Dialing Up Courage

Dialing Up Courage

In 2020, it’s no wonder “doom scrolling” has kicked up a few notches. The pandemic, layoffs, riots and forest fires this past year have caused many people (including myself) to occasionally slip into fear. Controlling our fearful mindset is possible according to several social scientists. Fear can help us to survive of course, but the challenge is discerning which fears are serving us and which ones are holding us back. How do we recognize helpful survival mode fear and useless ego based fear?  How can we build more courage moving into 2021 in order to accomplish brave new goals?

Courage is action in the presence of fear and doubt, not their absence.  Here are a few ways to build up our courage muscles to help push through and take action. According to Maggie Warrell, Author and Phd in psychology, here are steps that can help build courage:

  1. Gain Clarity:  Write down exactly what you want and envision it. Make it a specific goal you would like to achieve in the next 6-12 months. The more detail describing the goal, the better. 
  2. Daily Bravery Practice & Small Steps: Daily mental and physical habits are important in ordinary times but in tough times when so much can throw us off, it’s even more critical. Start by writing down what might happen if you DO take action toward that giant goal. Break down your vision into smaller more manageable steps in order to tackle it.  Afterall, difficult tasks take time. 
  3. Envision a Future Self: Take a moment to envision your future self about how you need to be brave right now. Imagine it’s two years from now. Picture yourself in your favorite place looking back on this moment right now. What advice would your older, wiser, future self give to you in your current situation? 
  4. Identify and Own Fear: Ask what will happen if I face the fear.  Maggie wrote, “notice the uncomfortable emotions you’ve been feeling and give each a label. Anxiety. Hopelessness. Overwhelm. Sadness. Resentment. Apprehension. Stress. Fear. . . As a UCLA study found, the very act of naming your emotions helps to tame them. So label what you’re feeling and notice where it’s sitting in your body.” 
  5. Surround Yourself with Giants: If you want to live a bigger life, you need to surround yourself with people who ‘think big’ and will encourage you to do the same. Accordingly, you’ll want to avoid any people in your life who may discourage your actions and step on your dreams. While they are really just afraid that you will leave them behind, as you start out, you should steer clear of people who will fuel anxiety and feed self-doubt. Never let anyone diminish you or your dreams.

When we choose to see the possibilities instead of dwelling on fear, embracing change is so much easier. Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., is a psychologist, and author of The Stress- Proof Brain wrote, “Research (Kobasa 1979) suggests that resilient people have three important characteristics—commitment, challenge, and control. Commitment involves having a passion for what you do that allows you to stick with it when things get rough. Challenge involves viewing your stressor as a challenge, rather than a threat (which helps your amygdala calm down and generates positive emotions, such as hope and excitement). Control involves investing your time and energy in changing the things you can control, rather than trying to change the unchangeable.”

Achieving anything worthwhile takes small brave steps and we all know being uncomfortable isn’t fun. But as we start taking action, we discover that we’re capable of more than we thought. It all begins with a single act of courage.

“Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” 

- Maya Angelo


We started illume hire in April 2020 with positive thoughts and big plans for action. We’re planning to keep that going in 2021 as we encounter interesting opportunities to use our bravery muscles.  

Happy Holidays!  We’ll be out next week but we’ll be back on December 31st.  

- Nick & Emily

Reviewed & Recommended:

Forbes: How to Find Your Courage in Challenging Times

Damon Davis TED talk: Courage is contagious

Collection of podcasts by Maggie Warrell

Netflix Series: Brené Brown: the Call to Courage | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix


  • Really needed this article today, Emily — thank you!! What you’re doing is impressive and necessary for those of us who still consider over-age-50 as “mid-career.” Congratulations — I’m enjoying your content!