Simple Acts of Courage

One way to train your courage muscles is simply to decide that you’re going to lean in a courageous direction when the opportunity arises. Don’t worry about big, bold acts that require an 8+ level of courage on a 1-10 scale. Instead look for some 3s and 4s that you can do more easily.

When you lean towards these easier opportunities to exercise courage, it can help those 8s, 9s, and 10s seem more accessible, like they’re 1-2 notches lower than before. Moreover, the 5s, 6s, and 7s will start to feel more accessible too.

At some of our previous workshops, we gave attendees a list of about 50 different social courage exercises to attempt. They were free to choose which of the 50 to work on, and no one was expected to do them all. People were instructed to rank these challenges on a simple 1-3 scale: 1 meaning it was easy and that they could do that item right away without much difficulty, 2 meaning that it would take some courage but they could see themselves eventually doing it, and 3 meaning that it was out of reach and not possible for them.

We sent people out in small groups on the Las Vegas Strip, encouraging them to start with their 1s and then see if they could work up to attempting some 2s. Each person had only 10 minutes to work on their exercises with a couple other attendees observing and supporting them. We did one round of these exercises each day of the 3-day workshop.

By the time people returned from the first round on Day 1, a show of hands revealed that about half of the people in the room had already completed at least one of their 3s. That’s half of the room that in just 10 minutes had already done a courage challenge that just a short while earlier they’d rated as being out of reach.

Having some social support to do these challenges was a factor, but another factor was the instruction to start easy and build up. By starting with the 1s, people leaned in the direction of courage, but the first step was small and accessible, not overwhelming. After a few 1s (sometimes only a single 1), the 2s felt more accessible, and then the 3s came into range. By the time people were ready to tackle a 3, that 3 often felt more like a 2. And this all played out in no more than 10 minutes for half of the attendees.

By the end of the workshop, most of the room had completed at least one of their 3s, with many people doing several of them. Some people felt motivated to keep working on these exercises during the lunch break and the evenings outside the workshop hours – with some people eventually finishing all of their 3s from the list. The impossible became accessible.

Building momentum with baby steps can be more powerful than we realize, not just with courage but with other personal growth improvements as well. Imagine starting with an easy courage challenge and building up to actually doing one that you framed as impossible in only 10 minutes. Can that be done? Of course.

Time-wise many courage challenges take only seconds. How long does it take to perform an act of courage in your daily life. Many acts of courage involve speaking just a few words:

  • I quit.
  • I’m moving out.
  • I like you.
  • Will you go out with me?
  • Call me Master.
  • We’re out of coffee.

This begins with the intention to lean forward with action to express alignment with an important value. In this short article, the main example is courage, but you could choose other values such as honesty, caring, or obedience.

Try this as a simple exercise: Pick a value you desire to improve your alignment with. Then invite reality to provide some relatively easy challenges that you can accept within the next few days. When you spot one of those challenges, lean in with action. Give reality the benefit of the doubt when you’re wondering if you’ve spotted one.

Then when you’ve completed the first wave, and the experience feels like it’s tapering off, invite reality to go another round. Ask for slightly bigger challenges. See if you can continue to rise to the occasion.

Have you ever had the experience of noticing some clutter that bothered you, and so you decided to clean up one little area of your physical space, and pretty soon you found yourself cascading into an hour or more of cleaning and organizing? You probably started with something relatively easy and accessible, and this built momentum to tackle more difficult areas.

If you don’t consciously lean towards your values, you’ll be nudged to lean in directions that may not serve you as well. For instance, you’ll find yourself leaning into action with easy and accessible breadcrumbs online, and soon you’re flowing into more immersive actions that may be misaligned with your values. This can cost you time and energy that you’d rather invest elsewhere.

So try the simple exercise of choosing where you want to lean in the next few days. Pick a value that you’d like to align with and that matters to you, such as courage or playfulness or creativity. Let reality know how you want to develop your character. Otherwise someone out there will nudge you to lean towards obedience and loyalty to their values – in fact they’ve already succeeded if you have a boss… or a Master. 😉

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Read Simple Acts of Courage by Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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