We all need courage to live our best life today. But unfortunately, most of us are not born with a natural ability to be courageous through the ups and downs of our life. We need to cultivate a courageous attitude or develop a daily practice where we are building on our courage. More on that later.
But first, why do we all need courage? Well, imagine if no one had courage. We would all be a mess. Society would be in shambles and nothing would get done. I mean, just take a normal day. I bet there are thousands of instances throughout your day where you required courage, where if you did not have courage you would have broken down into tears. And those situations will be different for everyone. I know that by about 6:00 pm after I've cleaned up the 20,000th mess that my two-year-old daughter has made, I would like nothing better than to just sit down and cry. But, that would not be good, would it? No, I need to set a better example for my daughter. I need to tell her that adults can't sit and cry about everything. We need to have the courage to move on with our lives and to meet difficulties head-on.
What is Courage?
While I was preparing this blog post I came across several different definitions of courage (interesting....). The one that I think most fits is:
"mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty." (Webster's Dictionary)
What I love most about this definition is that it includes more than just our need to withstand scary situations. Courage is not just the antidote to fear. It is the antidote to obstacles, trauma, difficulty, distress, and uncertainty.
Being courageous means you have the mental and moral strength to stand up in the face of obstacles, trauma, difficulty, distress, and uncertainty, and not react using a defensive mechanism (fight or flight, reverting to selfish behaviour, etc).
How do we Cultivate Courage Daily?
First, we need to understand that courage is not something that we have once and then have for all of the time. No, it is something that we need to intentionally seek out every single day. Here are a few strategies to help get you started:
1) Acknowledge the fears, difficulties, or challenges that are present TODAY and soothe yourself through positive self-talk. It's important to say what is on your mind. Once you've said it, it has less power over your thoughts, feelings and what you do and say. FEARS: Most of the time, what we fear is irrational. Instead of believing the lies in your head, soothe your heart and mind using positive self-talk, or the truth. For instance, remind yourself that you are worthy of love, that you are trying your best in your everyday life and that your loved ones are there for you if you need help or support. DIFFICULTIES & CHALLENGES: The challenges that you are facing today are real, and they really hurt. I'm truly sorry you are going through this. But remember, even though these things are really happening to you, you have the choice how you will view them. You lend your own perspective to everything that happens in your life. That means, you can choose to see things in a more negative way than is realistic, or you can choose to reject the negative and hold on to the positives of the situation.
2) Start a Self-Reflective Journal. A few blog posts back we talked about the importance of starting a self-reflective journal for mental health purposes. Well, if you didn't get the chance to read that post, then I strongly recommend you take a look now. Self-reflective journaling is a great practice to start when you are trying to cultivate courage because it allows you to express your feelings plainly without being controlled by any of your defense mechanisms (fight or flight, or selfish tendencies). Use your self-reflective journal to work out your feelings and sift through what is true and what is not true.
3. Stay Busy. One of the best ways to cultivate courage is to keep yourself busy. The more you sit around and think about the challenges in your life, the more time you are stewing in your negative thoughts and feelings. That is not good for anyone. Getting some exercise, taking a walk in the fresh air or socializing with friends can help you to gain some perspective and see things in a new light.
4. Change how you think about the situation. You've probably heard your mother or father tell you not to worry about the things that you can't control. That is essentially a re-wording of one of the most famous bible verses where Jesus is telling his first-century Jewish cohorts not to worry about tomorrow,
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” It is the thirty-fourth, and final, verse of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament and is part of the Sermon on the Mount."- Matthew 6:34
You can't control what will happen tomorrow. So don't worry about it. You can't control what others are thinking, doing or saying, so don't worry about it. Loosen up and focus on what you can do today to improve your life and your outlook. This is a big part of being courageous. Be in control of your mind. If something bothered you yesterday, let it go today and don't bring it with you to tomorrow.
5. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. "Life's not fair" as the villain Scar says in Disney's animated film "The Lion King" (1995). And it's not. The faster that you acknowledge this truth and make peace with it, the better it will go for you. I think that today's society often wants to tell you that the highest goal in our life is to pursue personal enjoyment. And so being uncomfortable is decidedly uncomfortable. We want to eat good food, feel good about our physical look, be trim and fit, be loved and treated fairly, and have a successful career that pays the big bucks. This is what we want and this is what we expect to pursue in our lives. Most of these things aren't bad things to pursue, but being driven by obsession and then falling on our faces miserable with disappointment when the perfect life does not unfold in front of us, is a terrible way to live.
Instead, recognize that sometimes life is uncomfortable. And that's ok. Recognize that if you are working towards having a courageous mindset about your life, then you will be able to overcome the difficulties, and obstacles that will inevitably come up in life.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is not meant to provide advice for more severe life challenges that require expert care and supervision. Please seek appropriate medical treatment by a licensed professional if your situation calls for it or if a trusted loved one has advocated for it.
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