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How to Boost Your Courage Without Battling Your Fears

3 questions that make leaving your comfort zone easier.

Key points

  • When our dreams align with our values, being bold no longer triggers our fears.
  • What drives us in childhood braveries isn’t the need to push against our fears but the desire to explore, experience, and enjoy life.
  • We should consider courage the fuel from our heart to make life more expansive, meaningful, and fulfilling.

Do you wish sometimes you would be more courageous, take risks, and step outside your comfort zone? Or would you like to be more bold when it comes to speaking your mind, having boundaries, or asking for what you want?

But what is courage really and how do we get more of it?

Whenever I was about to go on vacation with my friends during my teenage years, my dad reminded me of his definition of courage as he took me aside and said, “Son, courage is to know when to say no.” I have to admit, this was pretty solid advice, considering that a group of adolescent boys could push each other to do many crazy things.

The dictionary defines courage as "the ability to do something, even though it frightens you." In other words, being courageous requires facing your fears, which, according to my father, would be having boundaries, even if that would prompt my buddies to make fun of me—and potentially think less of me.

Unfortunately, in the past, you may have chosen to become braver by pushing through your fears, only to end up feeling more scared and defeated. Just like a client of mine who tried to build his courage by combating his fears of heights with a series of skydives: After 30 jumps, he finally had to admit that his attempt had failed, as his fears had turned into debilitating panic attacks whenever he saw a plane.

But what if there are other ways to build our courage without playing tug of war with our fears? The word courage can be traced back to the Anglo-French coeur, which means heart. Having courage can therefore also mean having heart, which is more in line with this definition: "to have the confidence to do and stand up for what we believe in."

I don’t consider myself hyper-courageous; skydiving, bungee jumping, roller-coasters, and horror movies are not my idea of a good time. And even my driving style has been called by my wife "grandpa-esque." Yet, on the other hand, I changed my career three times, started my own business, published two books, lived in four different countries, and asked my wife to move from Tennessee to Seattle, even though we just had met a couple of weeks before.

While these live-altering choices may have required a lot of courage on paper, I didn't have to battle my fears. Of course, these decisions brought up moments of doubt and concern. After all, if our dreams don’t worry us a little, they are not big enough. But, for the most part, my most courageous decisions were propelled by a profound sense of clarity, purpose, and joy.

When our dreams align with our values, being bold no longer triggers our fears. Maybe this form of courage fueled your decision to leave your hometown and go to college, say "yes" to a committed relationship, get married, have kids, etc.

So, next time you are about to take a leap out of your comfort zone, build your courage by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Why is it important to me to make this decision? Think about how this step you want to take is in alignment with your core values.
  2. What will I gain from moving forward? Imagine the short- and long-term positive ripple effects of expanding out of your comfort zone.
  3. What are my strengths and resources that will allow me to make the best out of this decision? Remind yourself of the specific qualities that have helped you in the past to make changes, overcome obstacles, and reach your goals.

We are all innately brave. It takes enormous courage to depart the comfort of the mother’s womb for the great unknown world, to move from crawling to standing upright and taking the first steps forward, to encounter new kids and start playing with them. Yet, what drives us to those early braveries isn’t the need to push against our fears but the desire to explore, experience, and enjoy life. So, rather than viewing courage as the counterforce to your fears, consider it the fuel from your heart to make your life more expansive, meaningful, and fulfilling.

More from Friedemann Schaub M.D., Ph.D.
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