It takes courage to get what you want it life. Do you have courage? Can you get more of it?
What’s so wrong with playing it safe?
Three things converged this week to make me think about courage and how having courage is important in happiness, well-being, and surprisingly, even stress control.
I know many people, including myself, who could benefit from reduced stress. What in the world could courage have to do with stress? Doesn’t facing fear increase our stress?
I’ve been reading the new book High Performance Habits by Brendan Burchard. Despite what it sounds like, it isn’t a book about productivity. It’s a book about what motivates people to become high achievers, and the things high achievers do that result in their success.
The first suggestion in the book is to take an online assessment to find out how your habits compare with the top achievers.
I like to think that I am a high achiever, and I started looking at my scores. I was doing well with 4.7 out of 5 for clarity. I’ve worked extremely hard in the past couple of years to develop clarity about my life and my purpose and what I want to achieve. I know who I am and what I am about. Score one for me.
My scores for energy, necessity, productivity, and influence were solid.
Then came courage. I got a 3, which doesn’t seem horrible until you compare it to top performers who average a 4.8.
I should not have been surprised. I do not consider myself a courageous person. I even wrote a blog about how lack of courage holds us back. According to Burchard, if I want a better chance at reaching my goals, I am going to have to bring the courage number up.
A few days later, my virtual friend and fellow writer Terri Webster Schrandt of Second Wind Leisure Perspectives sent me a link to a video of a CBS 60 Minutes segment on free climber Alex Honnold. I watched in terror as Honnold climbed the face of a mountain without the benefit of ropes or a safety harness. I found my own palms sweaty, as I watched him calmly moving along the vertical wall of rock, putting his fingertips into the tiniest crevices in order to pull himself up.
Is Alex Honnold totally crazy or is he brave? What motivates him to keep climbing, despite the fact that over one half of the people who free solo climb die in the process?
When I think of what it means to be courageous, I think of doing something despite the terror. In the moment of fear, we experience a massive Adrenalin rush that pulls us forward. In courage, we move forward despite the fear. We are in a high state of stress and anxiety.
But it turns out, that is not the experience of Alex Honnold. In the 60 Minutes interview, he talks about his love for the sport. He loves the challenge, and has prepared well for it. He is calm and controlled. He uses the word “mellow” to describe the feeling he has while climbing. There is no Adrenalin rush. He smiles. He feels relaxed and focused as he climbs, not fearful or stressed. At the peak of his climb, he is whistling.
That’s not what we think of when we think of courage. Perhaps it is a new definition. It fits well with the experience of other the high performers Burchard interviewed. They describe themselves as confident, assertive and happy with their life. Happiness makes you believe that you can do incredible things.
High performers also love mastering challenges. They, like Honnold, think that courage is a skill that can be developed, not something you are or are not born with. Honnold describes the confidence he has due to his extensive preparation. He and others not only practice, they visualize different outcomes and plan for the struggles. They see the struggles as an opportunity to grow in skill and build character.
Light bulbs went off in my head. I am teaching a graduate research class and several of my students are studying growth mindset, a popular movement in education at the moment.
Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, develops the idea of growth mindset. People with a growth mindset believe that they can learn and grow and improve through hard work and training. They are not afraid to try new things, they are willing to risk and fail. They are internally motivated, driven to accomplish and are incredibly resilient.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are those with a fixed mindset. They believe that their abilities, intelligence and traits are fixed and limited. They are less inclined to try something new for fear of failure. They are five times more likely to avoid challenges than those with a growth mindset.
What high performers teach us is that having and developing courage is a mindset. People who anticipate struggles, and who plan and prepare and push through them are often the ones we perceive as courageous. It is more about preparation and work than bravery. This kind of courage develops confidence, and happiness. It also results in less stress.
This is courage redefined. Courage is more than an isolated act of bravery. Courage is more than feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Courage is a mindset, a way of thinking about the world and your place in it. It is about planning, preparing and taking action.
If I had a fixed mindset, I would say that I am not a courageous person. But I will go out on a limb and say that because I have a growth mindset, I know that whatever courage skills I am lacking I can develop.
Just knowing that gives me the courage to go after it.
What about you? How do you flex your courage muscle?