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Courage: how to develop it

Poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “He is who is not everyday conquering some new fear has not learned the secret of life.”

Emerson’s short quote probably feels like an understatement of the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in. This perfect storm of a health crisis, social turmoil, and economic adversity is of a size and scale like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

As the Earth’s most resilient and perceptive species, we are still our own best hope. We can survive and thrive. We can emerge stronger on the other side.

In order to do that we’ve got to replace our fear-based thoughts and responses with courageous ones. But how?

Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries, a professor at INSEAD, has spent 50-plus years as a psychotherapist and executive coach, and maintains that courage is like a muscle – it can be trained and strengthened.

The following techniques can be useful in finding and practicing courage:

Imagine the worst. What’s the worst that could happen by taking or not taking action? Looking into the abyss helps build immunity to it.

Acknowledge and reduce negativity bias. Many of us are prone to more negative thoughts than positive one. Knowing about this can help correct it by replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones.

Talk it out. This is no time to be the strong silent type. Opening up about fear, uncertainty and doubt has an empowering effect and it gives us the opportunity to learn and gain strength from others.

Practice with small acts. Performing small acts of courage in our everyday life helps us prepare for the biggest and most challenging ones.

Manage physical fitness. Fear is physically exhausting. Move more, sleep more, eat less. Building up physical stamina builds emotional stamina.

Remember you are not alone. We’re all in the same boat and reminding ourselves of that can give us courage and comfort as well.

Of course, there’s no secret formula, no instant solution. It’s about getting up every day, putting one foot in front of the other, and embracing the struggle.

Coaching legend John Wooden had a favorite saying that also speaks to courage and resilience, and that seems to fit right now: “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

Have a great week.

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