How Do You Find the Courage to Take the First Step?

In How Do You Manage Imposter Syndrome? one of the commenters asked how I take that first step. It depends. And, it depends—for me—on these things:

  • I can think, not just react.
  • The state of my emotional resilience so I can access my courage.
  • The risk of taking that first step.
  • How vulnerable I can be.

To be honest, when I react and don’t consider my options, I rarely have any courage. I like to think of thinking as the Zeroth step.

Can I Think?

When I’m in high emotional arousal—especially fear—I tend not to think very well. (Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational has a whole chapter on emotional arousal.)

I need to cool off to make an informed decision about that first step. Here’s an example. Mark and I did not go to the Keys for our annual summer vacation. I didn’t want to go, and that was early in July. In retrospect, that seems like a reasonable decision, given the COVID cases even in Monroe County.

We thought we might take a few days on Cape Cod later this summer. Now, there’s a surge of the virus on the Cape. My immediate reaction? No vacation, no where, no how, no time this year.

I made that decision in a state of hot emotional arousal. That might—or might not—be the correct decision. However, I made the decision out of fear. I didn’t make that decision as a thinking human.

I often need to cool off—to bring my arousal down so I can think. Once I can think, I can consider my emotional resilience.

What’s the State of My Emotional Resilience?

Al Siebert in The Resiliency Advantage says we have 5 levels of resilience:

  1. Health
  2. Problem-solving
  3. Strengthen our inner selves (self-confidence, self-esteem, self-concept)
  4. Curiosity, serendipity, and synergy
  5. Managing challenges and breakthroughs

I can’t find my courage to do much if I’m not sufficiently physically healthy. I’ve worked to walk and build strength all over so when I fall (not if!) I can get up first. Once I’m up, I can catch my breath, start to problem-solve, and see what I might do next.

Much of the courage I need arises from the three inner selves.

I build all three inner selves with deliberate practice. I continue to learn what I do well—and what I don’t do well. Instead of focusing on what I don’t do well, I consider ways to manage those problems—and reinforce what I do well.

Let’s face it. I’m not going to be anything other than blunt and direct. However, I can learn to choose words that help people hear what I have to say. That’s a way of managing the things I don’t do well. I’m not trying to change what doesn’t work. Instead, I work to modify enough of my actions so I can accomplish what I want to.

If I can think and I’m physically okay, I can generate options to create that first step. I use the Rule of Three and other questions to create options.

What’s the Risk of the First Step?

Because I have physical deficits, I separate the physical options from the intellectual/emotional options. I assess the physical risks (as in the vacation example above) carefully. I ask, “What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?

For intellectual/emotional options, I ask When Do You Suffer From Fear? I want to make sure fear isn’t part of the equation.

Now, it’s all about my vulnerability.

How Vulnerable Can I Be?

I practice a lot in public, as when I write blog posts and articles. I also practice with new ideas when I speak in public. Sometimes, I’m great. Other times, what I say or write is just so-so. And, sometimes, I bomb. Big, big bomb.

I have become accustomed to realizing I am only as good as I can be right now. (See Until Now.) I might need to practice more or differently. I might need to learn something.

I don’t expect I will be perfect. Because I practice, I can expect to be pretty good, most of the time. I build my inner selves by doing something and succeeding consistently. (That’s why I said I ship in the Imposter Syndrome post.)

Because I build my self-esteem, I can create more options to consider. Maybe not right away. And, it’s almost never easy. But I can.

Summarize My Approach

In What Does Courage Mean to You? I suggested that we need at least one possibility. We don’t need to be fearless. We need to engage ourselves to take that first step.

So, here’s how I find the courage for that first step.

  1. I see my current reality. Am I thinking or reacting in arousal?
  2. How vulnerable am I? Can I reduce my vulnerability to something I can manage? What risks do I have? Can I manage them?
  3. Create and assess my options.
  4. Find the smallest thing that could possibly safely work. Now, can I choose that? As an experiment.
  5. Do something. If I can’t do something yet, pick a near date/time where I can. Do it. (I often dare myself to do it.)
  6. Loopback to #1.

This works for me. I think it works because I’ve spent a lot of time working on my three internal selves. I practice a lot, in public.

That, my dear readers, is the question this week: How do you find the courage to take the first step?

7 thoughts on “How Do You Find the Courage to Take the First Step?

  1. Jim Grey

    During this time of COVID I know that my amygdala is more active than normal, and I can tell that it leading me to make somewhat less advantageous decisions, and to stay in a stuck state for longer. I think it’s the feeling of instability COVID has brought. I’m trying to do extra self-care so I can feel more centered but it does take constant attention.

    1. Johanna Post author

      Yeah, me too. Mark said, “How about if we invite a couple over for a social distancing dinner? They returned from Houston and quarantined for 2 weeks.” Well, I could only think of the reasons to not do this. (I’m also not excited about the people.) I think it’s quite difficult for me to assess the relative risks of any person vs the risks of leaving the house in general.

      At this point, we are not taking that first step to having people over for supper. I’m pretty happy about that. I think Mark is not.

      1. Jim Grey

        We’ve had 5 living in our house, and now 4 as one adult child has moved out, and it’s been challenging managing all the competing desires for social contact. A couple of us are extroverts (not me!) and for them this is intensely heard, as they feel cut off from everything that brings them energy. So we’ve tried to balance everyone’s legitimate needs with the whole family’s need to not get sick — all the while dealing with our highjacked amygdalas. ATM we have no guests in, we are not guests in anyone elses’ home, we don’t eat inside at restaurants. But we do go shopping, we do eat outside at restaurants once in a while as long as tables are far apart, and we do have family gatherings at a park where we can physically distance. That’s what we’ve chosen for now. But as cases spike in Indiana again we may need to return to greater restriction.

        1. Johanna Post author

          Yeah. These decisions challenge each of us. And, because the environment changes often and quickly, we need to choose again. Over and over again.

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  3. Marsha

    The “first step” for me is always the same — take the smallest step I reasonably can, and then do a very thorough review and assessment of the results. Negative results? No more steps in that particular direction, so go back to the map and re-route what it will take to reach the desired destination. My husband is considerably older than I am, and he has some physical issues that put him in not one, but THREE high risk groups for being susceptible to a viral infection. We have always had to be careful, but now, we are rigorous in our established protocols. We actually have protocols that cover most situations, like grocery shopping, bank trips, pumping gas at service stations, maintaining social distancing in the one event that we do weekly (a French Conversation group that meets in a wide circle in a public park), the wearing and handling of masks, and the frequency with which we wash our hands after touching things, disinfecting surfaces, and timings for bringing new things into the house.

    At the root of all is a concentrated evaluation of risk. Deviations and casual disregard for our protocols isn’t something we’re comfortable with at present, so we look for other ways we can accomplish what we need to without compromising our commitment to staying alive.

    No offsite vacations for us, either.

    1. Johanna Post author

      Marsha, I suspect that given all your risks, you do need a thorough review and assessment. I know that when I had fewer risks, I didn’t assess the results nearly as thoroughly as I do now. Yeah. I really want to stay alive.

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