Seven Ways to Boost Your Emotional Courage
Avoidance increases your fear but you can increase your courage
Posted August 5, 2015
Many situations in life call upon us to do something we find scary, upsetting, uncomfortable, anxiety provoking, or distressing, in other words, to display emotional courage by stepping outside our comfort zones and do what we know is right or healthy despite the trepidation we feel. Unfortunately, our natural inclination in such moments is to avoid the situation or procrastinate, or to find excuses and justifications that allow us a graceful and sometimes, not-so-graceful exit, so we continue avoiding the situation.
The problem with avoidance is that it always comes with a price. Anytime we avoid something that makes us anxious, that very thing automatically becomes scarier in our minds (this is often how phobias are formed). Further, many of the things we avoid end up having an impact on our careers, relationships, or friendships because we’re unable to voice concerns or dissatisfactions or to ask for a promotion, or we end up using our intellectual and emotional resources dealing with unresolved guilt or regret. In addition, avoidance weakens our emotional resiliency (emotional resilience comes from overcoming challenging situations, not from avoiding them) and it prevents us from growing and reaching our full potential.
Tackling these difficult hurdles requires emotional courage but what does that really mean? Having emotional courage is different than being emotionally strong (read Seven Characteristics of Emotionally Strong People). Emotional strength reflects our ability to bounce back from setbacks and challenges over the short and long term. Emotional courage is about a brief moment, a pivotal instant in time in which we take an action--we choose to heed our convictions, beliefs, and intentions and do what we know in our heads is good for us (instead of heeding our fears and anxieties and continuing to avoid the situation).
Seven Ways to Boost Your Emotional Courage
The following suggestions are ways to minimize your fear and apprehension before and during critical moments that require emotional courage so you can maximize your chances of taking action. Although I use specific examples in each, you can apply each of these principles to most situations.
1. Don’t overthink it: Anxious about asking out someone in your social circle? It might be natural to avoid situations that have the potential for rejection but the more you ruminate about whether you should, the scarier the idea becomes. Our emotional courage is prone to leaking, which means, the longer you wait, the less of it you’ll have. Therefore, once you’ve decided to ask someone out or do anything that requires emotional courage, don’t wait—act.
2. Focus on the threshold not the act itself. Apprehensive about bringing up a complaint with your spouse or family member? Figure out what you want to say ahead of time (read Complain to Your Spouse without Starting an Argument) and then focus on saying, “we need to talk” rather than on worrying about how the talk will go. In this as well as many other scenarios, ‘entering’ the situation is half the battle, so pushing yourself through the threshold (e.g., by saying “we need to talk”) takes that pressure off and makes you extremely likely to have the actual conversation.
3. Commit yourself ahead of time. Scared of going to the gym because you’re out of shape? Make an appointment with a trainer (most gym’s offer a free training session or two when you join) as you’re much more likely to go once you have an actual person waiting for you. Worried about going to your first twelve-step meeting? Tell others when and where you plan to attend. Committing yourself ahead of time or voicing intentions to loved ones will make you feel more likely to follow through and the declaration will also boost your determination and courage.
4. Do it with a friend: Social anxiety makes you uncomfortable about signing up for a class or joining a meetup group? Recruit a friend to do it with you. Interacting with another person is a tried and true way of managing fear and anxiety—which is why people waiting for job interviews often strike up conversations in the waiting room.
5. Do something similar in a less scary setting. Afraid of giving a presentation to your coworkers and boss? Do a comedy open mic with complete strangers. You’re less likely to mind what they think because they’re strangers (not to mention it’s likely they’ve been drinking and are more prone to laugh), plus and you’re not a professional so expectations are low. After trying to get laughs from strangers, pointing to your power point slides without the pressure of having to make the boss laugh will seem like a breeze.
6. Think of how good you’ll feel afterwards. Concerned about asking for a raise or promotion? When something scares us and we tackle it, we tend to feel a rush of confidence, pride, empowerment, motivation, and determination immediately thereafter. Give thought to how great you’ll feel about yourself after you take this leap of faith, after you act despite your fear. This kind of thinking will also help decrease some of your reluctance and it will increase your determination.
7. Think of the doors that would open. Afraid to admit you need psychological help? Going to a mental health professional or support group is a big step and one that be intimidating for many people. Consider all the ways your life could be different if you were able to tackle your issue(s) successfully, and use the surge of motivation it gives you to take the necessary step.
For science based tools to treat common psychological wounds, check out Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014).
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Copyright 2015 Guy Winch
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