“Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.” – John Quincy Adams
Do you feel like you may be a little too comfortable in life? Have you been avoiding uncomfortable decisions that could change your life for the better? Or do you feel that you’ve been able to consistently make courageous decisions? Courage is something that almost everyone would say is a positive characteristic to embody, yet most of us spend literally ZERO time trying to cultivate courage. There are dozens of characteristics that are important to success such as discipline, persistence, grit, creativity, innovation, kindness, etc. but most of these require courage to be any use to us.
For example, if I am good at coming up with amazingly creative and innovative ideas, yet I’m not courageous enough to ever implement my ideas with a patent or implementation of some kind, those ideas are useless. Some of us are even afraid to tell our friends business ideas for fear of being laughed at, as if one of our idiot friends is the best judge of what can and can’t work with a little determination.
Some of the biggest startup successes in recent years have been relatively simple ideas. Netflix, for example, started as a company that mailed DVDs on loan to customers for a monthly fee. Certainly some would have poked holes in that idea too, and today Netflix is valued at $158 billion. Sure, Netflix has completely changed the business model since then, but the courage it took to really go after the idea is really all it took to get the ball rolling to what Netflix is today.
There are thousands of other companies that exist due to one person having the courage to get started. There are millions, and maybe billions, of people who were afraid to hit the gym that eventually summed up the courage to do it once or twice and have completely changed their life as a result. There are billions of people who were afraid to ask someone out, who decided to give it a go and eventually found a spouse as a result of one moment of courage. Even skydiving can become less frightening after doing it a few time (or so I’m told, I would never do it).
“The secret to happiness is freedom… And the secret to freedom is courage.” – Thucydides
Brendan Burchard, author of High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Became That Way, lists courage as one of his top 7 characteristics critical to high performance. In fact, this is what he states in his book:
High performers are courageous people. The data show that courage is significantly correlated with high performance. In fact, higher courage scores are related to higher scores on all the other HP6. This means that individuals who have developed greater courage in life also tend to have more clarity, energy, necessity, productivity, and influence.
– Burchard, Brendon. High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way (p. 259). Hay House, Inc.
Essentially what Brendan Burchard states is that courage is can potentially create the other 6 of the 7 important characteristics to becoming successful.
By the way, I recommend you buy Burchard’s book and give it a read or listen. You can find it on Amazon by clicking the icon below:
My point in writing this introduction is to show how one small courageous act can change the direction of human history, or most definitely your life for the better. If you don’t believe that by now, think of one great person who didn’t demonstrate an exceptional amount of courage. I know I can’t. So which door will you choose? The one that leads to a safe and simple life? Or are you ready for something new, something passionate, and something courageous?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
– Winston Churchill
Ok, so I know courage is important to becoming exceptional. How can I become more courageous?
I started out as one of the least courageous little boys you can imagine. I was the shy little boy who kept his head down and hid behind my older brother who could read my thoughts enough to literally talk for me. I wanted to quit anything that made me interact with other humans. From sports to school, I had no courage. Even when it came to applying for jobs or calling customers as I grew into my 20’s, I was uncomfortable doing it. New things have always scared me. To this day, I still struggle with my lack of courage, however I have found that I am improving in this area dramatically.
I’ve listened to or read countless of self-development books. More than anyone I’ve ever met, so I thought perhaps the constant brainwashing of positive thinking has made some difference. Maybe, but when I really sat down to think about what has changed in my life to help me develop courage I came up with a few things that I recall having done, and other things that I have read about in an effort to strengthen courage in my life, and it comes down to the three step process outlined below:
#1. Decide that courage is important – I hope the first part of this post convinced you that you should cultivate courage in your life, but obviously you will not make progress in this category, or any other for that matter, if you have not decided that it is important in your life. Personally I have noticed that a big part of follow through is defining the importance upfront. If I convince myself that getting an MBA is critical for a variety of reasons (for me it was to help provide financial stability for my family) then it’s much easier for me stick it out in the difficult times. So make sure you have thoroughly convinced yourself that developing courage is important then move on to step number
#2. Define courage in your life – Courage is different for everyone. For example, the courage that a soldier requires is a bit different than that of a businessman or women needing to share their ideas in a meeting. That being said, both are important to the person who is required to take action. I suggest writing down things that you would define as being courageous that you believe would benefit your life to take action on, and set a short-term deadline to getting it done. It is important that you truly believe that these tasks will benefit you (or more importantly others in your life). In fact, some experts recommend in defining who you are doing it for as well. This will give you the persistence you need to follow through on difficult tasks. Demonstrating courage in risky things that have no real benefit seems illogical and stupid rather than a good practice of courage, and it will be harder for you to continue making progress as you will not see the benefit of doing the uncomfortable tasks. Think before you define acts of courage that you want to complete, and then tell a friend you’re going to do it and ask them to follow up with you by that day to ensure that you did what you told them that you would do.
I noticed that my courage really started to increase dramatically when I started writing down goals and setting deadlines to meeting those goals. Because I wanted to make sure I got those things done, it forced me to do uncomfortable things. Proper goals that are big enough seem to correlate with uncomfortable things. You can’t meet big goals without stretching yourself, so make sure you’re writing big goals and courageous acts that you will need to execute upon in order to meet those goals.
#3. Execute on your courage plan – The next step is to systematically execute on all the courage tasks you have written down. Perhaps take the smallest one first, but it’s critical to define when you’ll have the items done by since you may delay for eternity otherwise. Then, like jumping out of a plane, you just have to take the leap until it becomes normal. Don’t be complacent though, you need to level up after you have mastered courage in smaller areas. I know that after you attempt one small act, it will become enjoyable to you and you’ll want to continue the practice of developing courage.
I know this seems too simple. Just doing a task is easier said than done, but remember, the only time to get something done in the present. You can’t do something in the past or the future, you can only do it now. The present is the only moment we get any say in, so take action immediately and just do it. You’ll feel a lot better once you’ve done what you set out to do. Also, don’t feel bad feeling good about yourself. You should feel good about yourself. You’ve done something difficult. Take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve come. You can’t live life feeling like you’re constantly not moving forward (see my post You’re Improving: Prove it to Yourself!). You will embody what you tell yourself you are, so make sure to tell yourself how awesome you are, or at least becoming.
#4. Repeat – The repeat is the most important part. If you did a courageous thing once in your life, the benefits will slowly fade away. As John Quincy stated in the quote at the top of the page, courage and perseverance are all it really takes in order to eliminate many of the obstacles in life. So be persistent and stay on task writing goals and knocking them out.
In my personal life I had to do a series of uncomfortable things in order to achieve my goals, and I know that the uncomfortable situations will continue to come. I can’t stop the uncomfortable situation, but what I can do is get good at embracing it. You can too, if you simply follow the three steps outlined above. I have to make sure that I snap out of phases of coasting and start to level up. I hope this is a reminder for you to do the same.
There you have it ladies and gentlemen. A simple 4 step plan to becoming courageous. I can’t emphasize the importance of writing down big goals and tasks to meet them enough. Goals and courageous tasks become real and less abstract once you put the idea on paper and it also forces accountability. Tell a friend and get accountable for what you know you need to do. So make sure you’re writing those ideas down with a deadline to execute and take action today.
Thanks, as always for reading, and I hope I have inspired you to be a little more courageous today!