Courage is not only for soldiers or people facing dangerous situations. Whatever you do in this life, you need courage. Thesaurus has several synonyms for courage - audacity, bravery, daring, determination, endurance, fearlessness, firmness, fortitude, gallantry, grit, heroism, prowess, tenacity, and valor... By whatever name, courage remains a virtue required by all.

Quoting American poet Maya Angelou, “Courage is the most important of all virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtues consistently.”

So what does courage mean to you? Facing up to a bully? Winning in a physical or verbal fight? Courage means many things. It means admitting a mistake and saying you are sorry. It means walking away to stop someone from hurting you. It means standing up for what you believe. It means being your authentic self.

Courage is standing up to your fears and doing the thing that may frighten you. It is what makes us determined to face the challenges in life with determination and strength. Courage makes us not to give up. Courage is deciding not to put your current situation above your desire to succeed. Courage is not giving up when you feel like everything is going against you. Courage means standing for what is right, even when what is right is not popular, and you must stand alone.

When you look at our country, you begin to see many a people harbouring fear and without hope. With all the problems facing us, from toxic politics, to bad economy, to unemployment, to rising levels of crime, to poverty, our country calls for courageous citizens more than ever before. Citizens who can stand up to all these evils and conquer them. I want to encourage you to fight fear and choose courage. You need to stand up and be counted as a courageous person. One who said no to corruption, one who said no to violence, one who didn’t give up when the going got tough, and one who fought for your rights. Real courage requires wisdom.

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Courage is preceded by fear so don’t give up when you feel afraid to try. There cannot be courage without fear. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather looking fear in the eye and telling it – ‘get out of my way’.

There are many people who have faced up to courage and found success. We can learn from their words of wisdom:

“Having courage does not mean that we are unafraid. Having courage and showing courage means we face our fears.” Maya Angelou

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Boxer Muhammad Ali

“It often requires more courage to dare to do right than to fear to do wrong.” Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill, Former British Prime Minister

“It is easy to stand with the crowd. It takes courage to stand alone.” Author unknown

And the Bible tells us:

“Be strong and courageous; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” Psalms 31:24

As you wake up to the fact that your success will only come if you have courage, remember that courage is a learned quality, an acquirable set of skills that come with practiced competence. Here are a few tips to help you build courage:

Build self-confidence

“Courage is confidence, and confidence separates individuals who are successful from those people who settled for less in life.” Actor T. Morgan. Show confidence in your every day life – when you walk, talk or perform any task. For example, you can adopt the confidence stance where you stand straight, feet apart and hands on your hips. This pose triggers self confidence by releasing chemicals in the body that tell your brain you’re feeling pretty great about yourself.

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Play the brain game

Your brain is built to adapt. It wants to learn to get better, and it physically changes in order to do this, beefing up neural pathways and configuring more efficient routes from its command centre to all the muscles. The best way to encourage physical change in the brain is to do repetitive skills.

Calm yourself

When you are nervous or stressed, your breathing becomes shallow and fast. Certain breathing techniques help to calm and focus. Inhale through your nose into your belly, to a count of four. Hold to a count of four. Exhale through your mouth, pulling in your belly as far as you can, to a count of four. Repeat.

Learn to deal with your fears

You need to take action in situations that may not be dangerous but nonetheless demand courage. Are you scared of harmless crawling insects like spiders and caterpillars? Even if you are, that shouldn’t send you screaming anytime you see one. Practice small acts of bravery to get you used to dealing with more difficult situations.

Use power words when you speak to yourself

If you speak positively to yourself, it becomes part of you and you start believing in yourself. Courage is being yourself everyday in a world that tells you to be someone else. “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist. Learn to tell yourself, “I am good... I can do it...”

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Stand up to your mean self

You tell yourself negative things like, “I’ll never be able to do that.” If you won’t let someone put you down, then stop saying negative things to yourself. Stand up to the mean animal inside you.

Visualise success

Visualising a physical task sends brain signals to your muscles that are identical to the signals sent when actually performing the task. Pick something you want to excel in. Lie on the floor and imagine yourself performing various skills perfectly.

Get out of your comfort zone

We all love comfort zones because its nice to feel cozy and relaxed without too many demands on us. But it is important to challenge yourself, too. Make a promise to get out of your comfort zone once a week or more and try new things. It takes courage to step out of one’s comfort zone, because it is a challenge to do so. “Courage is the power to let go of the familiar,” advises Raymond Lindquist, US Presbyterian Church minister.

This article was first published in the February Issue of Parents Magazine

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