Developing courage: how to face your fears

December 17, 2012, 7:28 am

Courage lies not in a lack of fear, nor doing something scary, but simply in doing things we are afraid of.

Developing Courage: Three Key Factors in Facing Your Fears

There are many forms of courage; the courage to be yourself, the courage to stand up for your beliefs, physical courage, moral courage, social courage.

What all of these acts of daring have in common is the courage to face up to something frightening, and take on the challenge, or in the words of pop psychology, to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.

When we think of courageous people, we may think the reason that they are able to take on such feats of daring is that they are less afraid than the rest of us. But this is not what true courage is. If it were, everyone who is too naïve to realise that something is dangerous and goes ahead and does it would be considered a hero.

In fact courage lies not in a lack of fear, nor even in doing something particularly scary, but simply in being able to do things we are afraid of. For a particularly shy person, a courageous act may be to invite someone on a date. For someone who is naturally confident this may take no courage at all.

Being courageous is an incredibly useful trait. As writer Anaïs Nin said, ‘Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.’ So how can we learn to develop this quality?

Well, according to researchers Hannah, Sweeney & Lester, a courageous personality is based on three main personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, and positive core self-evaluation.

Openness to experience, as a personality trait, is about far more than being open to new experiences. It means being able to think creatively, to think of interesting and innovative new solutions to problems, and a general open-mindedness.

Conscientiousness is about having a dedication to a task and a sense of responsibility to others, an urge to see a task through and do a good job. Positive core self-evaluation is basically self-confidence; knowing that you are up to the task.

The human personality is a surprisingly malleable thing and is always open to adjustment according to the experiences we have and the social feedback we receive from others. It’s also possible to purposely change our patterns of thinking in order to develop our positive qualities and attempt to suppress the negative.

Below are some ideas to help develop these three key areas of openness to experience, conscientiousness and positive core self-evaluation.

Strategies to Develop Courageousness

===Openness to experience=== In order to develop your openness to experience you could focus on developing your creative thinking. This could be through problem-solving exercises that encourage divergent thinking, or by brainstorming and allowing your brain to explore different paths and new ideas.

Secondly, you could focus on letting go of any closed mindedness you may be holding—challenge yourself to question your beliefs, discriminations or attachments to certain ways of living. Ask for feedback from friends about ways you could be more open minded.

Thirdly, through experience, or what psychologists call “exposure”, courage naturally develops. The more you do something, the less scary it is! Many people with phobias have been cured of their fears by being repeatedly exposed to them. After all, in most cases it is not the ‘thing’ we are afraid of at all, but merely the thought of it.

Fear is encouraged by avoidance but cannot be sustained once we repeatedly expose ourselves to that thing. So get out and expose yourself to new experiences that challenge your old fears.

===Positive core self-evaluation=== None of us are ever good at facing our fears if we aren’t in a good state of mind. That’s why it’s so easy for people with depression to fall into a cycle of being unable to face everyday tasks and social events. Before you decide to tackle any one particular fear, try to bolster your own positive emotions and sense of self-worth.

A simple process that I use with clients is to start keeping a journal of those things you are most proud of doing, thinking or saying each day. Small things matter, so capture them all. This helps to shift your focus over time toward a positive view of self.

Working with a coach or therapist can also help with this process of developing positive self-regard. For example, in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) you are taught to think carefully about your thoughts, and to stop and consider the effect your own thoughts might be having on your life.

===Conscientiousness=== Conscientiousness may be a little more difficult to foster if you don’t already have this character trait. Most people do feel some sense of social duty, but this can be encouraged by a specific belief or sense of purpose. Therefore, try to align your desire for courageousness with the achievement of things you genuinely value.

Also, tackle your fears one step at a time and commit to seeing out the process over time rather than hoping for a quick fix. If you’re going to be tackling multiple fears, think of the smallest one and tackle that first. If you’re attempting to tackle one gigantic fear, break it down into smaller steps and try and tackle it that way. For example, if you’re afraid of public speaking, give a speech to maybe one or two other people as a practice, then build up to bigger groups.

Return to ‘Life’s Journeys’ – Brought to you by Life of Pi

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