takes courage to come back and come clean about a situation that is still bothering us.
We say things we regret, withhold from our friends and family, and want to appear perfect. We hold ourselves back in sharing who we are because we think we’re not ready, we’ll make a mistake, or it’s not the right time.
But we can be a little less hard on ourselves in the present, and risk a little more of who we are right now when we know that there is almost always an opportunity to go back and come clean about what happened.
We can share how we didn’t like what we said or how we still feel uncomfortable about a conversation.
Life is a series of do-overs.
We don’t need to get anything perfect the first time. In fact, the mind’s demand for perfection is another control pattern used to keep us from fully experiencing the present moment.
8. Sharing your love and appreciation
It takes real courage to express your joy and share your love and appreciation for others.
There is a dual taboo in our culture. The first is on expressing anger directly and the second is on expressing excitement, joy, love, and appreciation. When we maintain the first taboo, we end up reducing the expression of our love and appreciation to others at the same time.
We speak in generalities (e.g. I love the idea or I appreciate it) when we’re actually talking to a real person about something they did or said. Or we don’t share anything at all, our mind’s guardedness and fear of deep feeling take over. We attempt a performance of always being in control, always playing it cool and unaffected.
But appreciation and joy need to be expressed as much as our anger and sadness, or they can quickly cloud our ability to see clearly.
Unexpressed appreciation and love turn into fantasy, propping up, putting someone on a pedestal, and creating impossible expectations (the signatures of most relationships). These made up expectations are eventually broken and quickly flip to anger and disregard.
If you have built up appreciations for someone, go ahead and ask them if you can gush on them for a bit.
Practice Courageous Living
All of the actions listed above take practice and real courage, the courage to drop our pretense and share what is going on with us. In doing so, we reclaim the dignity and worth of our own experience, encourage connection and intimacy, and give ourselves a training program in how to get over things and build a future for ourselves.
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