When we’re getting ready to do something that feels scary, we often focus a lot of our attention on how we will do the thing.
How do we initiate the conversation or make the ask? How do we do the thing we’re not sure we can do when it feels like everyone is watching? How do we make the decision that will bring major change? How do we do what is right for us when others might not approve?
This is important, of course. It’s also important, however, to consider how we can best support ourselves both before and after doing something that requires us to be especially courageous.
Beforehand, while we often try to calm our nerves or strengthen our resolve to follow through, our methods aren’t always the most helpful. (Has it ever been effective to tell yourself you shouldn’t be nervous?)
The part we most commonly neglect is what we might need afterwards. At that point it’s done, right? The hardest part is over so we should be fine. (This is rarely the case for me.)
Each of us will have different needs and what we need will vary from situation to situation. I’ll share a little about what I’m learning about my process as an example, but only you can know what works best for you.
The first step is to listen to what is going on in our bodies, emotions, and minds.
Typically, when I’m going to do something that scares me, my breath becomes fast and shallow. My body feels tense and agitated. My mind swirls on all the things that could go wrong and how I’m not good enough. I often attempt to control my emotions, like trying to force myself not to feel nervous.
Once we’ve listened, it’s time to give ourselves what we need.
What I need most in those moments is to slow things down. I need to reconnect with myself and give myself space to actually feel what I’m experiencing. I’ve had a pattern of shoving emotions down, only to have them burst out during an intense moment.
One thing that’s helping me a lot is setting aside time to process my emotions. I set a timer and turn on some music. Then I cry, scream into a blanket, or punch a pillow. When the timer goes off, I wipe my face and move on with my day. Intentionally processing my emotions helps me feel clear before doing something courageous instead of carrying all those emotions into the situation with me.
Then what I most need to be ready to do something courageous is to feel calm and relaxed. I need to feel connected to my body and my breath. That is when my most courageous, capable, and loving self shines. My go-tos are things like deep breathing, gentle stretching, and guided meditations. I remind myself that it’s ok to feel nervous and focus on why it’s important to me to do this thing.
After doing something courageous, it is usually a different story. My whole body is buzzing with energy and I struggle to do any sort of reasonable analysis about how things went or get back to the rest of my life until I’ve given that energy an outlet.
For me this means starting with physical activity like lifting weights, cardio kickboxing, or a long walk. Only then can I really check in on how I’m doing, which might include things like processing in my journal or another round of releasing emotions. I probably need a snack because being courageous makes me hungry. It’s also helpful for me to check in with a trusted person to celebrate or to remind me to treat myself with kindness if something did not go as well as I had hoped.
You might need something totally different. Maybe, instead of calming things down beforehand, you need upbeat music and a dance party. Maybe afterward, where I need kickboxing, you need a nap or a bath. (Sometimes I need those things too. It really does vary by situation.)
The point isn’t to do the correct thing, but to pay attention to what you need. More and more I’m learning to look to my body to show me what I need. Thoughts and emotions can feel pretty jumbled, but my body’s signals become more clear as I learn to listen.
So now what about you?
What do you already know about what you need to support yourself?
Think about doing something courageous or vulnerable—whether remembering something from the past or envisioning something in the future.
- What’s going on for you in the time leading up to what you’re planning to do?
- What are your thoughts saying?
- What emotions do you feel?
- What is your body telling you?
- What would feel really supportive?
This isn’t about forcing yourself to be different or better, but about giving yourself what you need to thrive.
Now imagine the thing is done. Check in with your thoughts, your emotions, your body. Ask yourself those same questions. What do you need most now? How can you give that to yourself? This is not about rewarding or punishing yourself, but about giving yourself the resources you need to be there for yourself—no matter what happened and no matter what’s next.
As a note, we’ve been focusing more on situations of courage that are more planned than spontaneous. Knowing what you need and practicing giving it to yourself when you have time to think it through also helps when the unexpected arises. The more you practice identifying what you need, the more skilled you will become at noticing what you need even in the heat of the moment.
Giving ourselves what we need doesn’t have to be elaborate preparation. You may not have time for a guided mediation, but you can take a deep breath. You might not have time for a workout, but you can wiggle your fingers or toes.
Why does it matter?
Isn’t doing the courageous thing what’s important? Why all this focus on before and after?
For one thing, it’s going to be easier and feel better to do something courageous if you are feeling supported and cared for. Beyond that, listening and giving ourselves what we need goes a long way toward building our self-trust, which in turn helps us continue to act courageously.
We get to choose how we treat ourselves. Old habits can take time and practice to shift, but it can be done. Acting toward what we hope for is going to feel scary at times. I want to treat myself in a way that supports me in acting courageously instead of shaming me for feeling fear. I want that for you too.
A key first step is noticing how we’re treating ourselves and the impact that treatment has on us. The Self-Trust Inventory in the subscriber library contains a set of questions designed to help you celebrate where you are already acting in a trustworthy way toward yourself while also noticing where you’d like to make changes.
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