Bravery Unpacked

Have you ever felt like if you just had a little bit more courage in your life, things would be better? With bravery you could take on challenges and opportunities that -while scary- would ultimately lead to a happier, more fulfilled you. Maybe you could say “no” more often or maybe you could find it in you to leave that dead end job or a toxic relationship.

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Not feeling brave is more common than you might think

The good news is you aren’t alone. In our survey over 500 Australians, 30% said they needed more bravery in their lives. When asked why they wanted more bravery the responses were varied.

Some felt like they were drifting: “Currently just at uni but not doing anything else. Feel like I'm wasting opportunities.“

Some felt stuck: “Need to get out of a job I've been at too long which takes up too much time.”

Some felt like they were limiting their own progress: “Extremely shy, scared to apply for a job.”

And others even said that everything was going okay for them. But bravery would enrich their lives -maybe add something that was missing: “I feel like I am in a good place, but do need some fun or excitement in my life. I feel like I'm held back by anxiety from doing new things.”

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The first step to becoming fearless is realising that nobody is fearless

Hearing that many others feel timid too, might already be the first step towards recovering your own sense of bravery. It’s fair to say that nobody feels brave all the time.

In fact, in his TED Talk on “fear setting”, even Tim Ferriss author of the '4 Hour Work Week’ talks about something that many of his casual fans probably don’t know about him: His ongoing battle with depressive episodes and self-paralysis. This isn’t the sort of thing we’re used to hearing about from Ferriss. The self proclaimed “human guinea pig” usually comes across as pretty self-assured, a successful guy on a constant journey of self improvement and self optimisation.

And that’s the first thing you start realising if you pay attention to others: Even those who come across as extremely confident and seem to make bold decisions in their life will often be harrowed by fear beneath the surface.

Taking concrete steps to bravery involves defining your fears

You might say “Okay nobody is totally fearless. That’s a relief I guess. But it’s not a solution. How do I make myself at least a little bit more fearless?”

It seems like a contradiction, but getting very specific about what your fears are rather than describing them in broad strokes is crucial to getting a grip on your fears and finding bravery.

Think about it. In the early days of humanity, when our fears had more immediate and visceral causes, the worst possible fear to have was fear of the unknown. If you know that there is an angry mammoth stomping through the valley there’s probably a known response - perhaps to seek higher ground. But if you’re not sure whether it’s a mammoth or a saber-toothed tiger, it might be a lot harder for you to form a response. Maybe seeking higher ground just makes you a sitting duck, while the sabertooth leisurely climbs towards you, hungrily smacking its lips.

When you don’t have a plan your brain will ruminate and try to figure out what the problem is. Your brain is clever like that. It likes to bring up unsolved problems at random intervals. It probably feels like it’s doing it to make you feel miserable. But maybe it’s doing it to remind you to formulate a plan. Once you have a plan, a lot of fear tends to evaporate, or at the very least diminish in intensity.

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Introducing the fear setting exercise

This is where Ferris comes back into the conversation, with his concept of “fear-setting”. In his talk, Tim outlines a very “Ferrisy” multi-step list making approach to fear setting. In this approach you define a fear very clearly and then work through what you could do to prevent the worst outcome and what you could do to bounce back from the worst outcome. It’s all designed to make it easier to let go, by asking “what’s the worst that could happen?”

And it’s not a bad approach at all, especially if you are detail oriented. But we have a slightly faster approach that we came to by thinking a bit more laterally about fear and bravery.

If you have a fear of one thing, that’s usually because you have hope that something far better will happen. Maybe you want to be brave enough to leave that job because you are hoping for a better job - one that gives you purpose. Maybe you need the bravery to leave a toxic relationship because you hope for a partner who respects and loves you in the way that you deserve.

So right now write down a fear that you have. Be specific.

Now ask yourself “what is the flip side of that fear?” what do you stand to gain by being braver in this situation? Again it pays to be specific.

Sure there are risks involved in being brave. But risk is an unavoidable part of life. Risk will rear its head whether you consciously take a risk or not.

Once you know the flipside of your fear -the thing you want to live for- you might feel different. You might naturally start thinking of ways to deal with the fallout of the worst case scenario. And you will know that often times, even the worst version of your fear pales in comparison to the best parts of what you stand to gain.

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Bravery is a muscle

If the exercise didn’t work for you straight away, don’t fret! Remember nobody feels brave all the time. And bravery takes practice. It’s called an exercise for a reason. Don’t wait for game night to be brave. Practice it in small ways all season. Even if it’s just in your mind. The power of your imagination will prepare you for when you need to be brave in deed.

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