I would suggest four pieces of advice for people who want to enhance their bravery. The first is to break the challenge into steps, so each step gets easier as you’ve had an initial success. Most of us would feel overwhelmed thinking about doing something gigantic, but it becomes easier if you break it down. My second piece of advice would be to make sure people give themselves credit. So often, when people make a positive step, they in some way negate it. They say, “Well, it was just really easy,” or, “I only did it because so-and-so helped me.”
My third piece of advice is to encourage people to think about role models they can relate to. So I don’t have to be as brave as Madeleine Albright to be considered a “brave woman”—I can think about the family member who took a risk in her career, or that teacher who I thought really put herself out there, and use that as inspiration. [And] my final piece of advice is to focus on the steps and the rewards for those steps, as opposed to focusing on the negative feelings you might have along the way. The idea is to focus on accomplishments [rather] than the fact that you feel afraid. Being frightened doesn’t mean you can’t be brave. In fact, doing things even when you feel scared — that allows you to really be courageous.
Bethany Teachman, PhD, is a professor of clinical psychology and director of clinical training at the University of Virginia. She is an expert in exposure therapy, which is a form of therapy that helps patients overcome or reduce their anxiety and fear by exposing them to their fear.