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How to Be Bold

5 Steps towards getting off the fence and taking charge of your life

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We tend to admire people who are decisive — those bold risk-takers, the firmly committed ones, those who can stand-up, make a decision and march boldly ahead. So solid and resolute, so in command of their lives.

But they shouldn't be confused with those who are simply impulsive. Impulsive folks can seem like bold risk-takers, but their apparent boldness comes not from being clear and determined but more from their being emotionally driven. Often they act without any plan, they lack emotional brakes, they do what they do at the time because that is what they feel like doing at the time. Sometimes it works out, others times not so well...whatever. Emotions, rather than their rational brains and their values, are driving the car.

And they also shouldn't be confused with those who simply haven't yet made of their minds. Here we're talking about pro and con lists, about mentally sorting through feelings and possible options. Bold people do ponder and sort; what they are good at is moving forward once the decision is made.

Most of us have an irregular, more part-time boldness: We're able to speak up and be decisive about some issues or with some people but not others. Or we're able to take a stand when backed into a corner or fed-up enough, but can also turn limp and wishy-washy with just enough of everyday-stress. But for some, stepping up and making a solid decision isn't a part-time occasional challenge but a constant struggle: Should we get married, should I take that new job, should I order the lunch special can all have the same emotional weight. They waver, hesitate, hem and haw.

Like most psychological problems, indecisiveness is the result of several underlying sources. Here are the most common culprits:

You are thinking too far ahead

Here anxiety kicks in and sound decisions equates to not making mistakes, and mistakes equates to being sure that nothing negative happens after. This is the nature of anxiety, filling our heads with endless worst-case scenarios, pushing you to try and control a future and outcome that can’t be controlled.

You are self-critical

These worst-case scenarios get even worse when you add self-criticism into the mix. Not only are you hesitant because you worry about the outcome, making a mistake, but self-criticism means that that mistakes come with a price, namely a painful mental flogging that intensifies the pressure to do it right.

Everything is important

Anxiety is not only good at generating myriad awful outcomes, it also washes away any sense of perspective, and makes everything feel equally important. Once you lose the ability to prioritize even small decisions, like whether or not to get the lunch-special, can feel like a big deal.

You don’t want to upset others

This is a subset of not making mistakes, but for many a huge decision roadblock that creates timidity: Even if I know what I believe or want, I hold back for fear of other's reactions; I'm only happy if everyone is happy. This type of thinking leaves you wavering and sitting on the couch worrying.

Again, those who are bold and decisive can also get caught up in these emotional potholes, but they are able to climb out of the them, and over time learn to avoid them. Here's how to ramp up your boldness:

Boldness 101

Practice listening to your gut

If you find yourself constantly wavering because your head is filled with any or all-of-the-above mental chatter, you need to get out of your head and into your gut. You want to tap into your wants and don't-wants rather than your shoulds. Want to get married? What does your gut say? Take the job? Ditto. Lunch-special? Yeah?

Set priorities

If everything becomes blurry with importance, it's time to step back and get your rational brain back online in order to override your anxious one. Lunch special — no big deal, only lunch. Marriage, job — yeah, definitely bigger deals. Make a quick decision on the lunch, but take your time and think and feel through, but not obsess, about the marriage, the job.

Take action

This is the most important step — do! Not only is boldness ultimately about action, but it is through action that you can bulk up your boldness-muscles. Only by moving forward in spite of those anxious, critical voices in your head, only by stepping outside your comfort zone can you find out that what your anxious mind is telling you might happen, doesn’t. Baby steps are okay. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, jump off the cliff into that lunch special. This isn't about lunch but about being brave and decisive. With practice your courage and confidence will increase, enabling to take on ever-bigger challenges.

Realize that you can always mop up / change your mind

It's helpful to realize that even the biggest of decisions are rarely immutable; there's almost always room to mop-up or change your mind. If your friend is upset because you decide at the last minute to skip going to the concert with her, you can send her a text letting her know that you so appreciate her invitation, apologize for deciding at the last minute to stay home and disappointing her, and that you are looking forward to the next big outing.

But the same thinking is true for the wedding — you really can call it off, or if the marriage is not working out, can get help to repair it or get divorced. If the job turns out to be a bust, you might kick yourself, but a good lesson is learned, and you can begin to look for another. The only things in life that are final are those that can literally kill you.

The theme here is that decisiveness is never about the content of whatever you are obsessing over — the lunch, jobs or weddings — but about building up your courage by trusting your gut and acting. Start slow, practice on the lunch or a bunch of lunches, then expand out.

It’s about increasing your comfort zone, overriding your anxiety and becoming more…you.

Ready to go bold?

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