I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about courage and what it means to be courageous. I have come to the realisation that courage can look different to different people depending on where they are in their lives.
For me being courageous is overcoming my self-doubt, pushing myself to write this blog and share my thoughts with you. It has also been overcoming my fear of looking stupid in public and appearing live on my Facebook live sessions.
Courage however might look different for other people. It may be that you stop ignoring a lump in your breast and see a doctor to get it checked. It may be that as a mum you confront your addiction to your mobile phone and realise how much time it is taking from your children. It may be that you need courage to admit to yourself that you are feeling unhappy and you need to do something about it. For you courage might be getting up every morning, getting dressed and getting through the day. Being courageous may be saying “no” to someone because you know that one more “yes” will push your life into overwhelm. Courage might be choosing to do something for yourself or to follow a passion or a dream. Courage may be letting go of a toxic relationship or things in your life that no longer serve you.
As a teacher, courage might be reflecting on your practice and “the way it has always been done” or speaking to a team member about something that they did to upset you. As a centre director, it may be having that difficult conversation with a parent whose baby has been bitten by another child. It may be having a courageous conversation that addresses someone’s practice.
Being vulnerable hurts
As human beings, we do not like to be uncomfortable and we hate change. Change often requires us to feel vulnerable and to confront thoughts and feelings that hurt. It can make us feel a little panicked and even defensive. We can be so fearful of discomfort and change that it can cause us to feel physically sick. Being vulnerable and confronting yourself is not for the weak or the faint-hearted.
Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness – Brene Brown.
Pain = Growth
We have no problems accepting discomfort and pain as something that is needed for our physical bodies. I am sure that we have all at one time visited the gym or done some form of physical exercise where we have pushed ourselves and felt the pain of stiff muscles the next day. “It’s a good pain” we told ourselves. Children with growing limbs go through “growing pains” all the time.
If you have ever injured yourself and seen a physiotherapist, they will actually give you stretches and exercises that make you feel pain and discomfort in order to strengthen the muscles and heal you. Even the healing act of massage require an element of pain interwoven with the feelings of pleasure. We accept this on a physical level, we tell ourselves, “No pain, no gain” but we have a really hard time accepting this at an emotional level.
Our brains don’t like change, they will do anything to take the easy way out and to maintain status quo. However, our brains need change.
In fact, I challenge you that change and discomfort are essential for growing your emotional intelligence, your resilience and your staying power or grit. Think of these moments of pain and discomfort as burpees for the brain. We know that it is going to hurt, but it is oh so good for us.
Accepting that it is going to hurt and going there anyway.
In another lifetime, I would have done anything to not feel the discomfort and the pain of confronting myself – my truths. My younger version was happy to keep myself safe, to do as I was told, to go with the flow, to not ruffle any feathers and to play it small. I would do anything to avoid conflict. If you met me on the floor of my centre, you would think, “wow she is always so calm” “she always looks so happy”.
Inside I was at war. I was at war with myself. I knew that there were truths that I was swallowing, conflicts that I was avoiding and incompetence, unkindness and prejudice in others that I was tolerating. I was doing so to keep the peace. I told myself that this was for the best for everyone involved. However, I was lying to myself – things that you bury have a way of festering and coming back up to the surface.
If I was being honest with myself, I was PETRIFIED.
I was petrified of admitting that I didn’t have the skills to handle the situation, of not having all the answers. I was petrified of making a mistake and letting my boss and my team down. I was petrified of not being in control of the situation of not living up to my own, impossibly, high expectations of myself. I put off challenging bad practice in others, because I was petrified about what shortcomings it would unearth about me. I was petrified of looking like a fraud and I was petrified of appearing weak. I was petrified of being wrong, and any feedback that wasn’t glowing praise. Paradoxically by the time the glowing praise had filtered through my brain it sounded like criticism to me anyway.
There was a thought loop, a narrative playing over and over in my head keeping me rooted to the spot. In this thought loop I was telling myself that I was not good enough, that I just couldn’t do it, that I just wasn’t strong enough.
But here’s the rub… this fear, was literally keeping me frozen in place, unable to move and grow as a teacher, a leader and as a person. And the sad truth is that those whom we serve, our children, our families our teams can’t afford for us to be disconnected and living in a state of denial and fear.
If you are reading this and feeling this right now, thinking that you are not strong enough….
Then let me be the one to tell you
You are filled with infinite, untapped reserves of strength, courage, creativity, persistence and possibilities – more than you will ever know.
As a child you could have been anything and everything your imagination allowed you to be. You haven’t lost it, you have just forgotten that you had it. You are just out of practice on how to use it. Have faith in yourself and listen to your intuition – you are just one choice away from being brave, from doing what feels right and doing something amazing that will change your life forever.
