Facing your biggest fears takes great courage. If you’ve encountered any significant challenge or adversity in your life, you know the ways it may conjure up feelings of fear or anxiety. Those feelings can be either paralyzing or empowering.

We all have things we are afraid of facing or doing. What we do with that feeling or action is key to overcoming the inner turmoil that it creates. Researcher, professor and author, Brene Brown challenges the notion that courage is about fearlessly performing extraordinary acts of heroism. On the contrary, she defines courage in terms of vulnerability. She says, “The key to whole-hearted living is vulnerability. You measure courage by how vulnerable you are.” She defines vulnerability as, “the feeling you get during times of uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure”. Vulnerability is when you say or do something that might open you up to criticism from others. It involves coming out of your comfort zone and daring to do what is not easy or familiar. In her film, The Call to Courage, Brene Brown explains these concepts and that choosing courage over comfort, “opens us up to love, joy, and belonging”.

Let’s explore 8 qualities or attributes of courage and think about them in relation to your own life. 

1. Feel fear yet choose to act anyway                                                                               

You can be both brave and afraid. Acknowledge the fear and understand that, "Courage is about doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared. Have the courage to act instead of react." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

2. Follow your heart

Deep down, you know what your heart tells you is right and just. You know how you feel and what you need. Trust and follow your intuition and passion. Don’t let the risk of criticism hold you back. Identifying what you need and asking for help takes courage. “Passion is what drives us crazy, what makes us do extraordinary things, to discover, to challenge ourselves. Passion is and should always be the heart of courage.” —Midori Komatsu

3. Persevere in the face of adversity

Nobody said that a courageous journey would be easy. Staying in the game when the odds are stacked against you is difficult, but ultimately rewarding. If you fail, try again and again. “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” - Dory “Finding Nemo”

4. Stand up for what is right

There are universal principles that you hold true. The times when your principles are challenged present opportunities to speak up. Pay attention to the emotions that come before your call to action (i.e. anger, frustration, compassion) and use them as fuel to say or do the right thing. Embrace the discomfort and take the risk of saying what you mean and meaning what you say - regardless of the reactions of others.

"Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes."  - Maggie Kuhn, social activist

5. Show up. Expand your horizons. “Step into the arena.”  

Sticking with what is familiar and comfortable often inhibits growth. What you have always done can suddenly stop working for your benefit or that of others. You expand your world by exploring new and different ways of thinking and acting. You can’t demonstrate courage if you're a bystander, living life on the sidelines. Trust your ability to do the ordinary and the extraordinary. "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."  - Anais Nin

6. Face suffering with dignity or faith

Faith is trusting without knowing the outcome. All we truly know for sure is what’s in front of us at the present moment. Examining how we conduct ourselves in adverse circumstances, where the future is uncertain, is a critical step in developing courage. It involves the wisdom and acceptance to know what you control and what you do not control. "The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances."  - Aristotle

7. Cultivate joy & gratitude

Looking on the positive side of situations diminishes fear & makes room for courage. “Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments – often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we’re too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we’re so afraid of the dark that we don’t dare let ourselves enjoy the light. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration and faith.” - Brene Brown

8. Create meaningful connections with others that involve being vulnerable

Do something with them that is new and challenging. Join a Confidant support group. Take up a new hobby or sport. “Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” - Brene Brown

You already possess more bravery than you may imagine. There are times when you have demonstrated courage and may not have recognized it as such. In childhood: learning to swim, riding a rollercoaster, diving into the deep end of the pool. In adulthood: making a speech, ending a toxic relationship, facing a daunting diagnosis. Use examples from your own life experiences to do the following:

Think of ways that you have behaved courageously in the past. What were some key elements that prompted your motivation to act? Jot them down. Check to see how they may relate to the 8 attributes listed above.

Think of something you are currently facing that is causing you anxiety or fear. 

How can you use any of the 8 attributes to help you work through your dilemma?

Make a “will do” list of what you intend to do to act upon your identified fear.

Go forth and follow through with your intention(s) with new courage, confidence, and conviction!

This article was adapted from Dr. Melanie Greenberg’s article in Psychology Today and Dr. Brene Brown’s Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability. For more information, check out these sources.