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Ways to live a more courageous life

By As told to Leigh Newman, Oprah.com
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Tue May 8, 2012
Every time you say,
Every time you say, "I can't do it," you've got to stretch to say, "I must do it."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Courageous people are scared to the core, but they just make themselves go forward anyway
  • The longer you analyze it, the harder it gets because then your mind gets involve
  • Write down a list of times when you acted braver than you thought you could

(Oprah.com) -- 1. Don't Turn an Excuse into an Identity

We need be careful of how we label ourselves, for example, saying "I'm an fearful person" or "I'm a weak person" or "I'm not a strong person." Usually that label comes from your current or past behavior, but once the label becomes a part of you, it starts to control you.

So what I try to get people to understand is: Hey, you're not broken. You don't need to be fixed. You don't need a label. All you need to do is say, "I have to decide how I want to be now going forward."

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2. Develop a habit

Courage is not the absence of fear. That idea is the biggest b.s. in the world. Fear is impossible to eradicate. If you were completely fearless, you'd be dead.

People who are courageous are scared to the core -- they just make themselves go forward anyway; they make themselves take some kind of action. Taking action, even though you're afraid, is how you become courageous -- because courage, like fear, is a habit.

The more you do it, the more you do it, and this habit -- of stepping up, of taking action -- more than anything else, will move you in a different direction.

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3. Let your body lead the way

Taking that action for the first time can be pretty rough. When it comes time to give the speech to the committee or snowboard down the mountain, don't hesitate. Don't start to analyze it. The longer you stand there, the harder it gets, because then your mind gets involved.

If your challenge is mental, use your body. If it's in the body, use your body more aggressively. At 17 years old, I was on my own, sleeping in a laundry room. I had no idea what to do. I was so depressed. Fear is physically debilitating.

I had to defeat it. So I made myself run until I thought I was going to spit up blood. I got stronger in my body, which, in turn gave me mental strength.

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4. Write your list

Everyone has stages in their life when they have been courageous. It could be in a relationship or in a job. It could be as simple as negotiating with a car salesman.

Write down a list of these moments, times when you acted braver than you thought you could. Some of these you may take for granted because you didn't recognize them as courage at the time; you were merely doing what had to be done. Others may surprise you.

But once you look at them all together, there's always a pattern. You got obsessed with something you really wanted. Or you were concerned for another person. Or you knew you had the skills. You might have been scared to death, but you got up and did it.

And here's the secret: Once you see the common denominator, you start to realize, "I know what motivates me. I can do this again, in different situations." Your use of courage ripples out. You start applying it in more and more areas of your life.

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5. Remember to stretch

If you want to live a life that's courageous, you've got to stretch, and to stretch means: When I can't, I must. Every time you say, "I can't do it," you're going to immediately say, "I must do it." This is a simple idea.

I heard it first at age 16 from a close family friend named Art Williams. At the time, I asked, "Does that mean if I can't jump off the cliff, I must go ahead and jump?"

He said, "You're not a stupid person, Tony. Don't be stupid. It means if you find yourself saying I can't do something, but you know it in your heart of hearts that if you do it you're going to grow, you're going to be a better person, it's going to contribute to your family or to your kids or to something that matters, and you keep saying I can't do it, there is no question -- you must do it. You don't discuss it anymore. You just take immediate action. You make the phone call. You step up in front of the room. You raise your hand. You do what's necessary." And I said, "That's not a very safe life." And he said, "If you want safety, go to prison. If you want a fulfilled life, you've got to step up."

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