How to Build your Bravery Muscle
Can we think of bravery as a muscle? Apparently, we can, and perhaps we should! These are the inspiring lessons I learned from a ‘Brave your Day’ taster session for PGRs, organised within UofG Law and led by Charley Gavigan, co-founder of Brave Your Day coaching.
Bravery in Stages
Whilst there are probably a multitude of personal differences to how we face obstacles in our lives, Charley pointed out that many of the main processes we go through to be brave are quite common.
Leaving the Comfort Zone
Imagine a goal that you’ve been putting off for some time. Perhaps presenting at a conference or fitting in more time to exercise. What tends to be similar is that most goals include having to change something you’ve become comfortable with - whether it’s your general lifestyle arrangements, or using specific skills that you’re not yet used to. This step - leaving our comfort zone, that warm, fuzzy place where we feel safe and relaxed- can take a lot of bravery.
Stage One: Hesitancy
Here, we debate with ourselves whether we should leave our comfort zone in order to pursue our goal. We can experience fear of what we may face, perhaps self-doubt, and the negative side of our inner critic - more on this below! We can decide to go back to our comfort zone and give up on our goal, or we can proceed to the next stage of bravery.
Stage Two: Discomfort/Anxiety
Once we decide to leave our comfort zone, we tend to feel discomfort and anxiety. We don’t know whether we are doing the right thing, or how it’s all going to turn out. What’s important to remember is that it’s a perfectly natural response to feel scared and nervous about the unknown, and that it’s a step towards...
Stage Three: Learning/Growth
Having pursued our goal, we often notice that we have learned important things. We experience emotional and mental growth, acknowledging perhaps that it wasn’t so bad. We learn that we were able to be brave, and with this comes an important feeling of freedom: that we can try other new things too!
Braving your Day
This understanding of bravery establishes it as similar to a muscle which can be strengthened; the more we step outside of our comfort zone and go through these stages, the easier it becomes each time to pursue our goals. So next time you’re stuck at the hesitancy or discomfort stage, remind yourself that you’re on the way to mental and emotional growth!
Fear, re-defined as excitement
We all know what it feels like to be scared. Your stomach starts churning, your heart races, you start to sweat and you feel your muscles tense. Contributing to a moment of inspiration, Charley points out that these physiological changes are actually very similar to those of excitement. Re-defining fear as excitement may be empowering and help to pursue a goal with enthusiasm instead of dread.
Exposing the inner critic
What I valued about this workshop too were the group exercises, which involved talking to other students about personal goals, what we felt were preventing us from achieving them, and steps we could take to pursue them. I noticed (somewhat reassuringly!) that fear, whether of not meeting deadlines, or of feeling like an academic fraud (see this post on Imposter Syndrome), is an experience shared by others too.
These sources of fear can often be exacerbated by our inner critic. As researchers, critical evaluation of our own work and that of others is a vital skill, and criticising ourselves to be better can be an important form of motivation. This is an important role for our inner critic, as it prompts us to think of ways we can improve ourselves and our research. However, self-critique can also work to spread unwarranted doubts about our abilities, and unjustified reasons that tell us we’re not good enough. This workshop has taught me the importance of identifying between the positive and negative side of my inner critic, paying attention to how reasonable the claims of my inner critic really are.
As a PGR and beyond, I expect to face many situations where I’m feeling scared or where my negative inner critic seems to be the only voice I can hear in my head. This taster session has been a great experience for learning that this is simply part of being a human, and something that can be overcome using the right skills and understandings. Is fear something that is keeping you from achieving your goals? Have you been on similar workshops or training sessions? Let us know in the comments or @UofG_PGRblog. In the meantime, carry on building that bravery muscle!
Feature image infographic by Adriana Alcaraz