Embrace your fear. Being courageous means doing something despite the fear. Fear comes from the body’s natural response to the brain’s fight or flight response. The brain sends cortisol, a stress inducing hormone, throughout the body’s nervous system, making the body go into hyper-drive. Fearfulness is a learned behavior, based in our brain chemistry, but strengthened by the world around us that has trained us to be fearful. Learning to work through fear and step beyond it is about retraining your mind.
- Avoiding fears actually makes them stronger and scarier. There’s a certain mindset in Western culture that views emotions as weakness and seeks to suppress them. But suppressing negative emotions only heightens the fear of the negative emotion itself, strengthening them the more they are avoided.
- Exposing yourself to things that you fear (while being sure to stay safe and be smart about it) can help the brain become desensitized to the fear and make it easier for you to face.
Try not to hesitate. The longer your brain has to come up with excuses for not being courageous, the more time you will have to panic about hypothetical negative outcomes. If you are in a situation where you have to pick up a spider, jump out of an airplane, or ask someone on a date, do it without hesitation if you’re going to do it at all.
- Reinforce your successes by giving yourself a reward when you do deal with your fear. This could be a physical treat, like a nice bottle of wine, or a mental treat, like taking a break from human interaction and binge-watching a show on Netflix
Learn to be mindful,Being mindful is when you are fully present in the current moment. Mindfulness can help change your brain to deal with fear in a more effective manner. You have to give yourself time to learn this skill and it takes practice.
- Meditation is one way to help improve your mindfulness. Find a quiet place and sit comfortably. You can meditate on the bus, at an airport, or any busy place, but it is best to start by learning in a quiet place with few distractions. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing (thinking “in” when you breathe in and “out” when you breathe out can help with that focus.). Do this for twenty minutes. Be aware of the moment and of your sensations. If you do find yourself becoming distracted with other thoughts, direct your attention back to your breathing.
- When you do find yourself overwhelmed by fear, using the practices learned from meditation and mindfulness can help you overcome. Focus on your breathing and take deep breaths. Allow yourself to feel the negative emotions, but label them as emotions you are having (for example: if you are thinking, “I am afraid,” rephrase it as, “I am having a thought that I am afraid.”). It’s a subtle distinction, but one that helps you not to be ruled by your thoughts.
- Visualizing your mind as the sky and your emotions, both positive and negative, as clouds passing across the surface of the sky can help you see them as being a part of you, but not dictating your life.
Get outside your comfort zone. Stepping outside your comfort zone may cause anxiety, but it’s a great way to learn courage. Doing something you don’t normally do helps you cope with the unexpected, which is where fear often springs from. Learning to deal with that fear, in a situation you have chosen, can help you perform courageously when the unexpected happens.
- Start small. Start with the actions that induce less fear and require less courage to accomplish. So, send a friend request on Facebook to that girl you like, or have a small conversation with the person behind the register before moving on to asking someone out.
- Know your limits. There are certain things that we just cannot do. Maybe you absolutely can’t pick up that spider, come out to your homophobic boss, or go skydiving. That’s okay. Sometimes these are fears or limitations that can be worked up to and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes it is highly adaptive not to be courageous; it may not make sense to do something you can’t get yourself to do. Focus on building your courage for other things, like putting a glass over the spider so someone else can take care of it, or coming out to your parents instead of your homophobic boss.
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