Courage is the willingness to act despite recognising the risks – physical, societal, emotional and/or psychological – of doing so.
We display courage throughout our lives – from soon after we are born until we die. Courage is in the behaviour of the toddler who continues to try to learn to walk despite the knowing that falling will bring pain to the retiree who endures the risk of crossing a road on uncertain legs in order to meet friends.
So why, as adults, do we display courage in everyday situations when we know it could bring pain, discomfort, insecurity and potential ridicule, yet shy away from displaying courage in other situations such as the workplace? Why do many of us think of courage as an uncertain friend – something to hold as a virtue but for others to do? Is it because we don’t recognise the courage in the everyday and begin to only see courage in the extreme – acts of valour by soldiers risking their lives for others or in whistleblowers risking their livelihood for cherished principles? Or is it because we begin to doubt our abilities to deal with surprises or uncertainties and begin to fear the views of mere acquaintances.
Why don’t we treat courage for what it is – a competency – and train ourselves to become more courageous?
Here’s 5 ways to become more courageous:
1. Reflect on previous courageous experiences
One of the most powerful ways we have to increase our courageousness is to remind ourselves of previous times of when we were being courageous. The closer the example to your current situation the more powerful it can be. For example, when did you last go and ask for a pay increase, or raise a complaint, or say no to someone who was asking an unreasonable demand? Remember the fear you felt and how it turned to elation when you overcame it.
2. Get a better understanding of the risks involved
Most of us overestimate the risks of our potential action – we think we will suffer more than is realistic. In reality, other people don’t often care as much about us as we care about ourselves! To address this, talk to other people to get a balanced perspective, undertake a ‘dry run’ in your head, try to imagine how you might react if someone else did it or find others who have done similar actions.
3. Link the action to the bigger picture
Sometimes when something seems impossibly difficult to do it is worth thinking about the bigger picture and recognising that your action is only one part of that. For example, Rosa Parks showed immense courage when taking her seat on the bus and while we can only imagine what her thoughts were, one way of giving herself courage could have been to imagine how many fellow Black Americans had died or suffered great tragedy before her.
4. Take small steps
A great tactic to build courage is to take small steps. While preparing for your big presentation, you might want to practice in the mirror and in front of friends so that the big event doesn’t become quite so scary.
5. Act tactically
While courage is a very personal action, one tactic for building courage is to recognise the needs of the greater group, organisation or society. Many examples of bravery refer to individuals who have put others before themselves – physically, socially and/or mentally. By drawing inspiration and reference from wider values and needs, individuals throughout the ages have undertaken hugely courageous actions.
Remember, the amount of courage that you display is a function of what you perceive are the risks and rewards of the action, your previous experience, how clear and important your personal principles are and your attachment to the wider group. If you can understand the actual risks, focus on the rewards of your actions, draw inspiration from your past, dig deep into your values and link your actions to the wider group – then you can be courageous!
Courageous Workplaces is a professional services firm that offers seminars, consulting, workshops and coaching services on developing courage in the workplace.