Courage Exercise

Courage is probably the best-known characteristic of leadership. But what is courage, exactly. Some dictionaries list it as a synonym of “boldness”—but boldness often exists without courage. Bullies, for instance, are often bold, but their behavior is fear-based. Recklessness may seem bold, but can be the result of panic.

Many great leaders (FDR, Mandela) and thinkers (Mark Twain, Bruce Lee) have defined courage by what it is not, i.e., “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is…”

“…the ability to take action in the face of fear.”
“…the mastery of fear.”
“…the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

The consensus is that courage is transcending, rather than denying, fear. And, as we’ve posted in the past, mindfulness is highly effective in helping us do just that.

Mindful techniques help us manage the psychological, mental and physical manifestations of fear (e.g., racing thoughts, foggy thinking, rapid pulse) so we can assess what’s more important, master our fear and take action.

Mindfulness builds our inner strength to face possible pain or criticism– without blaming others or losing our confidence.

Mindfulness help us build leadership-related attributes like forgiveness, authenticity, and flexibility, which help us rise to challenges and inspire others to do the same.

Courage Practice
These actions help you notice and release bodily symptoms of tension and irritation, which help build confidence and strength to be courageous regardless of external circumstances.

Exercise 1. Breathe expansively.
2 minutes. Perform regularly and as needed.
• Inhaling slowly, imagine your breath going directly into your heart.
• Exhaling slowly, visual your breath dispersing into the space around you.
• Continue this imagination/visualization process through five breath cycles.

Exercise 2. Cultivate a courageous mindset.
5 minutes. Perform daily.
• Begin each day naming three things that make you happy.
• Imagine your day going smoothly regardless of its ups and downs.
• Imagine a lightness of mind. Practice smiling quickly and easily.
• Tell yourself, “I exist to learn, to make mistakes, to be intrigued by uncertainty, and to explore the unfamiliar.”
• Open your heart to accept yourself exactly as you are.

Exercise 3. For stressful times.
3 to 5 minutes. Perform when you notice increased anxiety or irritation.
• Bring a mildly irritating situation to mind (3 or below on a 1-5 scale).
• Relax and notice bodily sensations (tightness, tingling, pain, etc.) that arise.
• Notice any physical or mental resistance to the irritation.
• Stop resisting. Allow the irritation to expand. Notice where it exists in your body, and how dense and large it feels.
• Breathe into the densest, deepest part of the irritation.
• As you continue breathing, imagine the edges of the irritation softening, and the feelings dissolving.
• Allow your body and mind to release and relax around the irritation.

Exercise 4. Ongoing practice.
• Develop your personal courage using the exercises above.
• Notice whenver feelings of irritation, impatience, blaming, or anger emerge.
• Rate each situation on a 1–5 scale.
• Notice the moment you feel any release, no matter how small.
• Continue releasing until your irritation is at “0”.
• Practice the moment you become aware of feeling irritated.

As always, please let me know how it goes. I wish you all the courage you need to become an ever-better leader.