There is probably no better example of acting before you feel like it than the concept of bravery. By definition, bravery requires one to act in the face of fear, not the absence of it. We can often misuse bravery to imply that someone does not experience fear in a situation (“Look at her, she’s so confident and brave. Nothing rattles her.”). When we misuse the word bravery we can inadvertently tell ourselves that being brave requires a sense of unflappable confidence. Bravery suddenly seems at odds with doubt and fear. Quite the contrary, bravery is acting despite our doubt and fear.
Years ago I got into the sport of skydiving. Many people who had never done it, or never had the inclination to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, would often say something to the effect of, “Wow, you must be very brave to skydive.” My response was always, “Not really, I don’t have a fear of skydiving.” One time that a group of friends and I went skydiving, a member of our party was jumping for the first time and it was clear to everyone that he was nervous. He was sitting on the ground, physically shaking with fear. When I looked at him shaking, I did not see weakness. I saw the quintessential example of bravery. He was filled with fear, yet committed to jump out of a plane anyway. He completed his first skydive and had a smile on his face that wouldn’t fade away for days. I also assume that he went away feeling confident in his ability to face his fears and act in spite of them.
Simple steps to practice bravery:
- Recognize and accept your physical and emotional feelings of fear
- Identify what action you want to take in spite of your fear
- Take your feelings with you and decide to act quickly
If we never give ourselves the opportunity to feel fear, to be filled with doubt, and to ignore our anxiety that tells us to run away or don’t try that, but act in spite of those feelings, we will never know what we are capable of. Bravery requires risk. You might fail at the task at hand. But then again, if you act in spite of your fear and doubt, you have already succeeded. Be brave and take your fears along for the ride.
Shawn Healy, PhD