Four Paths to Finding Your Courage and Changing Your LifeIf you punch ‘how to achieve a goal’ into Google it will return 400 million results, or thereabouts. In academia there have been over 50,000 research articles published on goals. I would venture that almost every adult living on the planet has a goal they hope to achieve, from winning a sporting competition, to making money, to eating better to sadly, maybe eating at all.

You’d think that given the amount of information available to us about how to achieve our goals and the fact that so many of us are hoping to do exactly that, that someone would have happened upon the perfect answer by now. That we would all be merrily on the path to achieving every goal we set for ourselves every single time we set one. To changing our lives for the better. But of course we’re not. People are complicated like that.

Achieving our goals almost always involves changing our behaviour and change requires courage. Even the smallest goal, if it’s important and meaningful, will challenge you to think differently or behave differently. Even the smallest goal, if it’s important and meaningful, will bring with it a little bit of fear, a ‘what if’ that can be enough to stop us in our tracks, to make us doubt our ability to take that step, to make that change, to achieve that goal.

But if the tiniest goal can be hard to achieve, what does it take to make a big change in your life? What kind of Herculean effort must it involve? How on earth do you overhaul everything? Think differently? Live differently?

The best advice is, ‘You don’t’. All big successful changes are an accumulation of little changes. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Breaking your big goals down into little goals is one piece of advice you will find over and over again when you do that Google search but there’s a vital piece of the puzzle that you will need to take those first steps to making life different. You will need to find your courage.

Robert Biswas-Diener, a positive psychologist and author of The Courage Quotient has done a lot of research in this area and he says that everyday courage has two parts. The first is managing the fear. The second is having the willingness to act.

How do I manage the fear?

  1. Get angry! Anger trumps fear every time.  Get angry with the status quo, with the fact that life doesn’t look like you want it to, that you’ve got this big vision of an exciting future in front of you and you need to do something to make it reality.
  2. Relive success.  Think about the things you’ve done in the past that required courage – the jumps you’ve made – and the successes you’ve had, no matter how small.  Remind yourself of the new job you started or the big house move, or the time you struck up a conversation with a stranger in the hope of getting to know them better.  Think about how good that felt and draw on that feeling.

How do increase my willingness to act?

  1. Take baby steps.  Remember the quote, ‘the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’? Think of one very small thing can you do today that will start you on your journey, then do it.  It can be as small as you like but it needs to take you a tiny step in the right direction. Done that? Right, now think about what you’ll do tomorrow.  When tomorrow comes, do that.  Keep going.
  2. Engage in a little failure. The key word here is little.  So what if one of your baby steps doesn’t work out as you’d hoped? You’ve got more lined up for tomorrow.  Embrace the mistakes, learn from them and keep going.  The stakes are low when you’re taking small steps and the rewards, even from the failures, can be great.

In psychological terms, courage takes bravery, persistence, honesty and enthusiasm. Add a little bit of each of these to a practical, step-by-step plan and you will be achieving your goals and changing your life in no time.

Ellen Jackson,

Daily Zen.

Ellen Jackson is a psychologist, author and blogger at Potential Psychology

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  • Hi Ellen,

    Love the article. The clear take out for me is the baby steps to achieve ‘eating the elephant’. I try and apply this as much as possible with the project I am working on and indeed every project. Every small step is a step and better than no step.

    I do find that keeping sight of the goal is important as it allows one to remember why one started, but not letting it overwhelm you is key- this can cause anxiety.

    Keep up the great writing.

  • Hi Nick, sorry for the late reply. I’ve only just seen your comment. I find that ‘eating the elephant’ is a great visual too. There is absolutely a lot of anxiety associated with a big goal and often I think that does become overwhelming and leads to procrastination if not complete abandonment. If we can take those little bites we can achieve a lot over time.

    Thanks for reading. I’m really glad you liked the article.

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