When I think about the teachers who have had the biggest impact on me, most were people who embodied what they taught. In the early 90s, it was my yoga teacher Sirinam Singh, who lived more intentionally than anyone I had met. Later, I met Paul Greenbaum, a doctor who radiated a passion for health and life that was contagious. They and others instilled in me the value of being an example of health as a healthcare practitioner.
Which is more effective for you – someone standing at the side of the road who points you up the mountain or someone standing at the top saying, “You can do it!”?
While I’ve hoped that keeping myself healthy serves as an example for my patients, I never intentionally created a life that I thought others might want to emulate. But as Briana and I explain in the beginning of our book, The Well Life, we found ourselves being asked with increasing frequency, “How do you guys do it?” We had successful careers doing work we loved and a supportive and loving family and community, and to us it was just unthinkable for life to be any other way. While I’m reluctant to parade my achievement of something that I believe is within everyone’s ability, I had to admit that many people I knew were struggling to create similar circumstances.
One of the first chapters of the book is on confidence, which we explain as an expression of four factors – self worth, self trust, competence, and courage. As I thought about how to teach these qualities, it was eye opening to realize that they must have been vital ingredients on my own path. This courage piece is especially poignant for me because I just took my older daughter to Universal Studios and I really didn’t want to get on the giant rollercoasters or Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall. But courage takes many forms, and on that note, I share this excerpt from the book:
“It’s a virtue mentioned in nearly every fairy tale, but the need for courage in pursuit of the Well Life is sometimes diluted by an emphasis on things like business skills, education, networking, and hard work. These other qualities are nothing to scoff at, but timidity, risk-aversion, and fear can undermine the best-laid plans and most impressive skill set.
We understand that not everyone is adventurous, nor extroverted. But even for the introvert who wants a stable and peaceful life, there will come times when courage will allow for a deeper experience of peace and richer experience of life’s wonders. Although not everyone faces overt conflict, physical danger, or great financial risk (where the need for courage is clear), each of us has areas of life and our own mind that we have chosen to avoid. Each of us has “shadow work” to do, to heal the unilluminated parts of ourselves, and it takes courage to willingly face our pain, fear, and darkness. On the other side a more liberated and joyous existence awaits us.
Some of the most powerful ways to build courage have already been discussed. We’ll review these now, and introduce a few more:
- Building self-trust, which we discussed in this chapter and the previous one, makes us more courageous because we know we can trust ourselves to manage with honesty and integrity whatever comes up.
- If you’ve begun the clean-up work in Chapter 3, you probably have a sense of the courage required and the “return” in the form of immediate lightness that results from this work. It’s likely you also have an emerging understanding of just what’s at stake when you’re not courageous. The conflicts you didn’t resolve, the communications you didn’t make, the agreements you didn’t keep, these all leave a weighty residue that degrades this precious life. Moreover, while much of what we’ve repressed (into what Carl Jung called the “shadow aspect”) is painful memories and negative parts of our personality that we disapprove of, sometimes we discover virtuous and powerful facets of ourselves hidden there, which, for whatever reason, we were previously unable to accept. It takes courage to fully embody our power, but it awakens us to a new magnitude of possibility.
- Strengthening your lower dan tian [the energy center at your lower abdominal “core”] gives you power to draw on and anchors you so that you’ll be less prone to be overcome by strong emotion. Besides an ongoing focus on this point and breathing deep into the pelvic bowl, a more regimented practice of qi gong, tai chi, or traditional martial arts will yield a faster and more significant benefit to your courage.
- Rehearse. Before a performance or a challenging task, visualize or act out the scenario exactly as you want it to go. Start your mental movie a few moments before the task begins, seeing and feeling yourself experiencing peace and confidence as you enter the scene. Guide yourself through the situation with as much detail as possible. Imagine that you’re creating a precise script of exactly how the story will go. Run over the script repeatedly, feeling your courage and calm throughout the story, so that you feel it has been memorized by both your mind and body.
- Acknowledge your acts of courage. Get a piece of paper, open your journal, or start a blank document on your computer and write “My Acts of Courage” at the top of the page. Then (after reading the list of examples that follows) make a list of ten times you have been courageous in the past or are courageous on a daily basis. Remember that the need for courage is subjective. Based on different backgrounds, what might be natural for one person (say, jumping into the ocean) may require mustering courage for another.
Just like any other skill, it helps to do something frequently to get more proficient at it. Following is a list of potential ways—both big and small—to boost your courage:
- Striking up a conversation with a stranger
- Standing up for someone
- Stating an unpopular opinion
- Asking for help
- Choosing what’s right over what’s easy
- Speaking in front of a crowd
- Taking responsibility for your life rather than blaming the world
- Protesting against an injustice
- Expressing your own style
- Persisting when things get hard
- Applying for a job
- Choosing to grow from your mistakes
- Declaring an alternative sexual orientation
- Admitting your weaknesses
- Letting go of someone or something that isn’t good for you anymore
- Quitting a job that isn’t right for you
- Being open to ideas and opinions that differ from your own
- Trying something new or unusual
- Pursuing a dream
- Helping someone without regard for what you’ll get out of it
- Keeping your commitments
- Requesting a raise or promotion
- Loving and accepting people whom you dislike or disagree with
- Remaining calm even when those around you are freaking out
- Challenging your own deep-seated beliefs or stories
- Being kind to strangers
- Making an important but uncomfortable communication
- Leaving an abusive relationship
- Being grateful and optimistic even when life sucks
- Reconciling with an estranged family member
- And, of course, saving a baby from a burning building
We all experience varying degrees of fear and discomfort on a regular basis, and anytime we proceed anyway, our courage is activated to enable us to push through.”
I encourage you to try doing one of the items on this list today. You’ll be glad you did. And if you want to read more about courage- and confidence-building, check out our book. We put so much love into it.
Dr. Peter Borten