Let’s Talk About… Courage

By Jeremy Godwin

What is courage? How does it help your mental health? And how do you build greater courage? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health — the weekly podcast about looking after your mental health, with simple ideas you can put into practice immediately.

So, get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…

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This podcast episode was originally released on 8 May, 2022.

Hello and welcome to Episode 130, and thanks so much for joining me!

I’m Jeremy Godwin and I talk about looking after your mental health. I had a breakdown in 2011 followed by a few years of severe anxiety and depression, and that took me on a journey of learning more about my mental health. So I did a degree in psychology and sociology, and now I create what I couldn’t find: simple tips for how to improve your mental wellbeing, from someone who actually understands what it’s like to go through mental health challenges. Each episode I look at how to improve one specific aspect of your wellbeing.

This episode is all about courage and I’ll be talking about what courage is (and what it isn’t), why courage matters, and how to find greater courage in order to confront challenges and overcome them. So, let’s talk!

Introduction

There’s been a bit of a tradition in architecture for over a hundred years of disguising ugly infrastructure, like subway vents and power distribution nodes, with fake fronts that make them blend into the streetscape — there are lots of examples of them in big cities like London and Paris. What on earth does that have to do with mental health, you ask? Well, let me tell you! 

I’m starting with that seemingly-random reference because when we put up a façade it allows us to control how the world sees us… but what’s really going on beneath the surface? So often we put up a façade of strength and confidence, but what takes real courage is being truthful about all the stuff that lies beneath; our ups and our downs, our triumphs and our challenges, our wins and our losses.

I’m saying all of this upfront because for so long we’ve been taught that we can only be successful human beings by being strong and resilient all the time, but life is more layered and nuanced than that; you will have good days, you will have bad days, and you’ll have everything-in-between days. When we deny that fact, and we try to project a façade of perfection to the world, we usually end up making life way more difficult for ourselves; you can put up a front of happiness and success all you like, but if the reality is that you’re struggling then it’s going to be harder and harder to keep that impression going. What takes true courage is finding the strength to be raw, vulnerable and honest with yourself, and also with others… and that’s what I’m exploring today.

So let’s get into some definitions and let’s talk about…

What is courage?

And it’s most often defined as bravery, or the ability to do something that frightens you or finding strength in the face of pain or grief (and those definitions come from the Oxford Dictionary). But what does that actually mean in practice? Well, to answer that question, let me first say what it’s not: courage is not the absence of fear; it’s finding the strength to push on in spite of your fears. 

Courage doesn’t mean that you just suck it up when you’re facing challenges or difficult times; it means that you summon up the strength to speak up and get the support you need (even if that feels terrifying) and it also means that you pluck up the nerve to take the next step, even if you have no idea what the entire journey will look like or if you feel a bit freaked out about what lies ahead. Courage is focusing on the present moment and being willing to accept that you only have direct control over yourself and what you choose to do or not do in this moment. Because in order to keep going, you have to abandon all hope of controlling the things you cannot control and instead focus on what you can control — yourself and the choices you make. And no wonder that takes courage, because it’s absolutely terrifying to accept that fact!

Here’s the thing: each step you take will lead to the one after it, and if you find yourself focusing too many steps ahead then you can very quickly become overwhelmed. Let me give you a random example. Let’s say you want to skydive (although I have no idea why, but hey! Each to their own…). Deciding to do it might require you to find the courage to agree to it, but that’s really only one step on a much longer journey. First you have to summon up the courage to put your big-person pants on and you book the tickets, then you take yourself to the airfield on the day, maybe you wet your pants a little bit but then you regroup and you get on to the plane, and then you get your safety equipment all sorted… all of that has taken a lot of courage but the fact remains that absolutely nothing happens until you muster up the strength to take that most important step: the one where you push yourself to jump out of the plane in the middle of the sky. That’s when the journey really starts; not when you do all the preparations, but when you actually jump. That’s what life is like; finding the courage to jump over and over again even when you feel scared (although, thankfully, that usually means jumping with a lot less chance of going ‘splat’ at the end of it, which is why I refuse to try skydiving). 

So, moving on from my random analogies about skydiving, let’s talk about…

Why courage matters

And it matters because everything worth having in life involves some element of risk; if you never take a chance, then you will never grow. Almost everything we do involves taking chances,  which was the subject of Episode 5, where I talked about my own experience with taking chances by starting this podcast back in October 2019 and now, two and half years later, I get to create podcasts and YouTube videos every week that I absolutely love — none of that would have happened if I had just played it safe and never took a risk. 

