If fear is holding you back from living the life you envision, courage exercises can help.
Fear is a powerful force that feeds stagnation, and it prevents many of us from pursuing opportunities. People tend to get stuck within their comfort zones, like a self-made prison.
But there are things you can do to work your way out of it.
The most rewarding decisions you will ever make—embarking on a new career path, going after your passions, starting a family—require facing your fears through acts of courage.
Courage means taking action, despite your fears. And the more you develop your courage, the stronger it gets, just like any muscle.
Learning to work your courage muscle can be simple and life-changing. I’m going to walk you through 10 practical exercises to develop courage and create the life you want.
1. Identify what scares you
Fear in all its forms—from slight doubts to debilitating anxieties—can make you feel uncomfortable. But it can also reveal a lot of useful information.
In some ways, fear can be healthy. Fear triggers your nervous system and the survival instincts that keep you safe from real danger. For example, there are good reasons not to walk down a dark alley at night.
Other kinds of fears are unhealthy. They can develop in response to trauma, stress, or negative experiences. If you go through a toxic relationship, for example, your fear may block you from trusting people and finding love again.
Fears can also reveal your core values and beliefs. You may feel afraid to start your dream company because you might fail. You get scared of public speaking because you might make a mistake. These fears show us an opportunity for courage.
For this exercise, make a list of every fear that you have.
By writing down your fears, you can identify which are healthy and which are holding you back from fully participating in your life. You can also reveal opportunities for growth, healing, and some goals that feel important, yet scare you.
2. Describe your fears
Research published in Psychology Today found that putting your feelings into words helps curb negative responses to fear. Voicing your fear doesn’t make you weak — it makes you more brave.
Rather than denying your fear, or minimizing it, speak openly and share the fears that are holding you back.
In this courage exercise, take the time to express your fears in detail — first by writing them down, and then by speaking with a supportive friend, coach, or mentor.
By describing exactly what you are afraid of, you are empowering yourself to act with courage in the face of even your worst fears.
3. Break out of your routine
Having courage isn’t easy. So if you want to make big changes, start small.
It might sound silly, but science shows how small controlled steps can develop the courage muscle that you’ll need for bigger challenges.
Make a tiny change to experience something unfamiliar.
Change up a habitual pattern such as brushing teeth with the opposite hand, finding a new route to work for three days in a row, or ordering a totally unknown menu item.
Small changes to break out of a comfortable routine are a way to practice experiencing discomfort, without taking any real risk.
4. Do something that makes you nervous
When you let fear stop you from having fun, or expressing your individuality, it can add up to a life unlived. These are what I call medium-sized fears, the kind that lead you to avoid standing out, being seen, and connecting with people in an authentic way.
Take a medium-sized risk. Find something that makes you nervous, and do it anyway.
Wear that funky outfit, bold neck-tie, or bright lipstick. Talk to someone you’d love to meet but haven’t found the nerve to approach. Take a weekend trip to a city you’ve never visited and do it solo.
Who knows the opportunities that will come your way?
5. Pursue a bold act of courage
Now it’s time to advance to bigger, riskier activities.
First, I want to point out a distinction between acts of courage and doing something bat-shit crazy. The difference lies in what’s behind the action.
Courage means doing something bold, in line with your core values, in the presence of fear. Risks of this kind are an essential component of living with passion and purpose.
But bat-shit crazy is taking big risks when the motivation is bravado, ego, or simply showing off.
Remember the deep-rooted fears you identified in the first exercise? Refer back to them to identify ways to face one of those big fears, that will bring you closer to something you want in life.
Think of something big you’ve always wanted to do but felt too afraid, and begin steps to pursue it.
Because these are big moves, they are not accomplished in a single act. But you have to begin with the first step to put the whole thing in motion.
Here are some examples of how you might begin to pursue a big act of courage:
- Hire a career coach and work toward a big promotion.
- Find a competent therapist to begin healing from your most shame-based experiences or trauma.
- Visit a personal trainer and start training to run that half-marathon.
6. Connect with a mentor
Mentors matter. According to research, people who work with an experienced mentor:
- Earn more money
- Receive a greater number of promotions
- Experience higher career satisfaction
- Feel more committed to their career
- Are more likely to believe that they will advance at work
As someone further along the journey, your mentor knows what it takes to achieve success. They can provide insight and awareness around an area of your life that could use a fully developed courage muscle.
Ask a mentor or coach to support you to fully clarify “that thing” which could use an adjustment.
Work with your mentor, a coach, or other safe individuals who can support you to assess the dynamic of your strengths and weaknesses and your desire to change. Hold regular accountability meetings with your mentor.
7. Acknowledge your strengths
Researchers found that people who understand and develop their strengths feel happier and less depressed, even at times when nothing goes right. But beyond helping you feel better, understanding your strengths gives you a courage boost.
When you acknowledge your skills, you are far more confident in your ability to succeed — and more willing to go all-in on those big acts of courage.
Create a list of your competencies that you can leverage, and identify weaknesses to work around.
This exercise can give you the confidence to flex your courage muscle and move past irrational fears. Working on what you’re already good at, instead of focusing on your weaknesses, also leads to more successes and reinforces motivation.
8. Embrace uncertainty
Making big life changes can come with a lot of fear and uncertainty. Recognizing that uncertainty is part of the process, and not a reason to stop, can help you stay the course.
In William Bridges’ Transition Model, the time when you feel lost and unsure is called the Neutral Zone. It looks like this:
The exercise is simply to look at this chart, and identify where you are in your transition.
So when things feel scary and uncertain, you can remind yourself that fear is natural and normal when navigating new situations. It doesn’t mean you have to turn back or give up.
With the right strategies to refocus your life, unstable emotions shift into feelings of confidence and accomplishment — eventually boosting your motivation and leading to success.
9. Practice vulnerability courage exercises
Do you blend in, conform, or hide your feelings out of fear of rejection?
This holds you back from experiencing a full life, expressing your creativity, and connecting with others authentically.
Research suggests that vulnerability is actually the secret to connection.
“We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us. We’re afraid that our truth isn’t enough — that what we have to offer isn’t enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing.”Brene Brown
For this exercise, I challenge you to practice any activity that allows you to show up and be seen.
Apply for the Ted Talk, write that book, attend that party, paint that portrait. These activities strengthen your courage muscle through transparency and vulnerability.
Accept that your raw truth is enough, without trying to edit or impress. Find a way to speak it, live it, and come out to it.
10. Celebrate every win, no matter how small!
When you do something that requires courage, you deserve to celebrate. Harvard Business Review reported that those who celebrate small wins tend to succeed in the long run.
Whenever something scares you, and you make a courageous choice to do it anyway, congratulate yourself!
Hold regular accountability meetings with your mentor, coach, and team. Make sure to celebrate your victories. Reframe the low points as learning experiences. Keep at it.
When you make courage exercises a regular practice, you will have many reasons to celebrate — and you will see your life shift from fear to fierce!
So even if you’re afraid, put it all on the table. If you need support on how to begin to do this, give us a shout.
We’re in the business of courage. We’d be honored to support you.