How to Be Brave: 10 Ways to Build Your Courage Muscles for Life
Have you ever thought to yourself, If only I’d had the guts? Ever looked back on your life and wished you’d been braver? Chances are you have.
We all need to be brave at times. But let’s face it, acting bravely is easier said than done. It requires rising above our innate desire to protect ourselves from pain and avoid the risk of losing something we value—our pride, our job, the approval of our friends.
But here’s the deal: While no one is born with an immunity to fear, all of us can learn to rise above it. Courage is not an attribute endowed on the lucky; instead, it’s a learned behavior, a skill. And like all skills, it can be strengthened and mastered with practice. Just like building your muscles at the gym, you can build your bravery simply by committing to “train the brave.” Daily.
If you’re unsure where to begin, here are 10 acts of everyday courage to get you started on building your courage muscles, borrowed from my book Brave: 50 Everyday Acts of Courage to Thrive in Work, Love and Life. I know that if over the next 10 days you do at least one brave thing daily, you’ll feel braver and your future will grow brighter.
1. Set a bold goal to be brave.
“We fail far more often by timidity than by over-daring,” said David Grayson. So if there’s an area of your life right now—your business, your body, your relationship status—in which you aren’t inspired, set yourself a bold goal that really lights you up (even if it scares you a little, too). Perhaps something like going on 10 dates in the next 10 weeks, doubling your revenue in the next two years or running a marathon. When people underestimate themselves, they may never get to know what they’re capable of. Don’t do the same. You’ve got to think bigger before you can act bigger.
2. Say no to the good.
It’s very easy to fill your day by being busy. The question is, busy doing what? If you are saying yes to the many good offers, invitations and opportunities that come your way, you could be using up all your capacity to pursue the good instead of the truly great things waiting on you. Does saying no mean you might disappoint people occasionally? Sure. But better that than to feel disappointed in yourself later on. Sometimes you have to say no to the good to create space for the great.
3. Be brave and ask for what you want.
If you find yourself frustrated that you’re not getting what you want or need, consider that you may not have asked for it. People aren’t mind readers, and expecting them to know what you want can end in frustration and resentment. If there’s something you want, you’ve got to be willing to ask. Seriously, what have you got to lose? Even if they say no, at least you know where you stand.
4. Say sorry.
You aren’t perfect. You make mistakes. Sometimes pride, insecurity or even jealousy can get the better of you. When it does, be big enough to own it and apologize for what you did, even if any hurt caused was unintentional, and seek to make amends. Your relationships will be all the stronger for it.
5. Be brave by standing up for yourself.
It’s a general rule of life that “you get what you tolerate.” If you tolerate someone overstepping your boundaries, making snide remarks or overlooking you for opportunities, you can generally expect more of the same. By not making a very clear stand for what you will and will not tolerate, you become complicit in your own misery. So stand up for yourself, teach people how you expect to be treated and refuse to cower to those who seek to intimidate you.
6. Toot your own horn.
While self-promotion is important in today’s business world, not everyone is willing to speak highly of themselves. Lay that humility aside. Advocating for yourself isn’t about proving superiority or stroking a needy ego, it’s about letting the people who can help you share your talents do just that. After all, the more people who know what you want, the more who can help you get it.
7. Dare to rock the boat to be brave.
Our fear of causing offense or ruffling feathers can keep us from saying what needs to be said. When writing my book, Stop Playing Safe, Kathy Calvin, a board member of the United Nations Foundation, shared with me, “Whatever your career, you have to be willing to take risks, to speak up and to push back when you don’t agree with what others are thinking.” So don’t let your desire to be liked stop you from respectfully expressing your opinion. When all you do is try to fit in, people please and keep the peace, you negate the difference your difference can make. Some boats need rocking.
8. Stop what’s not working for you.
We are wired with the tendency to continue investing in a proposition solely because of how much we’ve already put into it. So if there’s something you’ve been investing in (whether it be with your time, money or energy) that is clearly not working for you, have the courage to call it quits, learn whatever lessons you can and move on. Every day you spend investing in something that isn’t moving you closer to what you most want is a day you aren’t investing in something that could. In short, if you’ve found yourself in a hole, stop digging.
9. Be brave by letting go of the grudge.
Gandhi said it perfectly: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Of course, forgiving isn’t about forgetting the past, but letting go of using it against people—and yourself. To help you let go of a grudge, write a letter to whoever it is you’ve been angry toward and declare the time has come for you to let it go and move on. You don’t have to send it. You just have to write it. Holding onto anger leaves you walking through life with a ball and chain around your leg. Letting it go enables you to move forward feeling lighter and liberated.
10. Be decisive despite your uncertainty.
The fear of making a wrong decision can be what keeps you from making a right one. While sitting safely on the fence of indecision can feel sensible in the short-term, take a few moments to sit quietly and tune into the inner voice of wisdom that knows what is best, then make the call. Life rewards action, not indecision.
Only by deciding not to let fear sit in the driver’s seat and daring to do the very things that scare you can you ever realize how capable and courageous you truly are. So start today by doing one thing that takes you out of your comfort zone. Repeat it again tomorrow. Each time you act in the presence of fear, you dilute its power and amplify your own.
This article was updated April 2023. Photo by Ground Picture/Shutterstock