“With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity." - Mark Twain
Courage is defined as having the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.
As athletes, finding the courage to take a clutch shot, to develop a new skill, or to avoid risking failure can seem like a daunting task. It’s like jumping into a freezing cold river in the dead of winter. The initial reaction or reflex is to say “Hell no!” and avoid doing it. This type of response is a limiting response. The more you start to set limits, the harder it becomes to move forward, to overcome your fears, and to be willing to take chances.
The good news, even if you have limiting thoughts and beliefs, it’s never too late to find the courage to take chances and to risk success. The moment you decide to start chipping away at your limiting beliefs, be it in sport, school, relationships, or at work, the easier it becomes to repeatedly take that figurative plunge into cold water and take on new challenges.
It all comes down to perspective. Instead of focusing on how you will fail, how hard it is, how you will embarrass yourself, how you will let others down, or how you will be judged by others; shift that perspective to how you will give yourself the opportunity to learn and improve. It’s the difference between a fear of taking risks versus an opportunity to experience a positive change.
Think about it, when do you feel more excited, proud, and confident, when you hold back and decide to not take a chance, or when you decide to just go for it and see what happens?
Take a moment to reflect on the following:
a. Think back to a time when you held back or limited yourself.
How did it make you feel?
What did you learn?
What did you regret?
What were you proud of?
Did your gut instinct tell you to just do it? Go after it! Carpe Diem?!
Yet, you held back because your logical mind said no don’t do it, the risk is too great?!
What were those limiting thoughts?
b. Now think of a time when you took a chance and went for it.
How did you feel?
What did you learn?
What did you regret?
What were you proud of?
Did you just act on your instinct? What allowed you to just do it?
Did you feel excited and/or relieved?
Did you find that it wasn’t nearly as bad or as difficult as you thought it would be?
c. How were these experiences either similar or different?
d. Lastly, think about how these experiences impact you today:
Did they set you back?
Were they life changing events?
Chances are, they are just distant memories. Whether you experience successes or setbacks, these moments likely won't radically change your life. On the other hand, if you look at the lessons learned and insights gained, you will see that you come away with a wealth of knowledge and experience from those moments, especially from the one where you took a chance and went for it.
We innately want to grow and improve from the moment we are born. Infants work there way from wiggling around on the floor, to crawling, to standing up, to walking, and eventually to running, then running faster and faster! Don’t let your emotions stand in the way of your curiosity and determination to improve.
Tips for building up your courage and mindset of growth and mastery:
1. Think about the benefits of taking chances versus sitting on the sidelines and spectating, or playing it safe in competition. What are the pros and cons of each action?
2. Be honest with your apprehension(s) by expressing it out loud and by writing it down. If you are going to build up your courage, you have to identify your source(s) of fear and apprehension. When you can define it and express it, you will be able to problem solve and conquer those limiting feelings one at a time.
3. From your list of pros and cons, make a decision of where you’d like to start. Identify some short-term and challenging goals that you can work on in sport and in life. Start with small and manageable chunks, or what I refer to as MUNCHABLE CHUNKS. The little things not only minimize the risk factors, but also help you to generate small successes. The small successes accumulate over time. It’s what builds your confidence, motivation, and makes you courageous. Again, start small, take baby steps, be calculated, and build upon those small successes.
4. Celebrate the small successes. Instead of being critical of the things you cannot do or don’t do very well, focus on the positives, the insights, and the improvements. When you shift your self talk, you shift your perspective. The more you are able to recognize and validate your achievements, the more you will be open to receiving positive feedback from others as well. The reason being, when you only focus on the negative you only affirm the negative thoughts and statements made by you and others. When you do this, your effort and performance are never good enough, which leads to loss of motivation, dedication, and passion. Instead, take time to focus your lens on your successes, insights, and positives so you can start having fun, enjoy the process, and to see your courage grow!
5. There is no “I” in team. As athletes you have a team of support, this includes individual sports. Your team of support includes, coaches, family, teammates, friends, trainers, mentors, etc…. Lean on your team! We are social beings and need the support of others, so don’t be afraid to ask for help and to use others as sounding boards. Perspective is important! And remember, the people who love and support you are the ones who are there for you, through thick and thin!
6. Being courageous is contagious! If you are able to just take a chance and do it, chances are, you will inspire others to do the same. That in and of itself is an amazing reward. In high school, I had a coach who literally jumped off a cliff into a pool of water. It inspired the whole team to follow him by jumping off the cliff and take the plunge! When you are able to recognize and see others acts of courage, it will reaffirm that it's ok for you to take that chance as well! Lastly, remember to help celebrate the successes of others aw well!
7. Create your motto as a daily reminder to be courageous, to take chances, and to be proud of your effort and dedication! Say it to yourself everyday and before every challenge! You can even write it on your body like a tattoo so you can read it every time you need to fuel your courage!
In the end, when you are willing to take chances and to risk success, you are building up your courage, determination, and grit! The path of positive change is mired in setbacks and failures, it's part of the process. It’s those moments that allow you to learn, to grow, to gain experience, and to master something new. Embrace setbacks and failures as opportunities and as reminders that you had the courage to take a chance and to just do it!