Daring Greatly! – Finding the Courage to Follow your Heart
‘Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen’. Winston Churchill
Have there ever been times in your life that you have wished that you had had a bit more courage to do the things that matter most? To follow your heart? To pursue your dreams? If that is you then read on and learn a little bit more about courage and how you can find ways to become more courageous and dare to be the person you really want to be (and probably, in your heart, you already are).
Courage is seen as a positive virtue across virtually all cultures across the globe. Stories of acts of great courage are continuously shared and celebrated, whether that be a selfless act of bravery in the threat of real physical danger, or someone holding true to their beliefs, such as justice and equality, who may also suffer the consequences of a hostile audience. We see acts of courage around us everyday day. But what does it take for someone to be courageous? What is courage? The word courage has its roots in old French ‘corage’ and from the latin ‘cor’, meaning heart. So courage can be viewed as a way of connecting with and opening up to our hearts. The emergence of positive psychology (the study of what makes people flourish) has rekindled interest in this ancient virtue, leading to new and exciting discoveries. For example Daniel Putman writes in the Book ‘The Psychology of Courage’ about 3 types of courage:
Physical courage – often seen as courageous acts and described as bravery – for example putting one’s life on the line for someone else
Moral courageous – being true to ones values and beliefs even when there is pressure from other people and institutions to conform to a different set of values
Psychological or vital courage – engaging in a personal psychological struggle that requires being in full contact with discomfort and emotional pain that often arises when choosing to live a life without self-deception and being open to the present moment and the unfolding of life as it happens And whilst there is no single agreed definition of courage, the different types do have some things in common. Firstly they are motivated by what is important, a sense of purpose, duty or drive to act in accordance with what we hold dear to us. Secondly it requires the capacity to be with our fears rather than to avoid them. Such decisions can often surface feeling of vulnerability and uncertainty, yet our motivation to live according to what is important is such that we are prepared to be with those fears and fully experience our vulnerability.
There are several ways in which courage can be of benefit. Imagine a situation where a decision has been made that is very likely to cause harm to a number of people. A courageous act can bring about a change that removes harm to others and therefore courage has a significant social benefit – contributing to the well-being of others, communities and society as a whole. You may benefit from your courageous act too. Living a life more aligned to our values, sometimes described as being authentic, has been shown to increase our well-being in a number of ways, including greater resilience, openness and conscientiousness; and a reduction in the stress that arises from the internal conflict between how we want to live our lives and the lives we are actually living. So in many instances courage can have a win-win outcome.
Whilst we celebrate great acts of courage when they are reported, it is easy to miss the simple acts of courage we are surrounded by in our everyday lives. For example consider the following:
- Taking a risk to speak honestly to a co-worker with all the uncertainty that it might entail
- Admitting and taking responsibility for a mistake that you have made and accepting the consequences
- Acknowledging that you don’t know the answer to someones’ problem, knowing they will be disappointed
- Telling someone how much you love them, even though you fear that they won’t feel the same
These acts all have something in common. They all take courage. Opinions differ on how we acquire courage. Some say it is acquired through habit by regularly practising courageous acts; others through role models and observing and being inspired by the courageous acts of others; and others suggest training such as understanding ethics or through mindfulness teaching and being better able to stay present with our difficult thoughts and feelings. Whatever the approach, the great news is that the general consensus is that courage can be developed. What is important is finding a way of developing your own courage that best suits you.
Below are few pointers to introduce you to developing your courage:
- Recognise the difference between courage, recklessness and fearlessness. Fear is a useful emotion, it is the body’s way of warning us of a threat to our safety. So courage allows us to connect with our fear and still do what is important. However when the risk is too high we are able to act accordingly. Recklessness leads to high risk activity in the absence of fear, often people are disconnected from their emotions and are in danger of harming themselves and others. Fearlessness on the other hand usually arises when someone has gone beyond courage and has achieved a level of mastery of a situation that they no longer experience vulnerability in that moment. For example a highly skilled and experienced firefighter might appear to be acting courageously in the presence of real danger, but when asked would respond by saying ‘I was just doing my job’. Think about your own experiences. When are you courageous? When do you act fearlessly? And when might you be at risk of being reckless?
- Identity the values that are important for you. Being clearer about the things that matter to you will help you to recognise when you might feel the need to act in service of your values. So how do you identify your values? Begin with a question – what is important to me in my life? To help you get started here are a few core values. Choose you top 5 or add your own. And then ask yourself this question ‘Right now, how am I living according to my most important values?
