The Brave Heart: 3 Steps To Cultivating The Courage To Change
Is Something Holding You Back From Change?
Do you have changes you really want to make in your life, but you’re finding it difficult to start? This often happens if on some level we are fearful or anxious about taking action. Courage is the thing that helps us conquer those fears and begin to make real and lasting changes in our lives. But sometimes it can seem very hard to find.
The trouble is that without courage we remain stuck in our existing situations, relying on a variety of coping mechanisms to get by. These may include ignoring, distracting, self-soothing, repressing, and rationalising. Some of these strategies can work really well in the beginning. But over time, they often create side-effects that cause real distress – such as depression, addiction, relationship difficulties and OCD.
People will often seek counselling and psychotherapy to resolve all this. But courage is needed in therapy, too! – to make a first appointment, to voice things that may feel shameful, and to endure the kind of difficult emotions that may come up as we talk.
So how can we cultivate this quality of ‘courage’ – in life, and where necessary, in therapy?
What Is Courage, And How Does It Fit Into Our Lives?
For thousands of years, philosophers have thought deeply about courage. They consistently define it as a highly positive attribute. It is strongly connected to ideas of heart, energy, strength, and endurance. Courage is definitely not about reckless bravery. Rather, it’s about the simultaneous knowledge of both risk and fear, and acting regardless.
We all have an intuitive understanding of how courage can affect our lives. Every single culture, throughout human history, has had stories about a hero going forth on a courageous journey and returning fundamentally changed. In each case, these stories are a metaphor for the inner quest of the individual, taking on his deepest fears and undergoing a positive transformation of the self. When we hear these tales we can feel inspired and emboldened ourselves. The story of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars is an example known to many people in western world today.
In recent decades, modern psychologists have explored how courage actually ‘works’, in practice. They show that:
- Courage is about acting despite our fears – we don’t need to get rid of fear in order to be courageous.
- Courage is what can help us endure the darkest moments, and be bold and strong when facing difficulties. So it is an amazingly effective resource for positive change.
- As we develop our courage, we are likely to find energy, authenticity and vitality beginning to spread out into our lives.
How Can We Enable Courage To Blossom?
I’ve conducted real-world research into how people experience courage, and what helps them to cultivate it – in life, and in counselling sessions. One thing the research makes clear is how hard it is for most of us to find the courage to tackle our problems, even if we’re suffering quite severely. Often it takes a real crisis for us to begin naming and facing our difficulties.
But my studies also show that everyone has the capacity for courage, even if we struggle to express it. And there are certain things that everyone can do to help nurture the seedlings of courage more effectively:
- Know what motivates you: We all need something to give us a sense of purpose for change. It’s what generates and sustains courage when the going gets tough. But what motivates each person may be completely different. In my research, people talked about being motivated by all sorts of things, such as wanting to be a better dad, or caring-for-self, or religious faith, or even anger. So it’s important to identify and continually remind yourself of your own personal motivators.
- Notice your courageous ‘qualities’: Long before most people think they are feeling ‘courageous’, they are able to recognise the first sproutings of certain aspects of courage appearing in their lives. These may include, for example, things like energy, confidence, strength, feeling heartened, or challenging the status quo. Simply being aware of these qualities as they begin to appear – either in your counselling sessions or in your life in general – can give your courage the light and air it needs to develop more fully.
- Seek out safety and acceptance: In the studies, people often spoke about the difficulty of making changes on their own. In contrast, the safety and acceptance they found with a counsellor was often described as an active catalyst for their courage to flourish and grow. This means that seeking out a counsellor, or even a friend, with whom you feel completely safe to talk and not judged in any way, is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ but actually a vital part of your journey towards courage… and change.