Practicing Courage

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Practicing courage once landed me on my back in the mud. It was worth it.

These last few months I’ve become very aware of a tendency I have to give up on (or at least procrastinate on) tasks, projects, and conversations that I think are going to be hard or scary. And maybe this is natural enough. We are hardwired as human beings to avoid danger and seek pleasure. The thing is, sometimes the most joyful experiences take hard work and big risks to arrive at. Paradoxically, when we avoid challenge, we might also avoid joy.

So how can I, how can we, break free of this trap? I’ve noticed that sometimes, when I think about challenging things that I should do, or that I’d like to do, my brain automatically seems to say, “that’s hard. You won’t be able to do it.” Or, “that will take a long time. Don’t bother.” Or, “that’s scary. Don’t risk it.” Really, it’s no wonder my brain sends me these messages; in our society, we are bombarded daily with the message that tasks should be quick, easy and painless. Instant messages. Instant noodles. As a society are we at risk of losing our stick-to-it-iveness and courage?

I’m wondering, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this, if courage is something that takes practice. Maybe I can change the messages from my brain by being brave more often. I’m not talking skydiving here. I’m conducting a little personal experiment right now to see if being brave and persistent in little ways can help me strengthen my “courage muscles.” So far this has meant practicing tennis (something I’ve always found difficult), trying to drive a little more often (something I’ve always found scary), and making conversation with strangers (something I’ve always found awkward). I’ll let you know the results as I get further into this experiment, but two months in, I’m already noticing a slight openness in my spirit towards engaging with challenge.

How do you practice courage? Do you have any insight for the rest of us on living a braver, bolder life?

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