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Rule #14. Courage is a skill that you can learn.
After the last time I spoke in front of a group of people, someone approached me and said, “You’re such a natural! You can really tell that you’re not nervous in front of people at all!” It’s a wonderful compliment, especially considering I am always terrified when speaking in front of people. So what gives? How do I appear to be confident and competent when I feel anything but? I’ve learned to fake it until I make it.
We have a tendency to think of character traits are immutable. We believe that we are a certain way, or that we’re not. People are strong, or they’re weak; smart or dull, courageous or cowardly. But that isn’t true. Sure, we owe a certain amount of who we are to genetics, there is no escaping that. In the immortal words of my friend Tim, “Some people’s daddies are bigger than other people’s daddies.” But genetics are only part of what makes us who we are.
You can’t necessarily choose what character traits you’re born with, but you can shape your character now. You don’t have to simply accept who you are; you can become who you want to be. You can make your body stronger through exercise and nutrition. You can become more intelligent by educating yourself. And you can become more courageous by confronting the things that scare you.
How do you confront your fear? How do you learn to be brave? How do you become confident in the face of uncertainty? The answer is simple, although not necessarily easy; fake it til you make it. You cannot become braver by avoiding the things that scare you. Instead, you have to rush headlong into fear. You have to accept that you’re afraid and embrace whatever scares you. If you’re afraid of public speaking, the only way to overcome that fear is to speak in public. You can’t overcome fear on the sidelines, you have to do it head on. To do so, as silly as it sounds, just pretend you’re not afraid. Pretend that you know what you’re doing, pretend that you have the utmost confidence, pretend you’ve always been ready for whatever challenge you’re facing. Then just go for it.
I’d love to tell you that we can overcome our fears sitting on the couch, become courageous without worry, or be brave without consequence, but alas, that isn’t how it works. Courage is a skill, not a characteristic that can’t be changed. To develop your courage, you have to exercise it, even when you’re not feeling the slightest bit confident. The best way to do this is to fake it, until you make it. In this way, you will practice courage before you actually have it; this is important, because only by experiencing courage can you become courageous. I know, it sounds paradoxical, but it’s true.
Of course, you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew, or tackle a project that is miles beyond your skillset, but you should be pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. You should be trying things that you’re not entirely sure you can do. You should be proving to yourself that a little thing like fear can’t stop you. If you don’t feel confident, you will learn how, because courage is a skill that the intrepid can learn.
Note: In an odd stroke of timing and luck, when I woke up this morning and pulled up my daily dose of articles to read, I discovered an interesting article titled, “How to Fake Being More Confident When You’re Just Not Feeling It.” It’s a well-written article by Kristin Wong, published over at Lifehacker. We’re covering some of the same ground, though she gets into much more detail about how to act confident even when you’re not feeling it. I recommend that you go give it a read if you think that will be helpful to you.
“Rules for Intrepid Living” is an ongoing weekly article that gives potential guidelines for how we can all live a bit more of an intrepid life.