This is the second part of a self-care series by organizational development professional and author Anne Grady. Read Part One here.
Making changes is often awkward, difficult, and uncomfortable. It’s also where courage happens and how we can overcome fear.
I stumbled across a video by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski who explained how lobsters grow. These sea creatures have got this whole courage thing figured out. When a lobster grows, its shell becomes constricting and uncomfortable.
The shell doesn’t grow with the lobster, so in order to grow the lobster has to shed its shell to grow a bigger one. When it’s time to upgrade, it just scurries under a few rocks and hangs out vulnerably while it waits for its new shell to grow.
It continues to do this its whole life, sometimes more than 20 times. The only way for the lobster to grow is for it to be uncomfortable and vulnerable while it’s making a bigger, better shell.
Fear is Part of the Puzzle
Courage is being afraid and working through the discomfort. Just like the lobster, it means taking off your shell and being vulnerable.
Courage means you allow challenge and adversity to be a catalyst to help you grow strong enough and to help you overcome fear.
We don’t like leaving our comfort zones or forming new habits, even if the new habits are for our own good. However, getting back in the game and building lasting confidence will require change, and most likely some discomfort.
Being courageous isn’t hard when you’re happy and everything is hunky dory. It is when you’re exhausted, emotional, angry, and life is far away from what you had planned that finding your courage gets hard. Courage is how we choose to act during these times.
Being fearless and having courage are not mutually exclusive. In fact, true courage means being afraid and forging ahead anyway.
When I had facial paralysis, I cringed every time I looked in the mirror. Everywhere I went, I was so focused on how people looked at me, that’s all I saw.
A meeting planner at a conference called and asked me to speak about overcoming adversity. Ironically, she had no idea that any of this had happened to me. She was talking about the adversity I face raising [my son] Evan.
When I explained everything that had happened recently with the tumor and facial paralysis, she said, “That’s an even better message!”
My initial instinct was to say no. I was about to start radiation and I was still recovering from surgery. I certainly wasn’t up for travel, and I didn’t even want pictures taken of me with my face looking like it did, let alone show it to an audience of a few thousand people.
As I started to write the email declining the engagement, I was overtaken by sadness. I just sat there and cried. I cried in part because of everything that had happened, but part of me was crying out of pure fear.
After I let myself have a good cry, I decided that I can’t tell other people to find their courage if I’m not willing to find mine.
I picked up the phone and called the event planner. I explained that physically, I really wasn’t able to travel yet but asked if she would be willing to let me make a video. She was thrilled at the idea, and told me she thought I was brave.
It occurred to me in that moment that having courage didn’t mean I wasn’t afraid. I was petrified. Courage meant I did it anyway.
Fear is a normal part of a full life, but when it begins to impede your ability to live that life to its fullest, it’s time to do something about it.
No one strategy works for everyone. Here are a few steps I have found helpful to overcome fear:
Identify your fear and describe it. Name it.
Pay attention to your physical reactions. Simply recognizing increased heart rate or sweaty palms can alert you to take a few deep breaths.
Identify the root cause of your fear.
Reframe your thoughts and talk to yourself. I say, “Ok, Anne. You’ve got this.”
Take action. Even if it’s something small.
A Process to Peace
Before you can face down your fears, you must focus on what is truly important, and on the things you can directly affect. This takes thinking logically, no matter how creative you are. This doesn’t happen overnight—it’s a process.
A few things to know about the process:
Having the answers is not required! Initiating smart questions will stimulate courageous behavior. Make a list of really good questions and let those be your guide. (Such as, What thoughts are keeping me stuck? What’s the worst case scenario? What’s the best case scenario?.)
Stop worrying about what the outcome is going to look like, because sometimes there is just no telling how things will shape up. Don’t force it.
Stop looking to the past. Who you were in the past does not have to dictate who you are capable of becoming tomorrow. This is a big part of finding your courage. Courageous people blaze new trails and territory. What will yours be?
Time really does heal. Give yourself the gift of time to find your courage and build resilience to overcome obstacles and challenges in your life.
Stop comparing yourself to others! You have no idea what other people’s lives are about, where they’ve been, or what they are facing. Everybody has hardships; they’re just not advertising them. Redirect your thinking to become the best version of you.
Look within yourself. What are you really afraid of? How much is anxiety and emotionally driven fear? What are action steps that you can work through instead of being afraid? It’s helpful to distinguish the emotional from the logical.
Refuse to Let Fear Hold You Back
Emotional wounds will surely remind us of where we’ve been, but our personal history doesn’t have to dictate where we’re headed. How do we keep getting up after we have been knocked down? It is because we are resilient, and we do what needs to be done.
Anyone can give up; it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that is true strength. That is grit. That is courage and resilience. And that equals triumph.
When you are in crisis or in the midst of desperation, you are challenged to tap into strength that you may not realize you have. Finding courage in these times is no fun, but it frequently happens this way.
Finding courage and strength because you are inspired is the key. When you are passionate enough or motivated enough to do or have something, you find a way to make it happen. Sometimes, you just have to get out of your own way.
What will you do to begin your journey? Here are just a few ideas:
- Embark on a spiritual journey.
- Join a support group.
- Take classes to further your education.
- Renew a relationship.
- Join a health club.
- Take a vacation.
- Initiate a financial plan.
- Plan a family reunion.
- Get a health check-up.
- Try something adventurous.
- Revive a hobby you used to enjoy or start a new one.
- Support a cause you believe in.
Choose to Plug In
Perhaps you are now seeking a kind of courage you’ve never sought before, or maybe you are not sure why you lost the bravery you once possessed.
It doesn’t always require stressful circumstances or something traumatic to steal your courage.
Just by being insulated in a comfortable, safe environment for a period of time can diminish the need for courage. Status quo can equal complacency; complacency can kill courage.
People often ask me, “Anne, how do you stay so motivated?” My question is, “What makes you think I stay motivated?”
Trust me, my life isn’t all butterflies and daisies. I don’t “stay” motivated—I choose motivation. Courage means making the choice, even when you don’t feel like it.
It also means giving yourself permission to know when it’s time to choose motivation, and when it’s time to give yourself a break. This is a journey. You will take two steps forward and one step back. Whatever you do, don’t give up.
Where could you use some courage right now? Imagine what your life could look like if you removed all of the barriers.
What would you do? How would you feel? What would it look like? What could you accomplish if you lived up to your true potential?
Anne Grady is a Speaker, Author, and #TruthBomb Dropper.
Anne shares practical strategies that can be applied both personally and professionally to improve relationships, navigate change, and triumph over adversity. And she’ll make you laugh while she does it. Anne is a two time TEDx speaker, and her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. She is the best selling author of 52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work and Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience and Triumph.