Let me quote from an article by Verywell Mind about courage. The quote is:

“Being more courageous in your life will help you respond appropriately to risks and accomplish positive things in your life. But it takes work to move beyond your fears. In fact, being courageous is about thinking things through, examining the risks and rewards, and acting in spite of the fear that inevitably sets in. What’s more, courage gives you the power to chase after things that are important to you. It also bolsters your self-confidence and allows you to believe in your abilities.”

And that article is linked in the transcript (https://www.verywellmind.com/7-ways-to-feel-more-courageous-5089058) which you’ll find on my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes.   

I shared that because anything that is outside of your comfort zone is going to be scary and it will potentially trigger your fears and insecurities (topics I covered in Episode 10 and Episode 35 respectively), but the fact is that ships weren’t built to just stay safe in the harbour and you weren’t born into the world to just hide away from it; you need to take risks in order to challenge yourself, because that’s what helps you to grow. 

Look, I get it, it’s really tough sometimes to find the courage to do things that make us feel uncomfortable or even terrified, but what’s the alternative? Sit at home and hope things will magically improve? I hate to break this to you, but that just won’t happen! You have more hope of winning the lottery than you do of that happening. I put myself out there every week and I share a lot of deep and personal stuff, and I know that there is always a risk of being misunderstood or having people criticise my choices — I just had one the morning I was writing this episode, where someone on YouTube decided to tell me that my decision not to speak to my mother was proof that my knowledge about mental health was not effective. Now I’m not going to pretend that that comment didn’t feel like a slap in the face and highly judgemental, because it did and I was pretty pissed off as well, but the fact is that it goes with the territory (having said that, explain to me why total strangers think that social media gives them the right to comment on how I choose to live my life?! But that’s a conversation for another day…). If you try to hide away from those sort of negative comments, or the general crap that some people like to fling around, then you’re never going to get to see all of the good stuff; for me, 99.9% of the feedback I receive is overwhelmingly positive and so I just focus on that instead (and let me say now that I’m not actually that upset about the ignorant comment I received, although I was definitely annoyed but mainly because I have a real issue with people projecting their own judgements onto others; anyway I’m just sharing it because it was a timely example of what I was already talking about this week!). Moving on…!

Life can be scary and we only really have two choices: succumb to the fear and hide away, trying to protect ourselves from things but feeling more and more miserable because we’re not growing and evolving, or we can choose to summon up the courage to try new things and take small steps towards tackling our challenges. It’s one of the reasons why I love the Eurovision Song Contest so much; it takes true courage to get up and perform to an audience of over 183 million people around the world (source: https://eurovision.tv/story/183-million-viewers-welcome-back-the-eurovision-song-contest) but, by doing so, the contestants get to bring so much joy to others. You can do that too. I mean, it doesn’t have to be competing at Eurovision; you can find your own way to do things you’re passionate about and which push you out of your comfort zone, and that’s what helps you to grow. And, as a side note, if you’re wondering why I’m randomly talking about Eurovision it’s because this goes out on the 8th of May and the 2022 contest is just a few days away, so I’m bursting with excitement… this is my favourite time of the year! Which takes a lot of courage to admit out loud so don’t judge me!

The other thing I want to say about why courage matters is specific to mental health (funny that, consider this podcast is about mental health!)… courage is going within and shining a light on all the things you might not have been willing to admit, even to yourself. And even more than that, it’s about finding the strength to talk about things if you’re struggling — because, as I say quite a lot, the more we talk about it the easier it gets. Opening up to someone else might feel uncomfortable or even terrifying, but it’s how we create a foundation of truth and it’s how we tackle the stuff that feels difficult. Holding it in does no good; you need to let it out to get it out.

The work I do involves a lot of people finding the courage to open up about the challenges they’re going through in life, and that really is an enormous act of bravery; we’re told from a young age to toughen up and that success is only to be found by presenting a façade of strength and unshakeable determination, but you can also be honest about your feelings and still be successful. You can be honest about the fact that you might be having a rough time of it and still be a worthy human being. You can be a bit broken and still be an amazing person. I have nothing but the utmost respect for anyone who is prepared to stand up and talk about their demons, because most people don’t have the strength to admit that life is not all unicorns and rainbows. It’s when we speak the truth that we can shine a light on the things that damage us, and that’s when we get to make real progress — not just in our own lives, but also in the lives of other people who can see that it’s OK to stand up and speak out. And having courage is the key to improving your mental health, because it’s what helps you to be determined and it pushes you forward.