How to feel the fear and do it anyway
I have been told that fear is a projection and isn’t real, but I know first-hand that fear is very real. In some instances, such as stopping yourself from jumping off a cliff or protecting a loved one, fear is not only extremely real but vitally necessary. As human beings we have an innate sense of self preservation.
The fear that I am challenging you to tackle today is the crippling fear of not being right, not being in control, not trying, not speaking your truth and not living your potential as a human being.
We all have a purpose for being here, we all have a gift to give. Figuring out your true purpose might be the scariest thing that you do. It might mean feeling emotions and letting go of things that you have relied on to keep you safe. When you suppress your truth and wage a war within yourself you are allowing your fears to stop you from doing what you are meant to be doing.
The clincher is that the only thing that you can control is your own thoughts, feelings and actions. You cannot change other people and their thoughts, feelings and actions. The only person that you can change is yourself and that is enough.
Mastering yourself, your thoughts and your fears might be the most courageous thing that you ever do.
So how do you feel the fear and do it anyway?
These are some of they ways that I have helped me to move blocks in my life and overcome the fear.
- Be vigilant of your thoughts – realise that your thoughts have power. Your reality is shaped by your thoughts. You have a choice to allow the thought to control you or for you to control the thought. This might involve digging a bit deeper into the core beliefs that you have about yourself and doing a bit of spring cleaning of the soul – I know scary stuff!
- Your brain is a muscle – capable of growth and change. Watch your language, a key learning for me was to replace ” I can’t do it” with “I can’t do it yet”. Think of challenging situations as an opportunity for your brain to grow, develop and learn new skills.
- They are just feelings – as scary as they seem, feelings themselves can’t hurt you. They have as much power as you give them. Tough feelings and emotions are the price of admission to a meaningful life. Suppressing or denying feelings will only make them more difficult to deal with in the long run. Instead ask yourself, “what is this feeling here to teach me about myself?” “What am I making it mean?” Learn to observe your feeling from a distance, label it accurately and focus on the unfulfilled need at the root of the feeling.
- Replace self-pity with self-compassion – there is a big difference between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling kind towards yourself. Self-pity is a bottomless pit of misery that sucks you deeper and deeper into the feeling of despair. Self-pity allows you to perpetuate the endless cycle of being a victim. Victim thinking allows you to abdicate responsibility for yourself, your thoughts and your actions – it is never your fault. Self-pity is a form of control – it allows you to avoid making mistakes and possibly failing and getting some-one else to feel sorry for you. Self-compassion on the other hand is empowering and uplifting. When you choose to be kind and gentle towards yourself you are choosing to acknowledge that although this new way of thinking can be challenging, and you will make mistakes, it is not because you are not good enough it is just part of the journey of staying curious and courageous about yourself. You are acknowledging the emotional and personal growth that you are undertaking, the strength, persistence and resilience that this takes. Wisdom comes from knowing yourself – when you need to push forward and when you need to rest.
- Start a gratitude ritual – no matter how dire your life might feel, there is always something to be grateful for. At the very least you have been blessed with another day and you are breathing. Starting a gratitude practice will reshape your brain and your responses to life.
- Anchoring your thoughts with your “why” – according to Mel Robbins, author and motivational speaker, the extraordinary fact about fear, is that fear and excitement have the same physical symptoms in your body. The only difference is what your brain is doing. You can trick your brain to believe that you are excited instead of fearful by using an anchoring thought. Next time you are about to do something that you find challenging and makes you nervous such as having a courageous conversation you can use an anchoring thought to help yourself to take action. Connect with why it is important for you to have the conversation, then picture yourself after the conversation is finished. Picture yourself telling someone how well the conversation went and the positive impact your action has had and take this feeling into you meeting.
- Take action – making any type of change is scary and can be completely overwhelming. Instead sending yourself into panic-mode, do an honest “internal review” into yourself and ask, “what is the next ‘right’ action I can take now?” And then once that is done, “what is the next ‘right’ action I can take? And so forth.
Often all that is needed is the 10 seconds of courage that it takes to make the decision to take action – Nadine Champion.
I challenge you in the week ahead, dig deep and find your 10 seconds of courage to take the action that you need to in your life, one small shaky step at a time. All journeys are accomplished one step at a time.
There is no value in playing small, but there is huge potential in starting small – Natasha Vanzetti.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, please comment below. I love to hear from you.
If you are interested in the topic of emotional literacy and how you use it to unlock your skills as a heart-led teacher and leader contact me about my PLD The Emotionally Literate Teacher.