The amount of courage you have "has a lot to do with your environment-both internal and external," says best-selling author and sports psychologist Jerry Lynch. If your external environment is "not emotionally safe," Jerry explains, "there's too much fear."
Safe environments are filled with two qualities: respect—from a leader, mentor, or coach—and love, "a deep sense of caring," nurturing, and support.
Courage (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), "comes from coeur, which means heart," says Jerry. "If you create an emotionally safe environment, people open up their hearts." They're willing to reach out, take risks—"They're not afraid of failing." In fact, Jerry adds, "In an emotionally safe environment, failure is our best teacher." It's how we learn. When the people around us, our team members or children fail, we can promote courage by asking, "Why are you a better performer now? What have you learned from that experience?" With this insight, he says, We encourage them "(en + courage) to go forward." This way, even when we fail, we can "have confidence all the time." If not, "failure can be devastating."
We cultivate a safe internal environment with our attitude. As Jerry explains, "When we focus on what we can control, our confidence goes up. If we don't feel safe, our performance suffers. We become tight, tense, and frustrated." Jerry knows this from personal experience as a national class athlete. As a sports psychology consultant, he now helps NCAA and Olympic athletes develop courage and confidence, by focusing not on outcomes but on what they can control.
Self-compassion (Neff, 2011) promotes a safe internal environment. "The internal environment is
compassion," says Jerry, "understanding that we're beginners, that it's natural to fail in order to learn." Without self-compassion, people avoid taking risks, lack the courage to go forward, but "with a strong inner environment," he says, "you can weather the storm of a tumultuous external environment. I can walk into a room with no emotional engagement, flat—if my inner environment is strong and I understand what's going on, I can go in and come out intact."
Sadly, today, he admits, "so many external environments are unsafe and dysfunctional, perpetuating cycles of abuse." Authoritarian environments in many schools and workplaces "shut down growth." To excel, people need to be "free to explore," he says, "to make mistakes." To function in unsafe environments, Jerry explains, we need to develop our inner environment: the strength to recognize what's going on and the wisdom to choose safer external environments.
Jerry says, he's "committed to creating a safe environment" in raising his four children, "to help them have the courage to go out into the world and have a solid base." This means not only cultivating a supportive community at home but including mentors in their lives with an extended circle of friends.
We can all help build more supportive communities, he says, "safe environments, where it's OK to not know, to talk about our fears," and by doing so, "we become leaders who can inspire and empower," the opposite of an unsafe authoritarian environment.
Ultimately, courage is "all about relationships," says Jerry. "You must establish a loving, safe relationship with others and with yourself as well. People who don't feel good about themselves, who too self-critical—these people lack courage."
"With no relationship," he says, "there's no leadership,
With no relationship, no courage.
With no relationship, no learning."
Now it's your turn. How can you cultivate an environment of greater courage in your world today?
Jerry Lynch is the author of 10 books on sports psychology, coaching, leadership, and peak performance. A motivational speaker, sports psychology consultant, and personal coach, Jerry's most recent book, with Chungliang Al Huang is Spirit of the Dancing Warrior: Asian Wisdom for Peak Performance in Athletics and Life. For more information on Dr. Lynch, visit his web site, www.wayofchampions.com.
Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.