A few years back on my 35th birthday, a buddy and I decided to sign up for a 35 mile ultra marathon trail run. We were definitely in over our heads as neither of us had ever run anything over 13.1 miles. Further when you check out the website, the description of the race is as follows:
Big climbs. Big views. Technical trails. Great people. The Santa Barbara Nine Trails 35 Mile Endurance Run is a challenging problem for trail runners of every ability level. The trails are steep, rocky, inaccessible and long. There is more than ten thousand vertical feet of gain and descent packed into the relatively short 35 miles. Experienced runners will tell you that Nine-Trails runs like a tough 50 miler. Athletes attempting this course should be prepared for long, slow sections with no support.
So needless to say, despite us training, logging miles, and getting on some trails in Ohio, there was likely very little that we could do to emulate the actual task ahead. Alas, any confidence that we might have had going into the race was shot when we arrived to Santa Barbara and were playfully ridiculed for our lack of knowledge and preparation. In fact the day before the race, we were still asking for nutrition recommendations at the local running store. Ugh, what the hell did we sign up for!?
So naturally we had a decision to make. Our confidence was not in a good spot. Do we go back home? Spend time at the beach instead? Save ourselves the time, anguish, and embarrassment?
Nope, instead we checked our low confidence at the door and accessed our old friend courage. We stepped up to the starting line and gave it go, despite not knowing what the next 35 miles would have in store for us.
And so too is the case in many areas of life. Whether it's a physical task, a new job promotion, or asking someone out. We sometimes find ourselves in situations where we don't have the skillset, we are in over our heads, or frankly, regardless of preparation amount, we still don't feel confident in what we are about to embark in.
It is in these situations, when confidence is low, that we need to access our courage. But when we need it, we need to make sure it's there. And to make sure it's there and accessible, we need to train it. And so this blog is a quick little training ground for you to learn how to flex your courage, when your confidence is shot.
Before you find yourself in a situation that is requiring you to flex your courage you need to train your fear. And the idea of training your fear rests on the foundation that risks aren't that scary once you take them. And believe it or not there are fairly simple ways to train your fear by engaging in slightly more risky behaviors. No I don’t mean trying heroin or jumping out of plane without a parachute. What I do mean is that we are all capable of trying new and harder things. And by doing so, we realize that we are capable of more than what we might have once thought we were.
By opening yourself up and trying new things, you teach your mind and body that it is ok to go into the unknown. That it is OK to not know the outcome. Little things like trying a new route to work, going to a different restaurant, talking to someone new, although seemingly simple, actually can have a big impact on strengthening your courage.
In addition to trying new things, you can also try harder things. Here you engage in activities you already do but to a harder degree. Hold a gaze a little longer, swim an extra minute, take the cold shower. Doing these types of activities to a harder degree also works to callous you up a little bit which strengthens your courage. How? Well because it helps you know that you can handle hard things. So even if our confidence in what we're about to do is low, you can still rely on the realization that you can handle hard things.
Now that we are building up our courage muscle by trying new and harder things. We also can benefit from re-framing our doubt. Rather than doubt being something that is destructive, distressing, and derailing, we can instead look at it with curiosity and understanding…maybe even appreciation. We can reframe it by realizing that doubt is a very real human mindset and that it makes sense that it pops up in certain challenging situations. By acknowledging this, it takes the sting away. We become less focused on the fact that we are doubting ourselves and become more focused on doing what we need to do to execute.
This requires us to elicit a little self talk and perspective/mindset shifting. Which simply involves reminding yourself that doubt exists. It’s a normal thought/emotion. That it doesn’t have to dictate behavior. That you can still do incredible things even if you doubt yourself. Appreciate doubt and re-frame it.
We've trained our fear, we’ve reframed our doubt, now we need to yield courage when we need it. But what is courage? Well according to Webster, courage is the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. In other words, courage is simply a mindset that we enact when under difficult circumstances. A mindset that we are all more than capable of harnessing when needed. To do this we use the power of positive thinking and imagery.
With positive thinking we identify a word or phrase that helps remind us of the courage we possess. We remind ourselves of the fact that we might not know how this situation will go, but that you know you are resourceful and resilient enough to handle it. You might remind yourself that the outcome might not be what you want it to be but that you will pursue the journey nonetheless. You remind yourself that the journey will be hard, filled with obstacles, perhaps even failure, but that, again, you will step up to the starting line and give it a go.
In addition, you can also yield courage by visualizing yourself being courageous. You can see yourself in the situation questioning your confidence. You can see and feel your uncertainty. But then you can also see yourself implementing a courageous mindset and giving the task a go. You can bask in the feeling of empowerment that you experience as you step up to something that you're not exactly sure of.
By combining these positive thoughts and positive imagery, you will be able to yield the courage you need in that actual moment.
Train your fear:
1) What is something new that I can try today?
2) What is something that I already do that I can level up in difficulty a bit?
Reframe your doubt:
1) Finish the sentence: "It makes sense that I am experiencing doubt right now because...."
2) Finish this sentence: "I can pursue my goal even if I have doubt because..."
Yield your courage:
1) Identify a word or phrase that helps remind you of your courage.
2) Take a moment and picture yourself being courageous. How are you thinking? What are you doing? How are you feeling?
Conclusion / Final Thoughts:
In conclusion, I believe we have been socialized to think that we always need to be confident in ourselves in order to succeed. I recall Stuart Smalley’s “I’m good enough, smart enough, and dog-gone-it people like me.” Now of course confidence is important, it certainly helps, and it’s something we want to continually try to access. But truth be told, that inner Stuart sometimes goes missing especially in novel and difficult situations. It’s not always going to be accessible to us. In those situations, rather than “running” away from things we are not confident in…instead…TRY courage.
Though of course if you need more support in eliciting your courage or building confidence feel free to reach out. Perhaps you have a hell of a task ahead and you're already feeling doubt creep in. That is what Mindurance is all about! Check out the website and if you think you could benefit from performance coaching, give us a TRY.