OK, so how do you do all of that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this episode and let’s talk about…

How to find greater courage

First, define what courage means to you — because to know what you need to focus on you first need to have a clear idea of what ‘courage’ looks and feels like for you. This is about building greater self awareness (which I covered back in Episode 62) and it’s also about identifying how you want to grow as a person (and I talked about growth in Episode 37). One simple way you can do that is with my next point… 

Identify your comfort zone — and this is another self awareness thing, and what I mean here is to be really clear with yourself on what you feel comfortable with versus what feels challenging to you, because you’re going to need to clarify this in order to look at where you might need to do some work. For example, if you want to write a book but you keep putting it off because it seems like it’s too big and scary, your comfort zone actually involves avoiding the thing you want to do… which isn’t going to help you in the slightest. Do you know what happens in the comfort zone? We stay comfortable because then things don’t change… and nothing changes if nothing changes (and I’ll come back to that in a minute). First, let’s discuss my next point which is… 

Recognise the negative impact that fear has on you — because there’s healthy fear (like the kind that keeps you from playing with snakes and spiders) and then there’s unhealthy fear, which is the kind that keeps you from making progress. How many opportunities have you let pass you by in life because you were too scared or hesitant? I mean, I’m not talking about regrets (and I said back in Episode 22 that regrets are pointless, since you can’t change the past; all you can do is learn from it) but it’s important to remind yourself of that quote by the hockey player Wayne Gretzky: “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” In other words, you’ll never know if you never try… so be honest with yourself about the way that fear can hold you back from taking a calculated and considered risk every now and then (and I discussed fear in Episode 10). Moving on, my next tip is…

Identify your strengths — and this is about knowing what you’re good at so you can use your strengths to your advantage, which helps you to build greater self belief (which I talked about in Episode 125). And speaking of self belief, I want to encourage you to be kind to yourself by recognising the strength that you already have today, even if that’s something you’d like to build on more. I’m going to guess that you’re listening to this podcast because you want to improve your mental health, and that takes strength because it involves admitting to yourself that there is some work to be done — so you’re actually much braver than you may already think! And if you happen to work with a counsellor or therapist, then you’re even braver still… I know firsthand how much courage it takes to open up and bare your soul to a total stranger, so you have my absolute respect and admiration. Sometimes we don’t realise how much courage we already have; it’s like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, who was actually incredibly brave but just doubted himself a lot (and I covered self doubt in Episode 104). OK, my next tip is… 

Challenge your status quo — and aside from being a band that was around for quite a few decades, ‘status quo’ means the way that things currently are. You know how I said before that nothing changes if nothing changes? This is where that comes in. Why? Because staying the same might sound like a lovely idea, but it doesn’t actually work in practice… life is change and the world will keep on moving on with or without you, so you can either stay stuck in the past or you can shake things up in order to grow. That means that you need to get comfortable with not being comfortable, because growth can be awkward and unpleasant… but I know that, for me, if I hadn’t have challenged my own status quo then I’d still be working in the corporate sector feeling completely miserable (because it wasn’t the right fit for me or my creativity; that’s no shade to the corporate sector, but like anything it’s not necessarily going to be the right fit for everyone). Push yourself out of that comfort zone we talked about earlier so that you can evolve. There are a few steps involved with doing that, starting with my next point…

Think about what you want to (or need to) achieve — which is important because it helps you to become clear on what it is that you need to do so that you can make it happen; for example, moving on from a tough situation or creating positive changes in your life (or both, actually!). Next… 

Focus on what is within your direct control — because you can only control yourself and, more specifically, what you do and say (or don’t do or say). For example, someone reached out to me a little while back asking for quick hacks on how to create a podcast that would land in the top 40 charts, and my response was along the lines of “do the work and stick with it,” (although a lot more polite than that) and I just don’t think they could accept the fact that there are no shortcuts that will deliver sustainable results because all you can do is focus on what is within your direct control: what you do and say. So I share that story with you as a means of saying not to look for shortcuts or try to get other people to do what you want them to do; start with you and focus on yourself. When you do that you are able to find greater and greater courage because you see the positive results that go with doing that. OK, next… 

