How do you develop the Courageous Habit?

Aristotle's Head

“Aristotle” by Nick in exsilio is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.— Aristotle/Durant

The above quote is usually mis-attributed to Aristotle, but it seems that Durant in the ‘Story of Philosophy’ summarised some of Aristotle’s maxims with that sentence. I am going to go a little further and re-appropriate this quote:

We are what we repeatedly do. Courage, then, is not an act, but a habit.


The Importance of Forming the Courageous Habit

Do you know if you will be courageous and do what is necessary while controlling your fear in the face of challenges? Needless to say, we do not need courage when things are going well, but rather when faced with challenging or dangerous situations. In my research on how courageous followers stand up to destructive leadership, I refer to the Courageous Habit as ‘intensifying’ and define it as:

Making multiple persistent attempts, using varying avenues to influence the status quo, even when faced with repeated setbacks.—de Sales
(I promise not to quote myself again… at least in this article)

Let’s unpack the above definition with regard to repeatedly doing something: (1) making multiple persistent attempts; (2) using varying avenues and (3) facing repeated setbacks. I assert that Intensifying is a necessary condition to shift the power balance against destructive leadership. Thus, if we want to make a positive change or combat fears and challenges in our lives or society, we need to form the Courageous Habit.

Research shows, time and time again, that individuals who showed courageous behaviour from both leadership and followership positions did not mysteriously ‘have’ courage that miraculously came to them in a time of need. Instead, they had practiced it repeatedly in everyday situations when no one was looking.

How do we develop the Courageous Habit?

Individuals who become leaders develop courage and practice it when they are in follower roles. It’s just that we romanticise leadership so much that we underestimate the work that those people did when they were still followers—Courageous Followers!

Let’s look at the definition of these two words. ‘Courage’ as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary is the ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation; and ‘habit’ is something that you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it. In essence, we need to develop the skill to control our fears often and regularly, to the point where we can do it subconsciously.

A lion eating raw meat

“lion” by Mathias Appel is marked with CC0 1.0

To build the Courageous Habit, I am not saying that we should scale the wall of a lion enclosure or jump into shark-infested waters. But I think that most of us have at least one small fear or insecurity (maybe one hundred) that we can tackle regularly. This could include FOMO or FOGO and everything in between.

Personally, I have found that the greatest experiences in my life have been on the other side of FEAR, by being COURAGEOUS. If you have gotten this far, I will share with you that right now, I am being courageous by trying something new and exposing my writing publicly. This is my very first blog article (yes, two dissertations, but no blogs). If you do not think that writing this blog article is courageous, let me practice courage again by revealing my ignorance to you—the fear of being ignorant. I must confess now, that until writing this blog post, I have regularly mis-attributed the first quote to Aristotle. It was in trying to be thorough, and in not wanting to revel in my ignorance, I did some research and found the original book that corrected my erroneous knowledge regarding the origins of the quote!

Courage, as you can see, is not an esoteric or mystical character trait, but rather an act that we can develop into a habit! Now it’s your turn. What have you done (or what do you intend to do?) to help you build your Courageous Habit? I would love to hear from you in the comments below (non-TFC members feel free to message me). Finally, if you are still not convinced that you need to be courageous, I will leave with another quote attributed to that ancient philosopher.

Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.—Aristotle

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2 Responses

  1. Oh yes indeed, being vulnerable takes courage. Being courageous is confronting fear. Building Courageous Habits is delayed when we spend time pondering over the possibility of negative outcomes. I mean like, take for an example being confronted by a toxic leader. Fear of doing what’s right or speaking up for what’s right can be paralyzing; especially when you know that the backlash is comparable to being stung by a bee. Do it anyway! Do it because the benefits outweigh the fear. Do it because if you’re speaking truth to power, then be about it and use your power as a follower for progress. These experiences, though painful, build character and develop Courageous Habits. So, while you think everyone is looking at the remnants from the bee sting, what they really see is your denial to be a minion at all costs. Building Courageous Habits signals your strength in continuing ethical and fair practices, thereby influencing the status quo.

    • Fantastic Wendy! I love the ‘bee sting’ analogy, because while it can hurt in the short-term, it will go away. The Courageous Habit is formed in the small moments, so when we are greeted by the big moments we know we have what it takes!

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