Years ago, I sat in the audience at a Tony Robbins event, avidly taking notes while he spoke about living courageously. One line in particular struck me like a bolt of lightning:
“The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.”
As soon as I heard it, and a hundred times since then, I have circled it, underlined it, starred it, dog-eared the page, written it in my journal, posted in on my bathroom mirror. I try to keep it near me so that I never, ever forget it.
Why? Because it’s 100% true. The more you’re willing to step out into an uncertain world – which requires a great deal of courage – the more big, beautiful, unexpected things will come to you. Because if you don’t step out into that world, if you stay inside your comfort zone where things feel so safe and certain and predictable, you won’t feel fulfilled, challenged, inspired.
The more courageously you live, the more you’ll chase after the things that light you up, and the more joy will come to you. Yes, you’ll probably experience more failures. (God knows I’ve had a ton of those.) But you’ll have also have greater success and greater fulfilment – and better stories!
Here are seven tried-and-true ways you can live more courageously.
1. Practice courage. The longer you stay in complacency, the harder it is to make a change. That’s because courage is like a muscle – it needs exercise, or it will get weaker. Whenever I feel like I’m getting complacent, I challenge myself to do something outside my comfort zone.
So find ways – every day, if you can – to rally, move forward, stre-e-e-tch yourself. Let it be fun! It can be anything from bungee-jumping to calling someone on the phone to making a huge career switch. Practice doing small things that scare you a little – because then, when the stakes are higher and you need to draw on your courage, it’ll be there, ready to serve you.
Another reason practicing courage works is that more you do scary things, the more you realize: I survived that. I can do it again. Courage builds when you do courageous things.
2. Turn fear into excitement. Did you know that our physiological response when we’re nervous is the same as when we’re excited? Seriously. Think about it: both states invoke that fluttery feeling in the stomach, an increased heart rate, faster breathing. Your body’s chemical state is the same; it’s your mind that decides whether it’s a pleasant or unpleasant feeling.
The next time you’re nervous, tell yourself: I’m excited. This is exciting! It’s not as big a leap as you might expect, because the physical sensations are the same – it’s just a matter of reframing how you interpret them. (For more on this topic, check out this blog.) This is a great way to work around fear, and step into the spotlight from a place of empowerment and courage. By getting excited, the scary thing feels like something you want to do.
3. Focus on what you need to do, not the end result or the what if’s. In acting, we’re taught to remember our character’s specific objective in every scene. Instead of worrying about How should I look?, What do I do with my arms?, we asked: What is my character trying to achieve? What can I do to make that happen? This allowed us to act – to take specific, doable actions that helped us fully step into our characters.
The same is true in life. As soon as you start thinking, Will I get this job? or What if this doesn’t work and I lose everything? – that will zap your courage (as well as your momentum). Instead, focus on the steps you need to take: Today I need to revise my resume and email three contacts. Keeping your eyes on the next step will help you stay calm, empowered, and moving forward.
4. Ask: are you really in danger? Or is your body just responding to stressful, doubtful thoughts? The body doesn’t know the difference between what’s real or imagined. If you’re stressed about a deadline at work, your heart rate will increase, you might start sweating, you’ll feel an adrenaline rush – all things that would also happen if a bear were chasing you.
So put things in perspective. Remember that we tend to imagine the worst (and that our bodies respond to that imagining as if it were real), rather than visualizing our success and focusing on the task at hand (see #3).
Go for a run or jump up and down to give all that excess energy somewhere to go. Or take some deep breaths to calm that fear response. While you’re doing those things, reframe. What’s really happening? What are some steps I can take to move through this challenge in a healthy, productive way?
5. Carry a talisman or lucky charm.
Even if you consider yourself the most rational person you know, this is still a tool – because it’s not about superstition or even luck. It’s about mindset.
Studies show that talismans and lucky charms raise self-efficacy (the ability to accomplish goals) and self-assurance, which positively affects performance. Golfers who were given "lucky" golf balls performed better than a control group who used “ordinary” balls. People who brought their lucky charm with them into lab experiments consistently did better on problem-solving and memory tests. When you believe you have a little something extra in your corner, you often act more courageously – which impacts the results you get.
A note on risk versus recklessness
While I always encourage people to step outside their comfort zone, I don’t mean I want you to be reckless. I’m talking about taking calculated risks, not behaving in reckless, harmful ways.
Risk is where great things can happen. Telling someone you love them, starting a business, deciding to finally go after that thing you really want – those are all risks that can lead to amazing new stages of life and love and fulfilment.
Skydiving is a great example of risk. It has strong success statistics and lots of safety measures – in fact, it’s safer than driving! So while it’s a risk, it’s highly calculated and thought-through.
On the other hand, recklessness is dangerous behavior that will hurt you and/or those around you – and that’s not what I’m talking asking you to do. Making rash decisions, doing something illegal, putting yourself or loved ones in harm’s way, ignoring realities like finance or illness or injury – those are all things I emphatically don’t want you to do.
So what does that mean for you?
In what area(s) of life do you feel could use some courage?
How can you step outside your comfort zone in a way that stands to bring you success, fulfilment, joy?
If you want some extra support and guidance while you do that, please reply to this email to set up your first coaching session with me! I would love to help you find meaningful ways to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and take your life to the next level.
Go out, live courageously, and shine.
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