"I want to do ______, but I don't have the courage to just go for it."
Does this state of mind mean you will never accomplish what you want to accomplish?
First, let's state the obvious: You only need to "muster up" courage when you believe courage is needed. In other words, you only need to find courage when you're in a state of mind that is heavier than courage (e.g. fear, shame, etc.)
(learn more about this scale here)
If you are in a state of mind that is lighter (feels better) than courage, you recognize something HUGE: You do not need courage and never did. It's
unnecessary. You will feel naturally assured that things will work out, and so you feel no need to muster up courage.
For example, think of the first time you did something scary, like showing up at a new job. The first day requires courage, but after several days or weeks at your job, you probably walk in for your shift feeling much calmer or at least average. You no longer feel like you need courage because the fear of that thing has subsided.
Second, the further you are from courage on the scale, the more difficult it feels to reach it. For example, if I'm simply fearful (look up at the scale again), courage will seem more possible than if I'm in shame (much further away on the scale. Shame is a deep state of self-rejection).
So why does this matter?
Conventional wisdom teachings us to muster courage. "Just be brave! Go for it! Don't think, just do! Be fearless!"
If these platitudes have worked for you, then great! Keep using them. But if you're anything like me, this kind of advice has not work AT ALL :D In fact, when I hear these things I'm immediately triggered into feeling inadequate or defective, like, "Why can't I be brave like other people seem to be?" Or I feel rushed into doing something I don't feel ready for. And so ironically, these well meaning platitudes actually trigger some people wayyy down into shame or fear (two emotions that are much denser than courage) Jumping way up to courage from these states is difficult.
And so how do we untangle this mess?
We find a new approach to reaching courage that actually WORKS for US, rather than one that ends up increasing anxiety + uncertainty. Most people on this planet spend the majority of their time in states below courage because it's easy to get stuck here.
Now remember, this doesn't mean that you are WEAK or defective. That's a fear-based misunderstanding our culture has created - It is the 'shadow' we project onto each other and out into the world.
But the fact is this: Without ever accessing courage, we will not live to our fullest potential, and we will not experience profoundly positive states of emotion. Simple as that. Courage is a gateway to everything you want to experience (This is why we have that saying, "Everything you want is on the other side of fear.")
But for many people, brute force + pushing ourselves is not the most effective way to access courage. It makes things harder + scarier because we serve as our own drill sargeant, NOT our own supporter. And, it can actually make things in your life take longer than necessary.
If you are feeling fear or any other negative emotion, self support, forgivesness, + compassion are always the answer. If you are angry at yourself, that's ok too. But self-compassion must stream through everything, including anger at yourself.
So now how do you actually practice this new approach to mustering courage?
You start bolstering yourself with every single support option available.
For example, lets say you want to do something that would require public speaking, but you can't fathom mustering the courage to do it.
FIRST, ask this critical question: What would make me feel as if I didn't NEED courage to do this specific thing?
Let's say the answers you come up with are:
- I'd feel much better if I had someone to do it with.
- I'd probably feel much less afraid if I meditated every morning up until the event.
- I'd probably feel more relaxed if the audience was small at first.
Whatever the conditions to decrease fear + create the feeling that courage is not needed, try to create those conditions.
This is the new approach to mustering courage. We actually want to make ourselves feel like we don't need courage desperately. By doing this, we are closing the gap between how we feel and how we want to feel just be shifting conditions around.
The ego might say things like, "You need to just do this all at once! You need to do this without needing any conditions, otherwise you're a coward. You need to do it quickly or you're gonna be a failure forever." etc, etc.
These kinds of thoughts are pure fear + they don't come from a place of real, objective truth. Let them exist, but continue to create the conditions you need for SAFETY.
Remember: When you feel you need to muster courage, you must, by definition, be grappling with fear. The opposite of feeling fearful is feeling safe, and so SAFETY is the solution to feeling like you don't have enough courage.
Look, internet memes and self-proclaimed gurus + coaches will preach the idea of being "fearless," but this denies the reality that we all have nervous systems. It denies our human-ness. Fear serves us + helps us stay away from dangerous things that would actually threaten our lives. And so preaching about "fearlessness" is a very rudimentary understanding of how to feel better.
In reality, it's this: Create a sense of safety + support, to the best of your ability, so that you feel less of a need to take a huge, uncomfortable leap. This is mastering self-care, and it shrinks the gap between negative emotions and courage.
Side Note: Why is the go, go, go! just do it! be fearless!" approach so common, whereas the approach I just outlined is not talked about much, or not favored?
It's simply because culture is still skewed toward valuing masculine approaches over feminine approaches. The direct, assertive "go for it" approach is totally valid if it works for you, and masculine approaches are totally valid. But the issue our society still grapples with is that we assume the more indirect, emotion-based, intuitive, feminine approach is weak + less than.
We subtly shame ourselves if that approach works better for us, and so an entire chunk of the human population can't reach courage because of all the stigma around HOW we reach it. I personally have forced myself to use the masculine approach just to 'prove' I could, and even though I did the things that scared me + technically "succeeded," it didn't make me feel good. It didn't make me feel more confident + capable because I was going against my own nature + how I prefer to accomplish things.
The ends don't justify the means when we're abandoning ourselves in the process of reaching our goals.
In reality, you can use whatever approach works for you + still be a 'strong' person either way. The reason I outline the more feminine approach is because I have rarely in my lifetime seen it promoted as a good thing. I have only ever encountered the masculine approach in mainstream culture, which doesn't happen to work for my personality. And so here it is - a different approach to mustering courage.