How can I be more courageous?
September 11, 2014 9:37 PM   Subscribe

This could go into human relations, work & money, or a number of other categories. I am a daydreamer, and I am often motivated by visions of the future. The problem is that the world often disappoints, and after many rejections/failures (alongside the successes, of course), I have gotten to having a fair amount of anxiety on a regular basis. It sometimes feels compelling to put my head in the sand rather than probing for real answers. How can I be more courageous?

Some examples: I don't know what an email from a person I'm dating will say, and I've daydreamed about it being something good. The good daydreams motivate me, but the dark side of that is that when they don't come true, it hurts. Many of those hurts have built up over years, and as a result, I have more anxiety than I used to. Sometimes I hesitate to open an email because I know (or my brain knows) that it might hurt. Often it does. Sometimes I will sit on an email for a day or two before opening it.

Another key example: my job is as an entrepreneur. That's my life's work. Entrepreneurship means making a lot of phone calls and having a lot of meetings -- starting with a vision, and trying to make it a reality by probing what's actually possible. Along the way, that includes pleasant surprises, but also many unexpected disappointments and difficulties. Sometimes I have a lot of anxiety about making those calls and setting up those meetings.

I do all these things eventually. I reply to the emails, I make the calls, etc. My question is, how can I do better?

What are some real life strategies for being more brave? I would like to have the bravery to face the world as it is, not as I dream it will be. What are some real tricks to have more courage? What are resources (articles, books, personal experiences, tricks..) that have helped you?
posted by htid to Human Relations (9 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Visualize failure. Walk yourself through opening the email and getting hurt by it, calling someone and getting blown off, meeting someone and feeling rejected. The more detail the better, but along the way, imagine your response to it, especially courageous ones--not witty retorts or winning them over, but accepting the bad thing that just happened, being the person you want to be regardless of how you've been treated (e.g., thanking them for listening to you), and moving on to the next chance to suffer.

By doing so you cultivate a feeling of "that which does not kill me makes me stronger", you build a mental habit of handling the thing you fear in a graceful and dignified way, and you get rid of the dread surrounding it. You bring it down to a real size, internalize that it's really not that bad even if it's the worst possible outcome, and you can just move on, feeling good about yourself, anyway. Visualizing the negative and gaming it out also helps keeps the dreaming optimism from running away with you.
posted by fatbird at 11:29 PM on September 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

In my very personal experience being brave (while being smart and empathetic) comes from representing something else.

In doing so you are creating a disconnect between the scary thing and your self doubt. You are no longer vulnerable because you are just an ordinary fallible human acting on behalf of something greater than yourself. A classic example of this is Love, which has allowed ancient greek warriors and parents alike extraordinary powers of discipline.

Love can be hard though, so I use a List. A list is not immediately destroyable by my self doubt. I can be held accountable to a list. And a list is hallowed text, as it was created in a moment of deliberate rationality (and thus provides protection against the arguments of self doubt). I sync Notational Velocity on my computer to Simple Note on my phone.

As a case study: I recently had a waking nightmare (much as you describe) where I felt I had let someone down. I realized seconds after it happened that I had to address this, and email seemed the proper format. I did not email though. When I realized that I was avoiding the issue I wrote down "write email to XXXX, apologizing, thanking" along with the date I had to do it on. I then did it on that date because I know how important it is to follow the list. The apology did not hurt as much because it did not come from me, it came from a hallowed text that I recognized as greater than my fears. It turns out I did not need to write the letter, but I'm glad I did anyway.

For tougher problems that I may have already failed at (particularly due to procrastination), I rewrite the task into two problems: "Part 1. think about the best way to solve problem X" and then "Part 2. Do what Part 1. says". Part 1 usually tells me to deconstruct the solution to problem X, such that it turns into many small tasks instead of one large one.

So to make myself brave I justify my immediate actions with an understanding of what already agreed upon rules I must follow. It is those well supported rules, not I, that are to blame for any pain or embarrassment I feel. (I think other people might simply say they are not afraid because they understand the rules for behavior, but who I am is basically someone who isn't quite sure what the rules are so I have to make my own via lists)

So for me, Lists and Love are how I am brave.
posted by tychotesla at 11:40 PM on September 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Courage is not the absence of fear.

Courage is taking action while feeling that fear, and carrying the fear with us to the other side, where it can finally be released, and from it, we are then released.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 11:50 PM on September 11, 2014 [13 favorites]

I can identify with a lot of this - particularly daydreaming & procrastination - and I totally second tychotesla's list-making. Just as important as writing a task on a list is to give it a date. On that date, I'll do that thing. Not today.

