One of the most simple yet effective ways of living a responsible life is to approach each day from the perspective of an unknown, future death point. We can do this by asking ourselves daily, “How shall I live this day so that I am at peace with myself when I am looking back from the point of my death?”
The inescapable reality of life is that none of us escapes it alive. But I do not see this as a reason to fret or bemoan past mistakes or worry about a future that is not guaranteed to any of us. Instead, I see this reality as an invitation to be courageous — to develop the ability and practice of living life according to one’s own values, vision, and choices until life comes to an end.
True courage cannot be taught or merely theoretically conceptualized; it must be practiced in our every day lives. As with most things, the more we practice, the more adept be become at living courageously by behaving in courageous ways.
It is precisely because our future is uncertain that we must not procrastinate the development of our courage muscles. If we seek to possess courage at those times when we will require it the most, we must start practicing now — and we must practice even in those times when we feel that we cannot. As the popular phrase goes, “feel the fear and do it anyway” (when the “doing” serves your values and vision, of course!).
You might be wondering how to go about practicing courage, how to begin this practice. At the risk of sounding facetious, I would simply submit that practicing courage boils down to being our best self — one day and one moment at a time.
If you’re still feeling unsure of what I am talking about, here are some examples of everyday courage. Remember, however, that courage is very personal and your acts of courage should reflect your best self — not someone else’s reality.
Examples of courage:
- A person who disagrees out loud when gossiping is taking place or a racist joke is told.
- A businessperson who admits his mistakes and refuses to compromise his ethics even when he faces financial loss and other potential consequences.
- A personal who decides to leave an abusive relationship even though she is afraid about how to make ends meet to support herself and her children.
- A physically handicapped child who goes to school every day even though he faces other children’s lack of understanding.
- An individual from a minority group who does not allow ignorance or prejudice get in the way of her pursuing her dream.
In short, to be courageous is to be your best self. Note that this does not mean being your perfect self. Indeed, striving for the latter aim is antithetical to the former and often zaps courage at its root. Remember that human perfection does not exist and believing that it does is simply a set up for perpetual self-criticism and suffering.
As wonderfully imperfect human beings, then, it is helpful to have a concrete plan for activating our best selves. Here is a 3-step straightforward, yet highly effective tool to use anytime you find yourself stuck and in need of a small (or large!) dose of courage. It is known as the Triple A Technique:
First, take an inventory of your external circumstances and internal state (your external and internal conditions). It is critical that you are as objective as possible and honest with yourself about whatever challenges or problems your dealing with and any feelings of fear or shame that might be causing you to deny or avoid facing your impasse.
Second, recognize the reality that you are facing right now. This process is often misunderstood. Remember that to accept something is not necessarily to like it, to agree with it, or to approve of it. For example, refusing to accept the reality of your emotional state of fear will probably only create more emotional “stuckness” since you will likely add shame and judgement to the existing fear. Thus, if we are to have any chance at changing something, we must first accept its exactly as it is.
Finally, take action. The first two steps of this process undoubtedly require courage, but that courage is futile if it is not followed up by this last and more crucial step. Taking action involves acting on your present circumstances in an attempt to bring about the changes you desire.
Though most of us struggle with a lack of action towards our goals and best selves, it is important to remember that true courage is just as much about being cautious and realistic as it is about taking chances. After all, blind leaps into the unknown often cause us to swing back into states of paralysis in the face of any discomfort or dissatisfaction. Ultimately, then, to be courageous is to take care of ourselves inside and out.
- What is one dissatisfaction in your life right now that you might be able to apply the Triple A Technique to?
- What does “being your best self” mean to you? What does it look like in practice?
- What tends to get in the way of your ability to acknowledge, accept, and/or act?
- Have you known somebody who has faced the inevitability of death? What did this person teach you about courage?
- What are your fears related to your mortality? What is your greatest fear in this regard?
- What pieces of your personal history can you use to remind yourself about the importance of courage? What are your simplest reminders?
- What are some of the ways in which you have practiced courage in the past?
- In what one way would you like to show up courageously in your life right now?