To keep moving towards a desired goal, in spite of fears and doubts, is courage.
Why do we need courage for personal growth?
When we are growing up, we have an inquisitive mind but no knowledge. We struggle to grasp the meaning of things. We have wonder and we learn quickly. We start learning from our own experience and from what others teach us. By and by, we form an idea of how the world operates and can make reasonably intelligent predictions and decisions.
Over time, we become comfortable with this idea of the world. Now we don’t want to leave it. There might be certain things that don’t seem right. But we ignore that because we are now comfortable. Exploring further requires effort, and going out into the unknown is always a risk. Once this sets in, further growth becomes difficult. If you can’t let go of the old, you can’t invite in the new. Your growth becomes stunted.
We are not perfect, nor is our idea of this world, no matter how much we have worked on it before. There is a limit to which a particular version of reality can help us grow. Then we start seeing holes in the logic. If we still want to improve further, we will have to start questioing our logic, we will have to go where we would not dare go before.
When you start seeing that there is probably a truth further beyond where you can see, it takes courage to go to the end of your version and look beyond. You are leaving the security and safety of the known and taking on the adventure of the unknown. You, are becoming an explorer, an adventurer! You are not yet sure of what lies on that side. All you know is that you can find out only by exploring that unknown, by letting down your guard that you have so fiercely kept up, and experience the new, fully. It seems risky. Every now and then, you have an urge to go back to the safe, but if you are courageous, your heart tells you you can never be satisfied, never feel complete until you really find out, test it out yourself. And so you move on, in spite of your fear.
Courage is not fearlessness. Osho says, fearlessness is the state where you have been courageous so many times that you don’t feel fear at all. Fearlessness is the epitome of courage.
Until you display courage, you cannot improve further in life. Personal development will always involve some risks, some fears. To still go ahead with it, courage is essential.
You will have to question everything.
When we are starting out in life, our version of reality is heavily influenced by what others around us believe. I saw an episode on Discovery channel. They were showing an experiment. They demonstrated that Gorilla new borns and human new borns started out with the same amount of intelligence. As they grew up, human kids differed, in that they learned from what they saw their elders doing. We have this characterstick to learn from our elders and grow fast. We don’t re learn what others already know, we just pick it up from them.
This process has another side to it as well. We pick up everything from our parents and teachers, we can’t differntiate what makes sense from what doesn’t. The result is, their shortcomings also become our shortcomings. We form certain habits by default, we take certain things for granted. How many people question the idea of God or Religion? I don’t think there are many. People just continue with the habits they formed in childhood because it seems comfortable. The idea of questioning anything is scary. If the reality they have held for so many years, comes out to be false, all their world might go upside down. What if there is no God? What if there is no life after this one? Does that mean we are totally finished when we die? That’s too scary a proposition for most. They will never question this. They will continue to hold their comfortable beliefs of childhood.
If you really want to grow in life. If you want to become a better version of yourself, if you want to improve upon your idea of reality and bring it ever so closer to the truth, you will have to be ready to question everything you have come to believe, EVERYTHING. And this questioning, will require courage.
How to progresively build courage.
Building courage, as Steve Pavlina says, is just like building muscles. You cannot become courageous overnight. It takes regular, gradual practise. First you begin with the easy and move progressively towards more and more challenging tasks.
Say if you are not sure whether God exists or not, but are still scared of his wrath if you stop believing in him, you don’t have to try being an atheist outright. You can start with the idea that if God wants you to grow and learn, he won’t punish you for being inquisitive, for searching for truth. So start reading literature that dismisses God, discusses atheism. Do this for a few days. God can’t be angry if you are brave enough to question things, to use the brain power and reasoning he has provided you with. Then you can look around and listen to the ideas of those who don’t believe in him. These people can’t be bad, they are also creation of God and he won’t be angry if you try to connect to his children, even the ‘bad’ ones. Once you are comfortable with this and feel no guilt listening to, or reading God defying literature, once you feel like trying more, you can mentally tell God – ‘To seek truth, I need to not believe in you for a few days. If my experience points to your non-existance, I will respect it and stop believing in you. I hope you will still love me because I am being brave enough to follow through on the seach for truth.’
You can continue this way progressively. If later, you feel like you were wrong, you can go back to your previous beliefs. This way you do not have to jump into being an atheist right away. You develop your courage gradually.
Similarly, if you have stage fright, you can start by speaking to a friend first, then you move on to discussions with more people, till finally, you have the courage to speak in front of many.
I used this progressive technique to grow my confidence in facing interviews for jobs. I used to attend dozens of interviews, just to build my confidence!