I’m often asked whether or not, given that I’ve adopted courage as a moniker, I’ve always been “naturally” courageous. I think what people are really asking is: Is this something that I can cultivate, too? Or is it a personality trait that I have to be born with?
These lovely hearts: sometimes I worry that they think they’ve missed the courage boat and will always walk through life feeling a background undercurrent of fear.
The good news: courage isn’t something you have or don’t have–it’s what you choose to practice. No one is innately born with more or less courage; courage is practiced and cultivated.
By the same token, people aren’t born innately fearful–fear is something that we practice, and whatever we practice regularly becomes a habit. When we don’t actively acknowledge what practicing fear looks like, it can go unchecked and start to take over.
Another thing I’m often asked about? Transparency, and whether or not describing myself as courageous means that I’ve figured out how to not feel fear.
Every habit that I describe below is one that I know, and have worked with, intimately. Some are habits I’ve shifted better than others. As you’re reading, notice which habits are at work in your life (and perhaps share with us what you’d like to work on, in the comments), but be particularly careful about avoiding perfectionism or comparison. We’re all working on this, together.
Here are ways to identify fearful practices that turn into long-term habits:
Practicing negative self-talk. Our self-talk involves criticism, blame, or shame, in the misguided notion that these will motivate us to practice something different, like courage.
They won’t. You’ve got to change your self-talk if you want to stop living in fear, so you can start practicing courage.
Practicing chronic forms of hesitation.
Procrastination, hesitation, or forgetting are chronic–these are all forms of what I call “Faux Fear” because people don’t always recognize that this is fear in action. It’s not just that there’s one way in which you’re not taking action. There are many, and there are justifications. Sometimes the justification feels like a protective shield, and other times you find yourself getting angry with yourself as you hear the justifications going through your head, because you know they’re b.s., and you just want to stop the madness already.
Practicing chaotic feeling states without using tools to shift them.
Overwhelm, anxiety, or self-doubt impede progress and make going after what you want, seeing the changes you want to happen, more difficult. They are further exacerbated by not making the time for even the simplest of stillness practices.
I’m not talking about feeling overwhelm or self-doubt, sometimes (we’re all human; we all experience that). I’m talking about when you experience those feelings, and they amplify until they control you and your ability to live your life, fully.
Practicing skewed priorities.
In our modern-day culture, we forget that any time we are putting other things above getting adequate rest, nourishment, bodily movement, or time for play, connection, or stillness, we are officially turning our backs on life and living. We need those things to live.
Now: there will inevitably be times in life when our sleep is troubled, or we’re making a work deadline happen and we’re heating up canned soup more often than we’re getting leafy greens–that’s not what I’m talking about here.
I’m talking about when denying yourself those things has become a lifestyle, rather than a life. Usually people will at least keep up with sleep and eating, because the body will shut down otherwise. It’s the other stuff we tell ourselves we don’t have time for.
Truth? Play can happen in five minutes dancing to a funky song. Connection can happen in 3 minutes by sending an email or text to someone to tell them that you’re grateful for them. Meditation can happen in 5 to 15 minutes.
This isn’t a time issue. It’s a priorities issue. Which is to say: really, it’s a fear issue. You’ve got to deal with the fear to see why something like time for play or time for connection, something that benefits your life, hasn’t been made a priority.
Practicing comparisons until they run rampant.
It doesn’t even matter whether you compare yourself and feel better-than (“Well, at least I’m not doing THAT” or “I can’t believe she’s so clueless”) or worse-than (“How could I have been so stupid?” or “I’m so clueless.”) Comparisons are always a losing game, because they keep us from being connected to one another.
Practicing setting up impossible standards.
Impossible standards are set up as a self-sabotage mechanism, and when we fear something, we’ll self-sabotage in order to stop doing it and reduce the fear response in our bodies. For instance, if you decide to start a regular meditation practice, but meditation brings up vulnerability for you, then the two or three days you don’t do it count for more than the decision to start, or the times when you did do it. In other words: perfectionism is an issue.
Denial is when you don’t want to claim the truth. The truth is that there are places within all of us where we do all of these things, no matter how much personal work we’ve done. Risks bring up fear for everyone, everywhere. I can spot a perfectionist at fifty paces the second they say, “I don’t really have issues with perfectionism.”
Truth: We all have recurring issues with perfectionism, because we live in a culture that conditions us to it and perpetually peddles the lie that perfection is possible.
By “we all have issues” do I mean that you can’t release perfectionism? No–you can definitely release perfectionism. What we can’t do is expect that we’ll never again have a perfectionist thought or trigger (that’s more perfectionism).
The most insidious way that we practice drama when we’re in fear is by not trusting either two things: our intuition, or the simple solution.
Many people have more finely-honed bullshit-detectors than they give themselves credit for. They know, deep down, when something just isn’t right. But they turn away from that intuitive gift, again and again. That creates drama, tension, worry.
Many people also hesitate to trust the simple solution. For instance, practicing meditation for five minutes a day is a simple solution; yet people doubt that it could really “be that simple.” Our culture glamorizes the “a-ha!” moment where life was never again the same. Chasing the “A-ha!” can be an illness unto itself that makes life’s ordinary beauty into “never enough.”
Practicing “never enough.”
When it feels vulnerable to choose otherwise, we practice “never enough.” It’s vulnerable to have made a mistake, so we practice “not enough.” It’s vulnerable to acknowledge how far apart the marriage has drifted, so it’s easier to practice disappointment in your husband. It’s vulnerable to stand in our own magnificence, so we pick out the three things we did wrong, recently.
In hundreds (thousands?) of hours of client work, I’ve seen that it’s not about perfection; it’s about consistency. The clients who make huge strides are the clients who take the practices that we discuss during a session, and then make them into…well, practices.
It’s like watering a plant. Or Eating. No one would eat one time and then get upset because they had to eat another meal to keep their bodies going.
Yet, this is what people do with their lives. They go to a workshop, are inspired by a book, start a new e-course, and then they stop being consistent in practicing the tools they learned. Then they get angry with themselves (“I went over this in therapy already; why is this issue still coming up for me?”)
The Bottom Line: Life changes when you get consistent about the habits that you practice.
I realize that this might sound like an over-simplification of a much bigger problem, and I’m aware that it isn’t the big, sexy, life-changing “A-ha!”
But this simple truth is how myself and so many others have changed their lives. It’s not about shifting one thing, 100%. It’s about shifting 100 things, those little daily habits and choices, just 1%.