10 Ways to Build Courage

By Jennifer McDougall

If you’re like me, you’ve been called courageous. It’s a compliment I don’t take lightly, but it also makes me uncomfortable sometimes. I know that courage is something anyone can cultivate in themselves. As it turns out, there are many ways to become more courageous (and they don’t require anything more than a little effort).

Here are ten things that have helped me build my own courage over the years:

Cast a vision.

Your vision is your goal, dream, or idea. It can be as simple as wanting to lose weight, break free from addiction, end self-sabotaging cycles, or want to be an internationally renowned scientist. When you know what you want your life to look like, it’s easier for you to stay focused on getting there.

One of the best ways to build courage is by creating a vision for yourself and then going after it with all your heart and mind. Visions are like roadmaps: They help guide us toward our destination!

Be vulnerable.

When you’re open to feedback, criticism, and failure, you put yourself in a position to be more courageous. When you’re willing to allow others into your world and consider their opinions, it’s easier for them to be honest with you. They’ll know they can trust you not to get defensive or shut down when they say something that isn’t easy to hear.

Being vulnerable is also an essential part of being courageous because it helps us see things clearly—we can identify what matters and how we want our lives (and ourselves) to look moving forward. Being vulnerable doesn’t just mean sharing our thoughts and feelings with others—it means opening up our minds as well; letting go of preconceived notions about how things should look before changing anything; allowing ourselves room for growth while still maintaining control over our lives in order not to let others take advantage of us (or vice versa); recognizing opportunities for change rather than resisting them out of fear that things won’t work out exactly how we want them to.

Practice assertiveness.

If you have trouble standing up for yourself or others, you can start by practicing assertiveness in little ways. For example, when someone else is talking loudly on the phone, don’t just roll your eyes and sigh; say, “Okay, please take a breath and speak more calmly.” or “Can you please lower your voice?” This will help build your confidence in speaking up.

If a conversation makes you uncomfortable, politely but firmly tell the person they’re making you feel uncomfortable and why (for example: “I’m sorry, but this conversation makes me uncomfortable because you’re saying some pretty offensive things”). If someone does something unfriendly or rude toward others, think about how you want to react before doing anything about it (for example: Do I want to confront this person directly? (Or should I talk with the manager or person in charge?)

Call yourself on your BS.

Be honest with yourself. If you’re afraid of something, admit it. And if you think something is foolish or ridiculous, say it.

This doesn’t mean you should go around insulting people; instead, you should assess what scares you and challenge those things head-on. So, for example, if I were afraid of heights but were determined to conquer my fear by climbing a high mountain, I’d first explain to myself why the idea of being far up high scares me (I could fall) and then test out my newfound bravery by going on regular hikes up steep hills and appreciating the beauty from the top.

Get into your body.

To get in touch with your body, think of a time when you felt strong, powerful, or courageous. Then remember what it felt like to be in that moment. Maybe it’s an image or a physical sensation; whatever comes up for you is okay. Just try to feel what that felt like and let yourself experience it again for a moment.

Imagine being there again, but this time, imagine that instead of seeing yourself from above (as if through someone else’s eyes), imagine looking at yourself from inside the scene instead. See what it looks like from where you are now, rather than looking at another person’s viewpoint outside. See if any feelings come up as a result, for example, “I’m brave because I’m strong” or “I have courage because I have fear.”

Cultivate authenticity.

There is a difference between authenticity and faking it. Faking it is only a temporary solution because you will eventually be found out. Authenticity comes from being true to yourself, knowing what you stand for, and acting accordingly.

It’s not about being afraid of what people think of you; it’s about following your values regardless of what others think or say about them.

Authenticity cannot be faked or forced; instead, it’s an ongoing process in which we make conscious choices about how we want to live our lives each day—and then act on those choices with integrity and conviction. Such as choosing every day to stay sober and improve ourselves from the inside out. Taking care of yourself is a conscious act of self-love.

Set boundaries.

  • Set boundaries with yourself.
  • Set boundaries with others, including your family and friends, clients or customers, coworkers and colleagues, service providers, and anyone you interact with regularly.
  • Set boundaries with your environment: where you spend most of your time (your home, office) and where you spend part of your time but could easily avoid by simply staying away from them. These are places that cause your heart to race, trigger unsettling feelings, or where you feel unsafe.
  • Setting boundaries requires self-control; it’s easy to allow others to dictate how we spend our time or what we do in our environment if we’re not careful about setting up rules for ourselves that uphold those limits.

Build your community.

  • To build your courage, you need to build your community.
  • To be courageous, it helps to be part of a community.
  • The more people in your life who understand what you are going through and support you, the better equipped for the courage you need.

Cultivate acceptance of uncertainty.

Uncertainty is an inevitable part of life. We all live with some uncertainty, and while it can be scary and off-putting, it’s important to remember that there are many upsides too. Accepting uncertainty will help you feel more comfortable with the unknown and avoid getting stuck in a rut that won’t allow you to grow as a person. Acceptance is key in recovery because it helps you face your fears and grow past them.

Do the scary thing anyway.

We all have a little voice in our head that loves to talk us out of doing things. When it comes to building courage, however, this voice will be your greatest enemy. The more you tell yourself that you’re not up for something, the less likely you are to do it—and then the cycle continues.

To start building courage, the best thing to do is just go ahead and do what scares you, such as getting sober. If there’s something holding you back from being brave, whether it’s giving a presentation at work, leaving a toxic relationship, speaking up for yourself, setting boundaries, going to rehab, or having a hard conversation with someone you’re intimidated by. You can’t be brave if you don’t do the scary thing.

Bravery is a muscle that can be built over time, just like any other muscle in the body.

Just as your body gets stronger by lifting weights, you can build courage through small acts of bravery.

  • Make a list of things that scare you or make you feel anxious, then challenge yourself to do one thing from this list each week.
  • Start small: If something seems too big to tackle, break it down into smaller pieces until nothing is left but one tiny step toward your goal.

Remember that courage is never a given. It’s a choice we make every single day. So get out there and be brave.


10 Ways to Build Courage
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