Confidence and courage are not magic. They are built, just as other aspects of human character are built. If we want them (and I think we should) we’ll have to develop them the old-fashioned way: with work.
Now, before we continue, let’s define confidence and courage:
Confidence is an opinion that you hold about yourself. You either believe that you are able to do a thing, or you don’t. You either believe that you have innate ability, or you don’t.
Courage is your ability to make decisions and hold to them, in the face of fear. Courage is about what you do, not what you feel.
The first complication for building confidence and courage is that counterfeit methods abound; there are many people and groups that will tempt you with shortcuts. The game is this: They give you something that looks and feels like confidence or courage, but only if you are inside their group. It’s a safety in numbers trick… a terror of personal responsibility trick.
Please remember that groups are not better than individuals: they’re worse.
So, don’t fall for a counterfeit; real confidence and courage are formed inside of you. The fast, cheap courage of joining the group is a fake. Truth be told, it’s a kind of stealth enslavement. And, it’s fragile.
Now, let’s go to the specifics of getting confidence and courage.
Our subject in this installment is courage in general, especially as it applies to moral courage. We’ll deal with physical courage in our next installment. But first, please believe me that our world is in jeopardy, not for lack of physical courage, but for lack of moral courage. This is the kind that really matters.
Now, with that said, we can begin with one of John Wayne’s very best lines:
Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.
Courage is your ability to act in the face of legitimate fears. And you have to build this ability like you build your muscles. That means you start at a low level of courage and build up to a high level. Courage grows little by little, and only with effort.
So, if courage is built, then something else is true: To act cowardly does not make you a permanent coward. You can always do better next time… so long as you try again next time.
Imagine a weight-lifter, perhaps a great champion; he can lift hundreds of pounds. But, when he started, he failed, many times, to lift fractions of what he lifts now. He only became a champion after he decided not to quit, even when he failed a lot and things were very hard.
It’s the same with courage. If you face a scary situation and act as a coward, that isn’t the end of it for you. You can come back and do better… and come back the time after that and do still better. Then, after a long time, people will watch you and wonder how you can have so much courage in the face of adversity.
Building courage is difficult, but you can do it. And if you fail at first, get up and do it again. Here are some of the usual steps:
- Make up your mind to do better next time.
- Imagine how you’ll face things differently.
- Force yourself to do things you don’t feel like doing.
- Learn to overcome your instincts with your will.
- Stand up for what is right, even against a crowd.
This has been done by millions of other people. That means that you can too, even if it requires hard, consistent effort.
Confidence is, as we said earlier, an opinion you hold about yourself. So, the first question facing you becomes, Are you judging yourself properly? Are you accurate in what you think you can or cannot do?
What many people think about first, is that they might over-estimate their abilities. That, however, is not a serious problem. If you think you can do more than you actually can, reality will clarify that error, and quickly. Once you try to do it, you’ll find out.
Under-estimating is the more common error, and it has two major parts. The first is that you presume you can’t, and so you never try. Sadly, this is very common and has been a gigantic loss to the human species. This passage from G.K. Chesterton (in The Defendant) makes the point well:
There runs a strange law through the length of human history — that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility.
The second part of this involves hiding our abilities. Many of us have decided not to acknowledge our abilities because we feared that people would dislike us for having them. This is a common error, but it’s a sneaky one: it often occurs without our really considering what is happening. We feel fear, then we decide that acknowledging our abilities is dangerous. What makes it worse, is that this usually begins at an early age.
Hiding your ability might have made sense for you at one time (there are, after all, bad situations and bad people). Protecting yourself has value, but, we must always acknowledge our abilities to ourselves, even if we hide them from the world.
If hearing about your ability will anger someone, don’t tell them. But, don’t let it go further than that: do not close your own eyes.
Ability Is Built
We’re all born with certain basic abilities, of course, but practical, applied ability is built with practice. This includes all types of ability, from physical skills to making moral judgments.
So, if you want ability, act. And as you act, notice your actions and results. Decide what worked better or worse, and then improve your actions.
And as you continue learning, decide which types of ability suit you and your life best. Choose the best paths and spend time and effort on them. Find your gaps, decide which abilities will be more or less important to you in the future, and act accordingly.
Then, keep acting and keep improving. Soon enough, you will become a confident person… and a courageous person.