My job is not very entrepreneurial - but I will say that it's the more entrepreneurial parts of it that cause me most anxiety. It seems like you may have chosen a career path that's likely to bring you more than the average amount of stuff to be anxious about. Less intimidating career paths are also available.
posted by rd45 at 12:47 AM on September 12, 2014

Follow your thought process of why it hurts so much to get a rejection. Is it because:

1. A rejection must mean you are less attractive than you believed.
2. You wanted to go with your crush to a fun event, and you don't want to go alone, so now you have to skip the event.
3. This must mean you'll always get rejected, and you'll live the rest of your days alone.
4. You were hoping to show off your new date to everyone, and now you'll feel embarrassed when people ask how it went.
5. something else


Once you figure out what it is, try to mitigate that. We all know those rare individuals who can get rejected and just let it slide off their back. They can ask someone out, get rejected, and say with a smile, "Well, you can't blame me for trying, right?" Or they'll just say, "No worries, see you around". Those people have managed to sidestep whatever mental conclusion you are drawing. Can you also avoid your mental conclusion?

Entrepreneurship is also inherently up and down. Can you make the rest of your life stable and comfortable, e.g. with friends, or having a peaceful home, or healthy tasty food, etc?
posted by vienna at 2:56 AM on September 12, 2014

I don't think it has anything at all to do with courage. Saying you lack courage is a way of putting yourself down. You DO NOT lack courage.

It is inherently anxiety provoking to have romantic partners who might reject you by email. Entrepreneurship is inherently challenging and involves a lot of rejection. Anyone would feel anxious and hesitate to open an email, even the most carefree person you've ever met who may not show their anxieties to you.

It makes me think you have a lot of negative self-talk to say that this is a lack of courage. You are just having a normal response to an anxiety-inducing situation, nothing more. I don't know your gender, but this is something females tend to do -- blame themselves for a normal response to a situation, instead of finding ways to make the situation suit them. It also sounds like depression to me (generalizing a small problem with email to a huge problem with courage).

In the very near term, I think the tips you need are about things like "Eat that Frog!", how to bundle tasks together, the Pomodoro technique, etc.

But the bigger issue is more about what vienna pointed out: How do you make the rest of your life comfortable and stable? If your romantic relationships involve a lot of fear of rejection, how do you hang out with more accepting people? How do you care for yourself so that you have lower anxiety levels in general? How do you make your business more stable? (Do you need funding? Better product-market fit? An incubator to help you? A (better) co-founder?)

You are doing great in a difficult situation. You do not lack courage or any quality of heart.
posted by 3491again at 7:07 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

look into mindfulness. it's essentially an issue of spending too much time thinking about the past/future, anything but the present. some daily meditation and active practice in being mindful can change your habit in the long run and help you focus more on the present.

here is something you might find helpful.
posted by monologish at 7:09 AM on September 12, 2014

A Song of Ice and Fire's Ned Stark told his son Bran that the only way someone can be brave is when they are afraid. Brave people are that despite the fear, not because they lack it.

I think that Vienna and 3491again have a great point: you want to be sure that there are stable, affirming aspects in at least some parts of your life. It is stressful to have a constant wall of "no" everywhere you turn. Having a scaffolding of acceptance will enable you to deal with "no" much more calmly. Dating is stressful, and entrepreneurship is stressful; in both situations you are constantly putting yourself out there for rejection. You want to have people in your life who are accepting, and situations where it is easy to get a "yes," so you can get a balance. Have good friends (what Captain Awkward calls a "Team You") and, if possible, regular clients.

I would venture that most people dislike the dating process (go through and read some of the questions on the green!). Great people get rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with their desirability. Likewise, freelancers get rejected by potential clients for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent or business sense. It is so hard to hear repeated "no's" and not assume it's something you are doing. But, most of the time, it isn't; it has to do with the rejector and what their needs are - nothing personal.

In my observations, taking rejection personally (it must be something I did! I'm not good enough, not pretty enough, not talented enough, etc.) is a way of regaining control. If it's something I did, then I am in control of the process, and if only I can improve myself in some way, then I won't get rejected. Up to a point, that is true in that presenting a good appearance (clean and well-groomed and personable) and being competent at your work will help. But beyond that, rejection isn't something you can control - your potential date or client wants someone different, and that has to do with their particular needs, not you as a person.

Have some parts of your life which are stable and accepting, and that will help you take rejection more in stride.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:30 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the past few years, I have really gotten into intuitive or process painting because it teaches me so many skills in the safe space of painting a picture none else will ever see and then after I start to trust the lesson I can take it out into the real world.

To the point, last week, i was avoiding painting a person because I knew that it would come out looking awkward and I wouldn't like it. My teacher pointed out that I only thought I knew that - I was predicting something that hadn't happened. Instead of sitting there, avoid something because I believed (based on some past experiences, true) that it would be bad instead of trying it out and finding out. So, I tried it out and it turned out OK. And then later, I tried again, it wasn't great but wasn't nearly as awful as I expected. Not that it was a great drawing, but that I was more accepting - turns out it isn't has absolutely horrible as I anticipated to draw something that didn't turn out the way I wanted.

So, you write I would like to have the bravery to face the world as it is, not as I dream it will be. Based on my experience, I would suggest that the problem is not the way the world is but the way you fear it going to be - when you actually do the thing, even it isn't what you want, it is usually more bearable than you anticipate while you are procrastination.
posted by metahawk at 6:05 PM on September 12, 2014

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