Start small — because you’re not going to be able to do everything at once; it’s just not realistic and it’s certainly not sustainable! You have to learn how to walk before you can run, so start where you are and focus on what you can do today with what you have then build over time. I say that because of course it’s easy to think 14 steps ahead, but if you don’t have the skills yet for Step 14 then it’s going to feel pretty terrifying and that will hold you back. Do you think I had any idea of what I was doing when I started this podcast back in late 2019 or my YouTube channel in early 2021? I had no clue, and I’m still figuring things out as I go! How I did that (and how you can too) is with my next point… 

Be proactive about learning new skills — because when you learn, you grow; it’s as simple as that. You don’t have to know everything in life, you just have to know where to find out how to do the things you want to do and then put in the time and effort to learn how to do them. It’s boring, I know, but it’s true! Speaking of, the next point is… 

Take things one step at a time — and that means breaking things down into the smallest possible steps and then doing them one at a time without getting hung up on the next thing or the one after that (because, again, when you think too many steps in advance then you’re probably going to get overwhelmed). I’m doing this with the book I’m working on at the moment; instead of focusing on the launch, I’m simply doing the work I need to do each day to make progress in line with the plan that I’ve created… because small steps add up to big results! Alright, next…

Focus on the best-case scenario — because realistic optimism will generally make you feel a lot better than pessimism! When you spend your time focused on all the things that could possibly go wrong it’s easy to become fearful; instead, turn your attention to all the things that could possibly go right. That doesn’t mean that you don’t plan for failure or that you just pretend everything will be all rainbows and unicorns, but since what you focus on is what you focus on it makes sense to turn your energy towards more positive things in order to minimise fear (and I talked about failure in Episode 84 and optimism in Episode 47). Next…

Be your own cheerleader — sure, it’s nice to have a team of people cheering you on but you don’t actually need it; what you need is to be excited for yourself about the direction you’re heading in life, because that’s what fuels your courage to keep pushing onwards even when the going gets tough (because that’s when the tough get going). Speaking of, my next point is…

Be persistent — because courage doesn’t just come automatically because one day you decide to be brave and courageous; it’s actually about making a conscious choice every single day to face your challenges with courage. I know that sounds a bit exhausting, but there’s no other way around it; there isn’t a pill you can take or a magic cure that can ‘hack’ your way to greater courage… it takes hard work and persistence every single day. I’ve talked about perseverance in the past (back in Episode 51) and I’m also going to be exploring persistence in a lot more detail in next week’s episode, so keep an eye out for that. One simple thing you can do to help you with persistence is my next point… 

Talk to someone — because the more you talk about it, the easier it gets (and I think I might have said that once or twice before!). If you’re struggling to find the strength and courage you need then talk to someone about what you’re feeling, whether that’s a friend or family member or if it’s a coach, counsellor or therapist. And if you need help then ask for it (and be specific about what you need); you don’t have to go through anything on your own and nor should you!

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to courage and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: Having courage is something you can learn, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t experience fear — quite the opposite, actually. The bravest people I have ever met are the ones who have been terrified and who have pushed on regardless. Being honest with yourself about your fears is the most courageous thing you can do, because true bravery comes from shining a light on the darkest areas of your own soul and choosing to say, “You have no control over me!”

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by an unknown author, and it is:

“Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.”

Unknown

Alright… that’s nearly it for this week.

Next week I’ll be talking about persistence. I mentioned earlier that courage takes hard work and persistence every single day, and it’s the same for looking after your mental health; which is a pain, I know, but it’s true. You don’t improve your wellbeing by just doing one or two things; it’s the combination of all the little things you do every day that add up to your general sense of wellness. So next time I’ll be exploring that and I’ll be talking about what persistence is, why it matters and how to be more persistent for the sake of your mental health.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 15th of May, 2022. 

If you found this episode helpful then I’d love it if you left a five-star review on the platform you’re listening to me on, or head over to my Instagram @ltamentalhealth and let me know. And if you’d like to support me and my work then I have a Patreon where I offer exclusive benefits for my supporters; you’ll find the link in the episode description, plus it’s linked on my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au (where you can also sign up for my free newsletter, where I share a quick dose of mental health inspiration every Thursday).

And I also have a YouTube channel where I publish new videos every Wednesday… so, if you’d like even more content about looking after your mental health, join me over there (and that’s linked in the episode description as well)!

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!

Jeremy 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health is proudly produced by Reconnaissance Media, helping you find gratitude and meaning. For more information visit reconnaissancemedia.com

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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.

The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.

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