Transforming Anxiety into Courage
A dear client (and now friend) was referring my coaching services to a colleague and shared in her note, “Meet Courtney; she takes the anxiety out of leadership and replaces it with courage.” Not only did the feedback warm my heart, but it is also an accurate description of the development path leaders often take.
While no two coaching programs are alike, a common theme, especially in recent years, is supporting leaders in working through the stress, nerves, and uneasiness that can accompany ambiguity, uncertainty, and unfamiliar or significant events.
Strong performers often have very active minds. Their thoughts whiz and whirl constantly. They imagine solutions, innovate approaches, and test-run new ideas throughout the day. And, while a busy mind can generate much good, it can also go to some anxious places. Endless “what ifs?” multiple worst-case scenarios and a fair bit of catastrophizing can quickly turn active thoughts into a doom loop.
If you recognize yourself as more susceptible to doom loops than you’d like to be, I encourage you to reflect on the following:
- How often do you really fail? One thing I know for sure is that people spend way more time overthinking their potential for failure than actually failing. This is fear at work. How do you transform fear into courage? First, you don’t deny your fears; you know them and name them. And then, you think about overcoming them, not succumbing to them. You consciously shift your thoughts from tragedy to triumph. And, in doing so, you begin to think creatively about how you can succeed versus what could happen to prevent you from doing what you value. Please, please, please do not buy into the falsity that you are not failing because you are good at thinking about every way you could fail. And therefore, you are preventing failure through your diligence. What you are doing is putting a ceiling on your talent, courage, and ability to live a truly meaningful life. The risks on our hearts to take are the keys to joy and contribution.
- What is your narrative toward yourself? Confidence is an emotion, and much of its consistency is fueled by the words you tell yourself about yourself. Are you on your side when faced with the prospect of a challenge? It’s important to uplift yourself with sincere words of affirmation that acknowledge your capabilities. If you consistently make a case against yourself, learn to stop those thoughts. Next, slowly learn to replace the storyline with admiration of the best parts of yourself.
- If not you, then who? Often anxiety is the result of unfair comparisons to others. Meaning it’s when you assume that someone else has more, is more, or can be more instead of recognizing your value. When you catch yourself stacking the deck in favor of why someone else is better off, that’s a good time to let go or redirect your thinking.
Learning to quiet the mind can be one of the most difficult challenges for a developing leader. Don’t let yourself skip over this important competence. It’s an essential component of growth.
Suppose this is an area where you lack strength. In that case, I encourage you to explore: meditation, single-tasking (a term well underutilized compared to its cousin, multitasking), and self-discovery through writing pages you can shred right after. The key is the in-the-moment focus of pen to paper on a prompt that speaks to you. While slow and quiet, these actions accelerate your success and make peace and courage more present on your journey.