Leap and the net will appear.
— John Burroughs, naturalist
Being brave isn’t all about wild and scary risks. Small acts of bravery can also be life-changing. Especially as they pile up over time, one atop another, like rocks in a cairn—pointing you in the right direction for you, down a path that feels uniquely, beautifully your own.
A small act of bravery is anything that feels a little bit out of your comfort zone. Whatever that means for YOU. No matter how easily it might come to someone else. It sends a little flutter to your belly.
To be brave you have to “befriend” you fear. Which is to say, acknowledge that it’s there. Whether it’s a fear of losing control. Of failing. Looking foolish. Disappointing others. Hurting someone you love. Not measuring up. Things not turning out the way you expected. At the same time, your fear isn’t something that needs to get in your way. You can listen to it, acknowledge it, without letting it overpower you or your decision-making. In other words, fear doesn’t have the power to hold you back unless you let it.
Often, the only thing stopping you is you. By which I mean the stuff in your head.
How do you get out of your own way? How do you rise and fly above the fear, in the company of the brave?
1. Notice your thoughts.
Don’t fall captive to the tired-out messages and mantras of fear, worry, and worst case what ifs that scroll through your mind. What if I leave this [relationship, job, career, apartment, neighborhood, fill-in-your-blank] in search of a better-feeling experience and never find it? What if I ask for what I want and don’t get it? What if I hurt someone I care about? Or disappoint them? Or look foolish? Or like a failure?
Don’t judge yourself for worrying, doubting, hesitating. It’s normal. But you don’t have to stay stuck there either.
2. Choose to feed yourself positive, affirming words and messages.
The words we use color the life we live. In huge ways. When you say, “It’s going to be a hard day,” guess what? Hard day. Every life has its tough stretches. But there is always something positive to focus upon. The sun shining. Your coffee tasting great. A stranger smiling at you.
Choose to feed yourself good messages like:
I am greatly loved.
My life is moving forward.
I am right where I am meant to be.
Change is possible.
I am strong. I am brave.
Everything is always working out for me.
Because it’s true. All of it. You are greatly loved, strong, and brave, and everything IS working out for you. Face it: You are capable of way more amazingness than you realize. The world is full of inspiring people who are “crushing it” so-to-speak—turning lemons into lemonade, dreams into reality—and you are just as capable, brave, and talented as they are.
As the children’s poet Shel Silverstein wrote:
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.
Choose to make that your mantra—ANYTHING can be, and you’ll feel better about yourself and your life. When you feel better about things, you’ll be more inspired to take action. And that action, whatever it is—however small it seems in the moment—will bring you closer to the life you dream of. The one in which you feel like your best self.
(Note: Almost as important as paying attention to your own thoughts, is not paying attention to anyone else’s. Or as a favorite book title puts it, What You Think of Me Is None of My Business. It matters that you feel good and right about the path you’re on. It doesn’t matter that your parents, best friend, boyfriend, wife, or neighbor would never do what you’re doing. They don’t wake up in your body every day. That privilege is uniquely your own.)
3. Get inspired.
What inspires you? What helps you feel light and easy? Do more of it! A few easy ones include:
— Listening to FUN music. Listen when you’re getting ready in the morning. When you’re driving, exercising, cleaning the house. And turn it up! Flood yourself with positive tunes and your energy will pick up.
— Reading books, or listening to podcasts, or watching movies that uplift you. Once I spent an entire rainy day watching reruns of Sex and the City. Which isn’t particularly notable except that I was in a cottage on the Irish coast, where it felt a little wasteful to spend a whole day in front of the TV instead of exploring. But I did it anyway because that was right where I wanted to be. And lo and behold, around 8PM that night, inspired by Carrie and the girls, and their extremely active social life, I felt moved to get up from the couch, pull on a pair of wellies and a raincoat, and walk down the hill to the local pub. Within minutes, I’d made a new friend, also a writer, and we talked, and danced, and then he walked me home and kissed me goodnight in the rain. He’s still one of my long-distance writing cheerleaders. Moral of the story: You never know who or what will inspire, so do what feels good to YOU and let the rest go.
— Spending time with people who feel GOOD! Friends who encourage you. Inspire you with their positive energy. Look on the bright side.
— Getting outside. Feel warm sun on your face. Take a long walk. Hike up a hill. Admire some leaves. Sink your hands in the dirt. Walk your dog on the beach. Stroll through town. Sit on a bench and people-watch. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply.
4. Ready, set, leap!
Once you’re in a good place, you’re ready to leap.
What’s a little risk you’d actually like to take? What feels exciting AND a wee bit intimidating? Out of your comfort zone, but in a good way?
It could be as simple as starting up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Or saying “YES!” to the person or opportunity right in front of you—even if you don’t know where it will lead. Or maybe the bravest words you could say right now are more like, “No, thanks. I’ve had enough.”
Maybe your bravery is admitting you’d really like to leave your job, or your relationship, even as you don’t know what comes next. Or that you’d really like to be in a relationship that feels joyful.
Sometimes the bravest thing is when you find the courage to speak from the heart, letting it all out, whatever “it” is—being honest with yourself and the ones you love. Letting yourself give in to your feelings. Whether they bring up a whole bunch of tears or a heart full of love.
It doesn’t matter what your small acts of bravery are, just that you’re listening to yourself, trusting your intuition, and reminding yourself, over and again: I Can Do This. Even when it feels a little bit intimidating.