Building Bravery: the antidote for the age of anxiety

An ongoing study of UK adults by the Mental Health Foundation during the pandemic found over half of us (54%) have felt overwhelmed, anxious or worried in the previous two weeks. We’re here to tell you that this gut wrenching feeling is not what you think. In fact, it can…

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An ongoing study of UK adults by the Mental Health Foundation during the pandemic found over half of us (54%) have felt overwhelmed, anxious or worried in the previous two weeks.

We’re here to tell you that this gut wrenching feeling is not what you think. In fact, it can be quite the opposite if you let it. With a few small adjustments, anxiety can be instantly converted from fear, to rocket fuel for your wildest dreams. Here’s how.

1) Reframing Anxiety

Fear, stress, and anxiety have been totally vilified in modern life. We look at anxiety as weakness, so it makes us feel weak and act with fear. You see, anxiety is a totally misunderstood emotion and its all due to the way we frame it. As Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman said “An investment with an 80% chance of success sounds far more attractive than one with a 20% chance of failure. The mind can’t easily recognise that they are actually the same.” This is true of anxiety. Something that makes us feel anxious we interpret as something to avoid, but really it is an opportunity to grow.

2) Responding with Bravery

Clinical psychology tell us that by exposing yourself to anxieties, you begin to feel braver, not more anxious. You see, both fear and bravery are cycles. The more you respond to anxiety with fear – avoiding the problem – the faster your anxiety grows. The same is true of bravery. The more you respond to anxiety with bravery – acknowledging the problem – the braver you feel, and there is nothing more powerful and productive than a brave person with a purpose.

“Bravery is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.”Aristotle.

3) Building a Bravery Cycle

Armed with a fresh perspective of the opportunity that anxiety presents us, it’s time to start feeding your bravery cycle.

Step 1: write down one thing that is making you feel anxious. For example, you might be feeling anxious about your financial future.

Step 2: write down the smallest possible thing you can do to approach this problem. Using the same example, this might be to carry out an audit of your finances.

Step 3: execute Step 2 TODAY. Without fail. If you can’t possibly do it today, the task you have chosen, isn’t small enough.

Step 4: write down the next smallest possible thing you can do to approach this problem and execute the next day. This may be to setup a savings account and a monthly direct debit.

Step 5: ask yourself “Do I feel braver or more anxious for having completed these steps?”

Step 6: repeat previous steps until the anxiety is solved to your best capability.

Step 7: repeat steps 1-6 with a new anxiety.

4) Building a culture of bravery

With the understanding that fear feeds fear and bravery breeds bravery, it is important to amplify the idea at a societal level.

“Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.” – Brene Brown.

We can start by talking more about bravery and less about what holds us back. When our minds fixate on the negative, it ends up controlling our actions and beliefs.

Bravery is not a super-human quality reserved for a brave elite. To drive change and rise to new challenges we need to re-frame bravery as something we can all add into our daily actions and decisions – in the same way that random small acts of kindness help reframe the concept of helping others. By re-framing in this way, it becomes much easier to see ourselves as having the ability to be brave and, as a consequence, actually to take risks, ask difficult questions of ourselves and others and drive change (big or small) where it is needed.

We’ll leave you with a quote from Joseph Campbell which we hope will inspire you to start building braver decision making into your everyday life.

”And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. And where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.