Do you think of yourself as courageous?
Take a moment to think about what courage means to you. Is it facing something you are fearful of? Is there an expectation in your mind that once you are no longer afraid, you will then gain courage?
Oftentimes, there is a misconception that in order for one to be courageous, one must be fearless. It is the opposite: feeling the fear and persisting into the unknown.
The definition of “courage” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is stated as:
“mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”.
To expand further on this concept, Brene Brown elaborates that:
“Choosing courage does not mean that we’re unafraid, it means that we are brave enough despite the fear and uncertainty”.
What is my personal experience with courage?
The key for me was to learn to accept the fear; to show up and to be the best self I am capable of.
What helps me?
- Letting go of trying to control everything
- Preparation and accountability
- Stop waiting until I “feel brave enough” to do something.
In researching this topic, I found many quotes about courage and this one resonated strongly with me:
“I am not a courageous person by nature. I have simply discovered that, at certain key moments in this life, you must find courage in yourself, in order to move forward and live. It is like a muscle and it must be exercised, first a little, and then more and more.” ~ John Patrick Shanley
As I look back on my journey of public speaking, I realized that the element of the unknown caused me major anxiety. I learned the hard way over and over again that all of my unnecessary worry and catastrophizing would not change the outcome.
I found myself stuck at the crossroads many years ago: do I continue to be ruled by fear, or do I move out of my comfort zone and face it? I clearly chose the latter which brings me to where I am today.
I did not see myself as a courageous person. I simply decided that I could no longer go on living a life restricted by fear. I willfully decided to live a more courageous life and I sought out opportunities that would enhance my life.
This is a list of a few things that brought me out of my comfort zone:
- Facilitating support groups for public speaking and performance anxiety
- Joining Toastmasters
- Involvement in classes and activities where I would have to introduce myself or be the center of attention (such as learning improvisational comedy)
- The Getting Over Stage Fright workshop.
Immediately after I completed the Getting Over Stage Fright workshop in 2010, my anxiety was reduced tremendously. Although I had already been a Toastmasters’ member for a couple years, I had been unable to give a speech. Within less than a month of taking the workshop, I joined a new Toastmasters’ Club and gave my first speech with so much enthusiasm, my fellow members forgot to time my speech and I went over by 5 minutes!
I have continued applying the tools that I have learned and am now approaching a goal that I would have never imagined possible: the wonderful opportunity to lead the amazing Getting Over Stage Fright workshop! It is truly an honor and holds deep personal significance.
How can you become even more courageous?
You are already much braver than you think! Notice when you do something that you are afraid to do, how your body and mind react to an implied threat. You persevere despite the fear.
Learn to pay attention to positive signals and to discount negative ones. Many of us have a “negativity bias” that causes us to look for disapproval much more easily than positive feedback. Be mindful of this and gently steer your mind to positive stimuli. While speaking and/or performing, it is very common to notice the few audience members that have non-pleasant expressions on their face. Instead, tune into those who seem happy to be there.
Courage helps us grow and give… if we allow it to. It is available to all of us.
What if we could train ourselves to perform small, daily acts of bravery, significant to our personal development?
Courage can become a habit, like a muscle that you exercise. Start with small inconsequential topics. Decide what you think about these things and speak from a meaningful place in your heart. This will help you to gain confidence in speaking about more challenging matters over time.
If it seems overwhelming to talk about your personal opinions at first, focus on a cause or individuals that you would like to stand up for. At times, it can be easier to be courageous on behalf of others rather than ourselves.
It’s also helpful to be in the company of others that will support and encourage you. Since fear can be a primary cause of procrastination, accountability is a great tool to keep you on track with your goals. See our previous blog post about accountability.
Find courage in numbers. It’s much easier to act in the company of even one other person who feels the way you do. Sharing your challenges with others in itself is courageous! Many previous workshop participants have become much more open about their fear of public speaking and performing and say it is a relief to finally share it. They tell us they are often pleasantly surprised that others can relate and offer one another support.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” ~ Brene Brown