Courage: The Path to Unshakable Confidence

perspective Feb 01, 2023

After years of mentoring individuals looking to break through, one block has continued to show up again and again: lack of courage. Whether it's trouble speaking up in meetings, approaching difficult conversations, establishing boundaries, chasing a dream job, or any other form of inaction…the thing holding us back is often a lack of courage. 

Now, most people feel as though they lack confidence, so they try to take a bold approach to the workplace or, worse yet, be the loudest one in the room. However, confidence is much deeper and different than this. If you want to build trustworthy, unshakeable confidence, it has to start from within. Confidence is a complex beast composed of many parts, and building it requires a tactical approach. One of the most significant factors in building up that confidence is, you guessed it, courage.

Courage’s Impact

Courage is a quality that is often underrated. It is the ability to face fear, danger, or difficulty with boldness and perseverance. When we have courage, we don't let our fear stop us from taking action or our doubts stop us from trying. Instead, we take a leap of faith and trust that action over inaction will be worth it. 

"Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage." Maya Angelou

Before we can establish courage, however, we must be able to identify the most common blocks. From there, we can then build out exercises to practice courage in the face of these blocks. From my research and experience, five fears stop most people. 

Courage Blocks 

Fear of Rejection. Abigail declines the option to negotiate for a better wage because she is afraid her boss will say no. Her fear of rejection makes it difficult to take risks and engage in activities or relationships, leading to less involvement in social situations, decreased risk-taking, and a strong avoidance of rejection. 

Fear of Criticism. Marc decides not to speak up in meetings because he is afraid his ideas will be questioned. His fear of criticism leads him to avoid anything that might subject him to scrutiny. He is held hostage by his fear and consequently performs far below his potential in order to remain comfortable. 

Fear of Competition. Cecilia chooses not to apply for a new job because she is sure that she will lose, and she does not want to go up against people she does not feel equal to. She uses self-to-other comparisons to determine whether or not to act, and by choosing to withdraw, she forfeits any chance for success. Her comfort zone and inner critic tell her she’s not quite good enough and that she should just be content where she is at. 

Fear of Failure. Tom determines he is better off saying ‘no’ to requests despite his interest in them because he is afraid he will not perform well. His fear manifests through procrastination, avoiding tasks, self-doubt, anxiety, and low self-esteem. He feels as though not trying is better than trying and failing. As a result of his fear, he accepts fewer opportunities and consequently suffers from a lack of motivation, decreased concentration, and reduced productivity and performance. 

Fear of Success. Lydia does not want to perform too highly as she does not want to risk outperforming her peers, parents, family, or friends. She feels as though she will be judged for her efforts to succeed and thus remains confined to her comfort zone, pushing away abundance and success through self-sabotage and false judgments. 

"Fears are nothing more than a state of mind." Napoleon Hill

All of these people exist. I have seen them all, and in fact I have experienced them all myself at one point or another. You might even be reading right now and feeling as though it describes you. If you feel that spark inside of you, that’s a great sign. It means you are ready to take action and start overcoming those courage blocks one by one. 

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." Nelson Mandela

6 Courage Building Exercises

Start small. You don't have to take on a huge challenge first. Instead, start with a small step and work your way up. Courage is like a muscle; the more you use it, the stronger it gets. So try to get out of your comfort zone with something minimal at least once a day.

Keep Track. When I first decided I was going to build up my courage, I noted every time that I decided to speak up in a meeting when I otherwise would have stayed silent. I used a tally count at the top of my notebook and started to see the number grow each week…a subtle, yet tangible reminder that I was growing. Whether it be tally marks, setting a weekly goal of doing 5 uncomfortable things, or asking others for feedback as you continue on your journey, find a definitive method that works for you, and keep track of your progress.

Practice self-care. Taking care of yourself is especially important when building courage, as your Inner Critic will screech as soon as you get out of your comfort zone. By taking care of yourself (listening to music, stealing a quick nap, lunch at your favorite restaurant, or any other self-care practice you enjoy), you will be in a better place mentally and emotionally to take on any challenge. Studies have shown that it is easier to feel courageous when we are centered and connected with ourselves. 

Celebrate success. It might be that you contributed when you otherwise felt compelled to stay silent. Maybe you approached your boss and asked for help on your project. Or perhaps you sent in that application despite the fears holding you back. No matter how small the victory, recognize it and reward yourself for taking the step forward. I used to write down my victories each day in my notebook, and while many seem small now, they were significant at that time. I like to remind myself of how far I have come and celebrate every time I choose action over fear.

Embrace Mistakes. When it comes to courage, how you handle mistakes and failures is far more important than how you handle success. It is essential that you shift your perspective to see mistakes as learning and growth opportunities. If you are willing to make mistakes and fail, you will be more likely to take action.

Get support. Asking for help might just be the most courageous act you could take. It is a strong display of vulnerability with a drive to grow. On top of this, it is a valuable tool for relieving stress and talking things through. So often we create negative narratives in our heads, and we jump to conclusions. We can combat this simply by asking for help. And if you ever feel as though you have nobody to talk to, don’t hesitate to send me a message. I know that reaching out for support has always made me feel more courageous when faced with difficult decisions or circumstances. I am sure that it will help you as well.  

Bonus Tip for Leaders 

Being a courageous leader requires a combination of vulnerability, empathy, and resilience. Taking risks, having faith in yourself, and facing difficult decisions head-on are all part of leading with courage. Once you establish yourself as a courageous leader, you have to realize that courage is contagious. The importance of compassion and understanding towards the people you lead  while maintaining a strong sense of purpose and direction cannot be understated. Here are five quick tips to help you on your journey to becoming a courageous leader.

  • Be proactive. Don't wait for others to make decisions for you or take action. Have the courage to make decisions and take action when necessary.
  • Remain resilient in the face of adversity. Don't give up when times get tough. Embrace challenges as opportunities to grow and develop, and set a positive example for your workers.
  • Lead with empathy. Being a courageous leader involves understanding the concerns and needs of those you lead. Make sure to be compassionate and listen to their perspectives.
  • Set a clear vision and purpose for your team. Clarify your goals and objectives, and ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • Celebrate successes. Acknowledge and reward the hard work and accomplishments of your team. It probably means more to them than you know.

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchil

In Sum

Practicing courage is a challenging but rewarding experience. The best ways to build momentum are to take small steps and celebrate successes along the way. Start by challenging yourself to do something courageous each day, such as speaking up for yourself or trying something new. 

Remember: be kind and patient with yourself as you move through the process. Finding a supportive person or group to help you stay motivated is critical. With consistent effort and determination, you will develop a courageous mindset, and soon enough, your confidence will be unshakable.

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