Two Extraordinary Books For Cultivating Creative Courage

Expert tips on having the bravery to create and share your work with the world

Avery Strange
Feb 20 · 7 min read
A woman with long dark hair in a white tank top casually looks through a gap in a house of colored panels
Photo by Jeremy Bishop from Pexels

“Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”
— Seth Godin

If you’re reading this, you know what it feels like to have your finger hovering over every “button” in your life, unsure whether or not to take the leap:

  • Post.

These words become a signal of fear, of uncertainty, and of consequences you aren’t ready to face.

So… you scroll back. Select all; delete.

You’re not ready — you don’t have the confidence.

What will people say? What will they think? What if I bare my heart and soul to the world, and they reject my work? What if they reject me?

To push that button, you need a vital trait: creative courage. Not confidence, mind you — confidence is overrated. Courage.

Very few artists are confident about the work they put into the world. That’s not to say that they should or shouldn’t be confident: it’s to say that confidence isn’t a prerequisite for sharing art and ideas.

All you need to share your creativity is the courage to make it happen.

Two techniques for creative courage come from two books that have personally helped me, as well as millions of others:

  1. The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins

I highly recommend both, but I’m here to summarize the concepts for you — so you can get to creating.

1. The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins

A copper clock hung on a ceiling of white steel beams to represent Mel Robbins’s “The 5-Second Rule”
Photo by Phil Desforges on Unsplash

Mel Robbins’s “The 5-Second Rule” is the simplest and most personally effective technique I’ve discovered for cultivating creative courage.

The steps:

  1. Count down from 5.

That’s it. And it freaking works (I would know — I use it every day).

Robbins says this rule is crucial because:

“If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.”

The rule combines elements of urgency, stakes, and instinct to propel you to take action.

The Science of the 5-Second Rule

The 5-second rule is a form of metacognition, which roughly translates to “thinking about thinking.” The process behind the rule aims to trick your brain into achieving your goals by hacking neuroscience.

Who knew 5 seconds could be so profound?

To give a basic example of why the rule works, an INC article uses the following analogy:

You’re sitting on a beach by the water’s edge with your toes in the surf when suddenly you notice a child in the water who is clearly in distress. There’s no one around her, no life guard on duty, and it’s not clear just how deep the water is. What’s clear is that only you have noticed — nobody else is nearby, and there’s not much time to act. What do you do? It’s a no-brainer, right? I doubt you’d wait to somehow size up the risks.

The rule takes advantage of the brain’s instinctual response to urgency.

Impulsive decisions, like racing to save a drowning child, come from your brain’s prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain’s primary purpose is to make sure that your thoughts, actions, and behaviors align with your goals.

I’m no neuroscientist, and neither is Mel Robbins. However, the rule works because of its accidental — yet incredibly helpful — roots in neuroscience and metacognition.

Okay… But I’m Not Courageous Yet

Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, great, so now I know how to motivate myself… But I’m still scared. I’m terrified of what people will think about me.”

No worries.

Where the “5-second rule” is the best technique for sharing your courage — the rule that gets you to click send, post, or publish — “daring greatly” is the concept that gives you the courage to post in the first place.

2. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

An arena surrounding by urban buildings to represent Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, “The Man in the Arena”
Photo by Mark Gosling on Unsplash

Brené Brown’s incredible book, Daring Greatly, explores how vulnerability and courage are one and the same.

While her book provides powerful wisdom and insight into this concept, she initially got the idea for the book after hearing a quote from one of Teddy Roosevelt’s speeches.

The book is amazing and a must-read, but the crux of it lies in Roosevelt’s quote:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

How to Dare Greatly

1. Acknowledge that the critics are unhappy with themselves

It’s common knowledge that cruelty usually comes from a place of weakness. It’s crucial to realize that the people who criticize you don’t matter, and they’re likely only criticizing you because they’re unhappy with their own attempts in the “arena.”

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says,

“We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency.”

2. Make a list of people whose opinions matter to you

So often we’re negatively affected by opinions from people whose lives we would never trade for our own. That’s a sign. Don’t take advice from someone who isn’t living the kind of life you want.

Here are some questions to ask to decide who should be on your list:

  • Does this person live a life I want?

3. Stop comparing yourself to other people

Comparison is pointless — but it’s more than just the obvious reasons.

Comparison is pointless because, according to Brené in The Gifts of Imperfection:

“Comparison is all about conformity and competition. At first it seems like conforming and competing are mutually exclusive, but they’re not. When we compare, we want to see who or what is best out of a specific collection of “alike things.” …We don’t compare our houses to the mansions across town; we compare our yard to the yards on our block. When we compare, we want to be the best or have the best of our group.”

Comparison not only makes us feel like crap; it boxes us in. Comparison stifles creativity as well as creative progress by assuring that our maximum success will only ever be just above the best person in our “group.”

It’s easier said than done, but you can’t listen to critics who aren’t in the arena. And, you’re going to fail. It’s an inevitable fact of life. But failure doesn’t need to be the dirty word it's become — failure is synonymous with learning and improving your craft.

Fail hard and fail often. When you do — and trust me, you will — at least you’ll fail while daring greatly.

Final Thoughts

It’s impossible to not care what anyone thinks — it directly contradicts our nature as humans, and it’d be irresponsible of me to insinuate that you should just “care less.”

Don’t care less, friend. Care more.

Personally, that’s why I keep writing: I care about the potential positive outcomes of my work. I know that if one person reads my work and benefits from it in any way — if they learn something new, find a burst of inspiration, or even just smile when they’ve read the piece, then my work is valuable. It was worth the time and the vulnerability to create it and release it into the world.

There’s no way to know if your work will affect someone if you keep it in the dark — or worse, in your head, forever an idea with no execution.

Start pushing your ideas, your genius, and your art into the light, and you have already made the world a better place by expressing yourself.

Plus, when you express yourself, you make the world a safer place for others to do the same.

For more tips on business, creativity, and life, subscribe to my newsletter.

The Brave Writer

The next generation of writers breaking barriers together.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store