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Demonstrating courage is a key habit of high performers. Now, I’m not talking about the courage it takes to start a social movement that will lead to your eventual martyrdom. No, this kind of courage is composed of the acts that, at the end of your life, you can look back and feel proud of. Those times when you face uncertainty and real risk, where the stakes mattered, where you stuck your neck out for someone else and came out the other end alive. Not on top. Not successful. That’s not what matters in courage. Success in courage is only dependent on whether you made that difficult decision and stuck with it.
I work very closely with the High Performance Institute, a world leader in high-performance research. We are obsessed with breaking down what makes high performers tick — the values, drivers and habits that create them. Courage stands out as one of the six habits of high performers. Here’s why.
High performers and courage
Courage is significantly correlated with high performance. In fact, higher courage scores are related to higher scores on all of the other high-performance habits. This means that individuals who have developed greater courage tend to live with more clarity, energy, necessity, productivity and influence. Taking a step into the darkness can revolutionize your life. Launching into the unknown can transform you as an individual. Being courageous can show you, surprisingly, how much you’re capable of.
Now, these steps don’t have to be large. You can work your way into bigger acts of courage. For some, courage could be posting a video, saying “no” to something you know is wrong, or saying “yes” to something that terrifies you.
These things are often tough to quantify, so I’ll break it down a bit to help you get a pulse on just how courageous you are. We typically ask individuals to indicate how strongly they agree/disagree with statements such as these:
- I speak up for myself, even when it’s hard.
- I respond quickly to life’s challenges and emergencies, rather than avoid them.
- I often take action despite feeling fear.
- I don’t feel that I have the courage to express who I really am.
- I rarely act outside my comfort zone.
What’s fairly interesting in our vast research is this: High performers tend to take action despite feeling fear more than others. This doesn’t seem too surprising, but it is rather impactful.
What makes a courageous person
Does courageousness have to do with age, gender or experience? Could it have something to do with upbringing or social status? We found, surprisingly, that courage has nothing to do with any of those things. In fact, courage begins at a personal level. The courageous can typically answer these questions in the affirmative:
- I love mastering challenges.
- I perceive myself as assertive.
- I perceive myself as confident.
- I perceive myself as a high performer.
- I am happy with life overall.
This seems to align rather well: If you like challenges, you’re more likely to take them head-on. If you perceive yourself as a high performer, you’ll be more likely to take on challenging jobs or opportunities.
But even if you’re not inclined to “like” these things, you can develop an aptitude for being courageous. Seriously. Just like any good quality, being courageous can be learned. And once you understand and demonstrate it more consistently, everything changes.
Related: 8 Traits to Have a Winning Mindset
The basics of courage
“Courage is residence to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” — Mark Twain
There are many types of courage, which makes it a little hard to define. But there seems to be one overarching truth: In order for someone to demonstrate courage, risk, fear and a good reason to act must be present. I think of courage as taking determined action to serve authentic, noble or life-enhancing goals. That can come in different forms: physical, moral, psychological, everyday.
Now, an important note: Courage is much less about overcoming fear and much more about overcoming fear for a noble purpose. It’s acting in the place of whining. It’s understanding what you’re afraid of and using study and preparation to overcome those things with action.
Three best practices of courage
1. Honor the struggle. We all want to be courageous, but we struggle with it. And that’s ok! It’s time to get into the proper mindset and strive to develop the proper strong character and embrace struggle in the process. No one has ever become anything great through less-than-great circumstances.
2. Share your truth and ambitions. Dream big. Live ambitiously. Share what you want out of life with others. If they doubt you, think of that as a good thing. If you’re not quite sure how you want to live, it’s time to find it! The truth is, if you understand your truth, you’ll push through things that are scary to live it.
3. Find someone to fight for. Having someone to fight for makes all the difference. It makes you speak up when you would otherwise be quiet. It pushes you off the edge when you would typically shy away from jumping. All high performers have a noble cause that drives them, and it’s always outside of themselves. So, who is that person? Who needs you? Who deserves better from you? Better yet, who deserves the courageous version of you?
These practices will make all the difference.
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