Four years ago, I suddenly lost patience with being in hock to my own anxieties, a litany of small and persistent fears that kept getting in the way of the life I wanted to live. It was time, I decided, to learn how to be brave.
So I quit my job and over the next 18 months, I went to interview more than a hundred amazingly brave men and women. I asked them about courage and what they told me turned my ideas about being brave on their head.
I’m happy to say that their insight even made me a bit braver, and it can work for you too. So here are a few of the things I learned:
Get over the idea that courage is about fearlessness. It’s not. Everyone I spoke to, even people who’d done truly extraordinary things, were all surprisingly vocal on the subject of fear. This was an emotion these people knew well. And the secret to courage was all about learning not to avoid fear, but to metabolise it.
Remember to practise. I started out thinking that courage was innate, either you were or you weren’t brave, but I now realise that lots of the ingredients of courage can be—and are—learned. And like any acquired behaviour, practise-practise-practise makes all the difference. Start small and keep at it.
Lean on your friends. I came to realise being brave is as infectious as being afraid and that often courage is much more communal and more attainable than we think. Draw your strength from others and let them draw strength from you. You’re in this together.
If in doubt, fake it. Notwithstanding outright charlatans and liars, often the process of pretending to be braver than you actually feel is where courage begins. There’s a reason they call it ‘putting a brave face on’ and, by the way folks, it works.
And breathe. You’d be amazed how many very different sorts of brave people relied upon a few slow, measured breaths to get them back on track when the chips were down. Soldiers in combat talked about it, opera singers with stage fright too. The high-wire walker. The labouring mother. All of them harnessing the phenomenal power to calm and focus of the air in your own lungs.
The Society of Timid Souls: Or, How to be Brave, by Polly Morland (Profile Books, £8.99) is out now.
Photograph: PlainPicture/Folio Images
Watch Becky Walsh's How to stop fear stopping you on LifeLabs