3 Strategies for Thinking and Acting Courageously

Know your strengths and weaknesses, and be willing to face your fears

To be successful in business, you must be bold and have the courage to take calculated risks. Courage often makes the difference between overcoming a challenge and staying stuck, paralyzed and afraid to act.

The main difference between those who courageously act and those who don’t boil down to how we view fear. Courage is not the absence of fear. Instead, courage is being willing to work through fear and discomfort in whatever situation you face. Courage means you allow challenge and adversity to be a catalyst to help you grow strong enough.

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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, courage is defined as the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous; mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.

As a business owner and the mom of two kids, one with severe special needs, I love the word courage. It means I have to make the decision every day to do something that I know will be difficult, and may even be dangerous. And I need all of the mental and moral strength I can muster to persevere.

Some days, I view courage as the sheer strength to pull myself out of bed and face the day. Other days it’s having clear boundaries or standing my ground. There have been many times when I’ve felt like I have lost my courage. I’ve come to realize that while we might lose sight of our courage, we haven’t really lost it at all.

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Here are three ways to “exercise your courage muscles” and discover your own individual brand of courage:

1. Define what it means to you.

How do you identify with the word courage? What picture do you see in your mind when you think of the word courage? Do you associate it with a specific behavior or a mannerism? A characteristic? An emotion? A discipline or a virtue? What does the word courage look like to you? How do you identify with the word? What images come to mind? Take a second to write them down or even sketch them out.

2. Realize there are many ways to practice courage.

There is a lot more to behaving courageously than taking risks or even facing fears. Think about this acronym to help you see some of the many ways you practice courage:

C = Compassion for yourself and others, even when you’re exhausted
O = Overcoming fear and self-doubt
U = Understanding and tapping into your strengths
R = Recognizing all you have accomplished
A = Adapting and being flexible
G = Growing and learning
E = Endurance to keep going

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3. Understand that courage is relative.

When I speak or teach a class, inevitably someone comes up to me on a break or after the presentation and shares their story. Their child, grandchild, niece, nephew or neighborhood friend has a situation similar to mine. What’s interesting is that nine times out of 10, they start with, “My situation is nothing compared to yours, but…” This is called comparative suffering. Don’t compare your pain and fear to the experiences of others. We see things differently, and we experience different types of courage.

Here are some of the many kinds of courage to help you put the idea into a broader context than you may have seen before:

Intuitive courage

  • Questioning purpose and meaning
  • Reaching out to help others or to challenge injustice
  • Making time to meditate, be silent, and seek peace of mind

Creative courage

  • Seeking self-expression
  • Transforming bold ideas into reality
  • Going with the flow

Physical courage

  • Embracing bravery at the risk of bodily harm
  • Building physical strength, resilience, and awareness
  • Committing to discipline and training

Moral courage

  • Doing the right thing despite the consequences
  • Matching words and actions with principles
  • Standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves

Emotional courage

  • Being open to positive and negative emotions
  • Asking for forgiveness and forgiving others
  • Seeking help, feedback, guidance, coaching, or therapy

Intellectual courage

  • Questioning your thinking and risking making mistakes
  • Discerning and telling the truth
  • Dealing with problems or difficult situations

Social courage

  • Being comfortable in your own skin even at the risk of social disapproval
  • Expressing opinions respectfully, even if unpopular
  • Becoming involved with charities or social causes

Part of building courage is the willingness to really look at your thoughts and behaviors and to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Take a few minutes to write down the answers to these questions:

  1. Which types of courage come easily for you?
  2. Which are more difficult?
  3. What blocks you from behaving courageously?
  4. What action can you take today or this week to overcome one of these barriers?

Until you sit down and really go through the things you gravitate toward or run away from, it’s difficult to know what’s getting in your way or holding you back. Take the time to identify where you are courageous and where you struggle. This will alert you to barriers or limitations you may be unintentionally creating. That is the first step toward thinking and behaving courageously.

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