The Four Types of Mental Courage
We should always give fear the time, consideration, and respect it deserves.
And rarely yield to it.
Our fear response is built-in for a reason. It keeps us safe. It is fundamentally essential for our wellbeing and protects us from the things that could physically or mentally harm us. Further, it helps us reduce risk as we build new knowledge and competence around the unknown, like learning to mountain bike, how to invest our money, whether we should take the job offer, or how to have a difficult conversation with our partner. It forces us to think through our next steps and what repercussions those could have. Without fear, we have a much greater possibility of making poor choices or unintentionally harming ourselves or other beings or things in our environment.
But fear is tricky too, isn't it? Fear can hold us captive to unhealthy situations or unproductive ways of thinking or operating. If you look back over your life, you can undoubtedly find countless times where fear held you captive for a time, but you then gained the courage to leave unhealthy situations or move past unproductive ways of thinking or operating. These pivotal times are often some of the most beneficial and impactful of our lives. They help us refine how we think, our values, who we want to become, what we believe we are capable of, and what we believe we deserve.
Fear can also keep us a prisoner if left unmanaged. It builds when we opt out of too many of the everyday activities that challenge us and keep us engaged with the world, healthy, and strong. Like a muscle that we do not use, our minds become weaker. The more we opt out, the more fear builds the perceptual walls around us. Soon, we feel a great deal of anxiety around the activities that were a regular part of our everyday life. What we thought would keep us safe or give us relief increasingly builds walls that do not keep harmful things out, but holds us and our potential prisoner within. But, what is essential to know is that as soon as we choose, we can start deconstructing these walls and finding freedom.
Many people experienced some level of this type of fear recently in the pandemic with the artificial cutoff of many activities. Social anxiety, leaving the house, creating balance between in-person work and home life, and fear of being disconnected from children and pets have all been common.
How do we move through fear and build courage?
Regardless of how much fear you feel you are experiencing or how much courage you believe yourself to have, the solution is the same.
One step at a time.
We slowly shed unproductive fear and building strength, competence, confidence, and courage with each step forward.
People largely define what they are capable of by the perceptual barriers they keep. As we deconstruct these barriers, our potential approaches limitlessness.
There are four types of mental courage. As we build each, the walls and barriers around us deconstruct, and we move closer to our potential.
At their core, all humans are first and foremost driven by emotion. Therefore, developing courage and sophistication around understanding, accepting, conveying, and releasing emotions has the most significant impact on our health, wellbeing, and success in life.
I think this bears repeating. Developing emotional courage has the most significant impact on our health, wellbeing, and success in life.
Fear can cause us to deny or fight away emotions that are critical to our growth. Courage accepts challenging emotions, welcomes them in to learn from them, does the growth work necessary to rise to the occasion, releases these feelings, and takes the insights to move productively forward.
Fear can cause us to lock up and fail to convey our admiration, appreciation, gratitude, or love for others. Courage embraces and helps to build the abilities of others, expresses its appreciation of, gratitude for, and love to others.
Fear can cause us to feel unworthy of self-love or the love of others. Courage knows that every being is worthy of love, belonging, and connection.
Courage to Embrace Hard Truths
The courage to admit that we are each flawed and imperfect is challenging because we want to take comfort in the solidarity of ourselves and others. However, it is not the illusion of perfection but the struggle to learn, grow, and come into our whole and authentic selves that makes each of us and life beautiful.
Fear can cause us to beat up on ourselves and harshly judge others for past failings and actions. Courage accepts our failings and those of others. It develops a greater understanding of what it means to be human and compassion for each person’s evolution and the challenges we each face.
Fear can cause us to believe we must be perfect and expects others to be as well. Courage knows that if we are challenging ourselves, we will regularly fail and learn, as will others. It takes comfort in the ability to recover and learn, not in the ability to appear flawless.
Fear can cause us to remain quiet when hard truths need to be said. Courage conveys hard truths with clarity and compassion, both to itself and others.
Courage to Create Balance
It is easy to allow ourselves to be pulled one way or another to avoid discomforting situations or painful emotions. However, we create balance and stability through a lifetime practice of mindfulness.
Fear can cause us to believe that our value relies on our success at work or in a relationship. As a result, we generally tie our self-worth to this success, drive ourselves overinvest in that one thing, and then lose our balance, stability, and integrity with ourselves as a result. Courage knows that we need to diversify our thoughts and efforts, just like our investments, and that we need a community of support to thrive.
Fear can cause us to focus on self-preservation. However, courage knows that our viability is largely determined by the health of the complex ecosystem we live within. As members of that system, we each have a duty to contribute to and take personal responsibility within that system.
Courage to Move Bravely Forward
Moving into the unknown is always difficult, but it also provides the life-giving challenges and enriching growth that makes life worth living.
Fear can cause us to cling to the known. Courage embraces the vastness, beauty, and possibilities of the unknown.
Fear can cause us to quit when we do not know how or do not have the confidence to move forward. Courage experiments, learns, iterates, and experiments again, always learning, always growing, always taking on new challenges.
Fear can cause stop when we fail or when we fear we will fail. Courage knows there is only step by step learning, progress, and evolution, and accepts this reality.
Fear can cause us to jump from one idea or initiative to another. Courage helps us stay the course and build the new knowledge and competency necessary to achieve our big goals.
Fear can stop us from becoming our authentic selves. Courage enables us to convey our thoughts, ideas, and experiences to the world.
Developing courage is a lifetime journey and keeping our courage muscles strong requires consistent challenge. What type of courage do you need to cultivate or strengthen to rise to the challenges you face and the goals you have for yourself? What is the first step you could take to foster this courage?
As you move forward, know that we create our past, present, and future one thought, one response, and one action at a time. Actively choose your thoughts, how you respond to others, and what steps you will take. Take one courageous step at a time to develop your authentic self, find expansive freedom, and move closer to your thrive potential.
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