What do you think of when you think of courage? Perhaps you think of a firefighter running into a burning building to save someone. Maybe you think of a person facing a battle with cancer or a parent fighting for their disabled child’s rights. While those are great examples, I don’t think that strength and courage are always as as noble or rare as that.

For someone struggling with depression, getting out of bed in the morning is courage. For someone successful in their career, striking out on their own is strong and courageous. For those of us who like to put our best foot forward — don’t we all? — it’s simply this:

True courage is risking being uncomfortable.

I am a volunteer firefighter, and do you know what the hardest thing is about fire fighting? Showing up. Just getting out of bed when the pager goes off at 1 a.m. to face an unknown situation. We never have very many details of the call we are responding to. We rarely have an indication of whether we will be gone an hour or eight. I don’t know if I am going to be asked to do something I’ve never done on a real scene before, something I’ve only done in practice. Even just going to practices takes strength and courage. I never know what new skills we will be taught, or if we will do a scenario which tests our ability to act as well as problem-solve. And I never know if I might end up looking foolish.

That’s really what it boils down to, doesn’t it? None of us likes to look foolish. Sometimes, if we are in a comfortable rut in our lives, we can end up too concerned with appearances. We end up paralyzed or we maintain the status quo, thinking that we’re doing really well holding our own. We’re not losing ground, so we must be growing, right? Wrong. True personal growth only happens when we move forward, and that only happens when we have strength and courage and face our fears. Usually, it is nothing more than being willing to risk being uncomfortable or looking foolish. Going to practices at the fire hall, I have to be willing to get way outside my comfort zone, do my best to learn a new skill, and risk looking foolish the first time I do it.

Here are four tactics you can try to become more courageous:

  • Be willing to go. Start out by just being willing to do that difficult thing, even if you aren’t actually doing anything yet. In cases where the difficult task to face has been thrust on you, like being diagnosed with cancer, being willing can be a tough thing; think of it more as being willing to accept that you are where you are, and stepping forward into each moment with the most serenity you can maintain.
  • Watch how you talk to yourself. Focus on how others have done it, how maybe it won’t be as hard as you think, or how it really is just about being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable never killed anyone, and although the thing you need strength and courage to do may be tough, it won’t kill you either. If you are facing a serious illness, talk about why you want to be well, and talk as little as possible about your actual condition.
  • Practice on small things. If you have a really big situation you’re facing, practice on smaller uncomfortable things and then apply that success to boost your confidence to take on the big thing. I didn’t start out at the fire hall driving fire trucks. I started out putting my gear on, washing trucks, and laying down hoses.
  • Take a deep breath and do it. I hate to tell you this, but firefighters aren’t all that courageous. Our courage comes when we sign up for the job, and after that, it’s all just taking a deep breath and doing what we’re trained to do.

(Photo credit: Singe Firefighter via Shutterstock)

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