Courage, conventional thinking goes, is a quality of our character. We either have it or we don’t.
There’s something to this thinking, after all. There are those whose natural courage far exceeds that of the rest of us. How else do we explain the deeds of Medal of Honor recipients, or the heroes of September 11th? Why do some people step up in the face of certain death, whether physical or professional? Surely these people have something the rest of us don’t have.
It’s a valid point, as far as it goes. Just as some people are naturally stronger, or smarter, or faster than others, just as some are better writers or climbers or speakers, some are naturally more comfortable with risk.
But just as we can become stronger, or mentally quicker, or faster, just as we can become better at dancing or drawing or singing, we can become more courageous through deliberate practice.
The military knows this. Most soldiers, sailors, airmen–even most marines–don’t enter the service capable of standing their ground under fire. That comes through training, through repeating difficult tasks again and again at increasing levels of intensity until they know what to do even when fear shuts their brains down. Police and firefighters do the same.
When we make courage a habit, we can’t help but increase it. But just like developing any skill, we have to be deliberate about it. We have to practice. We have to do things that frighten us.
I have no head for heights. So when I got the opportunity recently to climb to the top of a rocky outcropping with a four-hundred-foot drop down one side of it, I made a point of doing it. It wasn’t a tough climb; we had already hiked all but the last fifty feet or so up the other side of the mountain, and the path to the top was a gentle slope. But there was that drop on the other side. Most of the group didn’t climb the rock, didn’t care to or didn’t feel the need. I did it because it scared the hell out of me.
This blog is the same. All my life, I have feared criticism, feared being wrong. Much easier to hide and not put myself out there. So every post here, every tweet, every comment I leave on someone else’s page, is an opportunity for others to notice me, to point out how wrong I am and bring down an avalanche of ridicule. But courage is the quality (or skill) I most admire, so I make a point of reaching out. Every day. I don’t do it because I’m confident in my message. I do it because it scares the hell out of me. I do it because courage is a habit I want to build.
What do you do to build your courage habit? How do you make sure you do the things that scare you?