Courage is not the absence of a thumping heart. It is the absence of cowering. Courage is taking actions that need to be taken regardless of how scared you are. "Courage" is what we call it from the outside, but what it is on the inside is simply responsibility.
A soldier in battle jumps on top of a live grenade that has just landed in his foxhole, saving the lives of the three other men in the foxhole with him. We hear of his action and say it was a tremendous act of courage. But what does he say? Someone who lived to tell about it says he was only trying to protect his buddies. He saw the grenade first and felt responsible for the lives of his friends.
Whenever you see heroes interviewed, they almost always say the same thing: "I only did what anyone else would do in the situation." They saw what needed to be done and felt responsible — responsible for their buddies, or their mission, or human decency, or whatever.
Their courage was a result of their feeling of responsibility.
I'm assuming there is some task or area of your life where you would like more courage. Here's how you can become more courageous: Be responsible for something specific. Let me use a few examples to illustrate the principle.
Let's say you normally feel nervous at parties talking to strangers. You want to be more courageous. So be responsible for something specific. Think about it ahead of time if you can, and think of something to be responsible for.
You think about it and decide you're going to find someone at the party who seems awkward and shy, and you will engage that person in conversation and make him feel welcomed and accepted and comfortable. Then you'll look for the next most uncomfortable-looking person at the party and do the same.
You have a mission. You've chosen something to be responsible for. And after the party you will look back on your behavior and think you were more courageous than you have ever been at a party.
Let's look at another example. Let's say you want to ask your boss for a raise and you feel nervous even thinking about it. You want more courage. What should you do? Be responsible for something specific. So you give it some thought and decide you want to raise the standard of living for your children if you can. You owe it to them to try.
So now you have a mission. You may do many things ahead of time to help you fulfill that mission. You make sure your work is top notch. You can even put out resumes at other places just to see what's out there. And you can think long an hard about it and find the right time to do it and then, because you feel it is your duty as a provider for your children, you can take a deep breath and walk into your boss's office and ask for a raise.
Your heart may be pounding. But you will do what you have to do. You will do what you feel responsible for. If you're going to get a raise, it is up to you to ask. And when you're done, you'll walk out of there proud of yourself for doing your best. That's courage.
Let's look at one more example just to make sure this is clear. Your father drinks too much. Nobody has said a word to him about it. Your brothers and sisters and his other relatives are all afraid to hurt his feelings or afraid he will get really mad, and so are you. But you want the courage to tell him you think he should get treatment. What do you do? Be responsible for something specific. In this case, you want him to live and have a good life, and you're willing to suffer (if you need to) in order to make it happen.
You are responsible now. You've elected yourself the one to tell him. You know he might hate you and never speak to you again, but you have decided you will speak up anyway. So you do. And afterwards, no matter what happens, other people may look at what you've done and say, "That took courage." But you will think you were only doing what needed to be done.
Don't do things blindly or compulsively. Give it some thought. Figure out what you are responsible for. Specifically. Try to think about the best way to approach it, and then act. Acting with courage will give you something precious and worthwhile: You will feel proud of yourself. You did not cower in the face of your duty. You stood up and did what needed to be done. That's courage.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.