3 Simple Steps to Cultivate Courage and Create a Life of Meaning

Our deepest human desire is to cultivate meaning in our lives. Our deepest human need is to survive.

This is the source of our deepest conflict. 

Our brains are survival machines and nothing more. They’re designed to keep us alive. As part of this hard-wiring, we’re also efficiency machines. Our brains seek the path of least resistance. 

It’s a primal desire to conserve calories. 

The more efficient something is, the less fuel it burns. Anything that causes fear or discomfort burns more calories and, as such, needs to be avoided.  

But, beyond our brains is an intrinsic gravitational pull towards meaning. 

We desperately want our experiences, and in turn, our lives to mean something. 

I believe we all have a calling, it’s the song that sings within our souls. As a child, it sang louder; as an adult, it’s merely a whisper.

But it’s never gone. 

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt

I believe we cultivate meaning in our lives when we pursue our calling. 

Whether it be connecting with your love of composing, writing, sculpting, painting, entrepreneurship, or being of service to others. 

It’s releasing the song inside you and breathing life into its external, physical manifestation, and sharing it with the world. 

A life of meaning is a life of novelty, challenge, risk, fear, uncertainty, and the unknown. 

All things our survival brains despise, all things that threaten our survival. We may know intellectually that pursuing our calling won’t kill us, but tell our brains that. 

The lion in the bush is now the screenplay you want to write.

To our surviving efficient brains, the decision to finally put pen to paper and write the first word of the Civil War novel that’s been burning inside your soul is the equivalent of standing at the edge of an infinite abyss contemplating whether or not to jump. 

It’s the head versus the heart. It’s survival of the species versus meaning. It’s an existential tug-o-war. Unfortunately, survival eventually pulls the flag over the line more often than not. 

The head wins as the heart weeps.  

We choose the path of least resistance, which, on its surface, may look nothing like the easy way.

The right school, the right company, the right job title, with a clear path to the next right job title, the Mercedes, and the right house.

We check all the boxes on all the things we’ve been conditioned to believe will make us happy. 

The acquisition of all these things is a tremendous amount of work.

And yet, if you have a calling to write, paint, sculpt, design, compose, entrepreneurship, and you’re proactively ignoring your song, you’ve chosen the easy way. 

When we allow survival to win the existential tug-o-war, we’re left with an existential void in the center of our being. 

And there is nothing external that will ever fill that void. 

The only way to fill that void is to leap into the abyss. 

But how do we leap into the abyss?

We cultivate courage.

Courage is comprised of many components, but I will focus on the top 3 I leveraged when rebuilding and reinventing my life after prison. 

These 3 Practices are the Foundation of Courage.

1. Cultivate Self-Trust

Some people refer to this as faith. However, Self-trust and faith are not that we know something will work out the way we want. 

We can’t know that. We have no control over the outcome, only the effort we put in. 

No, self-trust and faith is the deep inner belief that regardless of how events unfold, we will navigate what comes, and we will come out the other side. We may be bumped and bruised, but we know that we will be ok. 

When you’re terrified of doing something meaningful in your life, knowing you’re going to be ok no matter what is wickedly empowering.

We cultivate Self-Trust by making and keeping commitments to ourselves and to others. We become the person who does what they say they’re going to do.

2. Practice Gratitude

There is a tremendous amount of content out in the world around the virtues of a regular gratitude practice, and rightfully so. But there is something I’ve never seen written about gratitude. 

Gratitude is a foundational building block to courage. 

When we practice gratitude consistently, we rewire our brains from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset. 

How easy will it be to call on courage when we’re feeling scarce?

How easy will it be to call on courage when we’re feeling abundant?

Big difference between the two. 

Try this every day; write down five things you’re grateful for. Then take one of them, and ask yourself, 

“Why am I grateful for X?” 

Asking “Why?” adds a new dimension to the practice and will cultivate courage.

Core values are your North Star. 

They illuminate the pathway toward living a meaningful life — one that’s filled with passion, purpose, and fulfillment.

When you take the time to consider your core values, the way through the things you struggle with (feeling stuck, no direction, fear) becomes crystal clear.

Values are the foundation for motivation and resilience (taking the first step and continuing through challenges) and serve as a wickedly powerful perceptual filter. 

When you connect your future plans and goals to your core values, your goals become more compelling. 

They become less overwhelming and daunting. The path forward becomes more apparent. 

Choose no more than 7 characteristics you’d like to embody in your life; these are your core values.  

Incorporate these three practices into your own life you’ll make the leap into the abyss with ease. 

And you’ll uncover something extraordinary:

What your brain told you would kill you will make you feel more alive than you ever have.

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