|Acceptance Affection Appreciation/gratitude Accountability Achievement Adaptability Ambition Attitude Authenticity Autonomy Awareness Balance (home/work) Beauty Belonging Caring Choice Challenge Clarity Commitment Community Communication Consistency Compassion Competence Cooperation Courage Creativity Connection Contribution Ease Enthusiasm Empathy Equality||Fairness Freedom Efficiency Ethics Excellence Fairness Family Financial stability Forgiveness Friendships Generosity Growth Health Honesty Hope Humility Humor/fun Independent Integrity Initiative Intuition Intimacy Harmony Honesty Job security Leadership Listening Love Making a difference Nature Open communication Openness Order||Participation Patience Peace Perseverance Professional Growth Personal fulfilment Personal growth Play Power Recognition Reliability Respect Responsibility Risk-taking Safety Self-discipline Space Spontaneity Stability Success Support Teamwork To understand To be understood To matter Trust Vision Wealth Well-being Wisdom|
- Being with your fear. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is developing a different kind of relationship with your fear. A relationship in which you are not overwhelmed by the experience and one in which fear becomes your ally not your enemy; helping you make decisions and reminding you of what is important to you in your life. There are many ways to develop this relationship. Here is one approach based on 3 steps:
Recognising – how do you know when you are afraid? Is it a sensation in your body? A feeling? What do you tell yourself when you are feeling scared? Learn to be connected with your feelings so you can quickly and easily know they are there. Observing – once we become aware of our feelings they can become overwhelming. This is often because we can overidentify with them. So when you hear yourself saying ‘I am scared’, the risk is you become ‘scared’. However by simply changing how we describe our experience we begin to seperate who we are with our experience. So by telling yourself something like ‘Right now, I am noticing that part of me is feeling scared’, the frightened part of you will proably feel less overwhelming and unmanageable. Understanding – once we are able to hold our experience in our awareness we have a great opportunity to explore and increase our understanding of our fears. For example one view is that the fear has a positive intention and by asking it ‘What is your intention?’ our insights may help us understand and possibly transform our experience.
- Acting in serving of our values – Lloyd George once said ‘you cannot cross a chasm with 2 small steps when a single step is needed’. The same is true if we are going to act in service of our values. We know that waiting for fear to subside is not going to work, so at some point you will need to take a deep breath and go for it! Rehearsing helps. Find someone who can provide a supportive space, or do it on your own, but remember practice, practice, practice! The fear may not go away, but your confidence will increase and your motivation will too.
f you want to know more about how to put these and other ways of being courageous into practice then login onto our site and register to attend one of our seminars on how to develop your courage.
A personal acount of developing and using techniques to build closer personal relationships
6 months ago I decided I wanted to find a way of enhancing my relationship with my wife. We already had a good relationship I hasten to add. But I was curious about whether it was possible to boost our relationship nonetheless. So I created something I called the Close Relationship Enhancement Process. It was the combination of 3 different existing positive relationship interventions; the Gottman magic 5 hours (Gottman & Silver, 1999), beginning anew (Zinser, 2013) and Non-violent Communication (Rosenberg, 2003). The process included setting aside time for sharing our plans for the day; talking about our days; and showing affection. Plus weekly time together for showing gratitude, sharing regrets, deep listening, and making a request of each other to enhance our relationship.
To our surprise and joy we found the experience very satisfying and it did exactly what it was intended to do – it enhanced our relationship. Mostly we enjoyed our weekly meetings and the opportunity to share appreciations, regrets, listening deeply to each others’ concerns, and making a request to enhance our relationship. Each part the process of sharing and receiving had a different impact. I noticed that when receiving appreciations I felt closer to my wife and felt deep gratitude and affection. When expressing and hearing about regrets I felt a mixture of sadness and compassion. We both experienced a deepening in our relationship, feeling more connected and understood, and also clarity about the ways in which we could improve our relationship.
Since then I have shared my experience with friends and colleagues and they too have begun using the approach. I am glad to report that they too have experienced the benefits of the process. So much so they suggested I share it more widely. So here is a summary of what we do each week if you wanted to give it a go. I would also love to hear about your experiences of using the process, so log onto the website and join the discussion.
Follow these steps or adapt it to your own circumstances.
Using this template make a few notes in preparation for meeting together.
- Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted and spend a few quiet moments to together. Meditate together it you wish or enjoy a joyful embrace, bringing to your awareness your intention to connect with each other over the next 30 minutes to an hour.
- Flower watering – This is a chance to share our appreciation/gratitude for the other person. Taking it in turns, one person speaking and the other listening without interruption, we may mention specific instances that the other person said or did something that we have appreciated or admired; allowing the person to fully experience our gratitude.
- Sharing regrets – Taking it in turns, one person speaking and the other listening without interruption, we may mention any unskillfulness in our actions, speech or thoughts that we have not yet had an opportunity to acknowledge and share our regrets for any harm we may have caused. We may also take this opportunity to apologize or seek forgiveness.
- Hug again!
- Sharing a difficulty & receiving empathy – taking it in turns, one person speaking and the other listening and reflecting back what they hear are the underlying feelings and met/unmet needs. This is simple skill that can be learnt with practice. For anyone unfamiliar with non-violent communication (NVC) follow this link to read more about it.
- More hugs!
- Boosting the relationship – Taking it in turns to make a clear specific request for something from the other that will improve the relationship
- Finally more hugs!
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf” (Kabat-Zinn 2004).
In our modern busy lives “automatic pilot” is the norm – getting on with things without really being aware of what we are doing. Rather than being “present”, we can be “miles away” without knowing it. Through cultivating mindful awareness, we discover how to live more in the present moment rather than brooding about the past or worrying about the future, and how to find greater contentment and joy in our lives.
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, with compassion, and open-hearted curiosity. Through cultivating mindful awareness, we discover how to live in the present moment rather than brooding about the past or worrying about the future, and how to find greater contentment and joy in our lives.
There is mounting evidence demonstrating that mindfulness practice enhances leaders’ ability to work effectively with complexity and uncertainty. Drawing on the most up to date empirical evidence we know that mindfulness:
- positively contributes to personal well-being and greater resilience
- enhances attention and concentration
- increases creativity and flexibility
- leads to greater compassion and kindness
- enhances relationships and partnerships
- enables authenticity and courageous action
To find out more about how you can become more mindful visit our website and enrol onto one of our free introductory experiential mindfulness workshops