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You might have already noticed that the environment you are in and the people you are surrounded by both influence you in different ways. If you don’t have any Entrepreneurs in your family or among your friends, if you don’t have artists around you, who paint for a living or people who have chosen a different lifestyle by working as freelancers from all over the world, it might not even appear to you as an option to do the same. It’s outside of your imagination.

The same is true for courage. If you are not surrounded by people, who live their lives courageously, you might not think it’s possible to follow your dreams, exceed your limiting beliefs and take more risks to do what makes you happy.

You are as courageous as your environment is!

Why is that? Fear is contagious! And courage is contagious, too!

We humans are built to recognize core emotions among each other. The Researcher Paul Ekman found out that we identify fear or anger on the faces of others and not only understand the emotion but actually start feeling the same, i.e. fear. As humans we feel empathy for each other and therefore experience the same physiological processes associated with the emotion (cf. Paul Ekman, Darwin’s Claim of Universals in Facial Expression Not Challenged & Are facial expressions universal?).
If our environment is fearful, it has an impact on us. We are more fearful, too.

Courage also has an impact on us. When we witness moral or courageous acts, we feel an emotional uplift, we feel inspired. The psychologist Jonathan Haidt identified this as an emotion he calles “elevation”. When we see someone standing up for others being discriminated against or when we read about someone, who risked his life to save a drowning boy, we feel “elevated”. We are inspired to live up to those examples. We are encouraged to do the same. In that way courage is contagious, too. (cf. Jonathan Haidt, Wired to be Inspired)

So, to become braver, we need role models among family, friends & colleagues – courage role models. Role models for speaking up, for being persistent, for taking risks, for thinking big, for dealing with illness or tragical incidents to name a few. The more diverse the role models the better. Because being courageous often times is a very personal thing and different people feel inspired by different types of courage.

So why not have a courage community? A community with role models and like-minded people. The energy in such a community is belonging and commiseration. (cf. Jonathan Fields, Success Scaffolding). We are part of something bigger, we are all in it together, we experience the ups and downs together and encourage each other to do new things despite our fear. And most importantly, we celebrate our failures together. Because failure is a big part of success (cf. Ute Kueffner, Essence Leadership).

Really? For many of us, failing comes with a feeling of embarrassment, shame, disappointment or humiliation, especially when we fail in public. (cf. Robert Biswas-Diener, The Courage Quotient). It’s not exactly something we aspire. We rather try to avoid situations where we could fail. Along the lines of: “If we don’t risk anything, we cannot fail.” In that way, “Failure is a thieve of courage”, writes Robert Biswas-Diener.
Our willingness to act, to be brave in certain situations decreases due to our fear of failing.

If we instead encourage each other to reframe failure and see it as a necessary part of our learning process, then it’s much easier to try out new things in a playful way and try again if we fail. Failing is unpreventable. Failing is how we learn and advance in life. It might not feel so good but it is unpreventable. It’s essential for moving forward. That is why we may also accept it.

And maybe we not only accept failure but even start to provoke it. To really grow our courage! With the support of our courage community we can intentionally fail to become braver. (cf. Robert Biswas-Diener, The Courage Quotient). For instance, by holding a speech about a topic in front of others in the spur of the moment or by facilitating a session within an open space meetup having never done that before. This can boost our courage big time.

What else boosts our courage?
Imagining ourselves being courageous!
Yes, we can be our own role models! Cool Stuff, right?

Research shows that :

If we choose courageous roles or think of ourselves as filling courageous roles, we are more likely to act boldly when the need arises.

Robert Biswas-Diener, The Courage Quotient

This mental exercise might be worth introducing or integrating into your daily mindfulness practice:

  • Visualize yourself being brave in certain situations where you would like to be braver, i.e. public speaking or facilitating meetings.
  • Or see yourself taking on courageous roles within your environment, i.e. be the one who takes a risk a day to expand her comfort zone

And maybe you even take on and try out these roles in real-life, too. Be the one on your team who speaks to the elephant in the room or be the one in your family, who lives according to her values even if that means to take a path that might not be mainstream.

You can do it!
With the help of your imagination and your courage community.

Where do you want to be more courageous?

Start Now!
>> At REBEL COACH CAMP 2020 – The 2 day courage workshop that makes you braver!
>> Or join the Rebel Coaching Leadership & Courage Community


Article inspired by Ute Kueffner, Executive Coach, CPCC, MCC, MBA,

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A cool image for courage is horse jumping. According to an old anecdote, for a rider and her horse to jump over a fence, both had to first throw their hearts over the fence and then jump after, without knowing what’s on the other side (cf. Henry Kimsey House, Courage and the Leader in Front)

Yes, that’s what it feels like to face big changes!

That’s how I’ve felt recently when I started my coaching practice.

I had a vision. I was passionate. I was longing to become a self-employed professional Coach. I was about to be brave, follow my heart and jump. An then, just before I jumped:

Those inner voices came:

  • Voice A: You’re jeopardizing your Image! What if you fail? (The Anxious)
  • Voice B: You have a vision! Be brave! Quit your job and follow your heart! (The Courageous)
  • Voice C: Don’t risk anything! How do you want to survive financially? (The One that panics)
  • Voice D: Jump! You’ve always achieved everything you aimed for! (The Wise One)
  • Voice E: You’re not good enough. There are other Coaches out there, who are much better and more experienced than you. And you think, you can live from it? (The Judge)

.. an so on …

And the anxious and limiting voices become louder and louder and finally … win.
I don’t jump.
Apparently, my passion is not enough.
I’m stuck in front of the fear barrier.

Why is that? Why am I stuck? What’s going on here?

Whenever we face a big change, we experience some kind of inner conversation, consciously or unconsciously. We hear our thoughts as voices. Some of them are supportive, others fearful and limiting (cf.Cynthia Loy Darst, Meet Your Inside Team). Most of the times, the anxious voices win as we don’t actively deal with them, understand and influence them.

We all have those anxious voices. They are often called inner critiques or Saboteurs. They tend to appear when we head into big changes or when we want to implement important new plans and projects. They are the guardians of the status quo. They come from our childhood or youth and want to protect us from danger. Oftentimes there is a spark of truth in them. However, 99 % of the fear they convey is unfounded. We are no kids anymore. We are grown-up and don’t need their protection. They hold us back from doing the things that are meaningful to us.

What are other reasons why we are stuck?

We are conditioned to caution!
Whose parents have said to their kids “Go outside and dare a lot”? , “Take big risks today!” or “Take chances!”
Usually we hear „Take care“, „Be careful“, “Don’t take any unnecessary risk“ (cf. Susan Jeffers, Feel the fear and do it anyway).

Another reason that keeps us from jumping is the „Status Quo Bias“, a psychological phenomenon. It’s the (irrational) tendency to prefer the current situation to a change. This might sound familiar: We don’t change banks even though there are much better alternatives. We don’t take interesting job offers or build or own business but instead stay in our current job in which we are unhappy. (cf. Lucius Caviola, Status Quo Bias und Reversal Test, 4.12.2012)

At the end of the day, it’s not so important why we don’t get passed the fear barrier.

The fears are present and they will stay as long as we develop and grow.
That is why we don’t need to fight against them. We can accept our fears and do the things that are important to us despite them.

We can chose to see fear as our companion.
We can chose to have a different mindset toward fear:
A mindset that sees fear not as a warning signal, a signal for withdrawl.
But a mindset that sees fear as a green light to keep going and do the important things that frighten us.

What is your attitude toward fear?
And what attitude do you want?

Do you want to develop a more courageous perspective?


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“What is courage?” – I asked the people around me and here are some of the answers I received:

to do things where I need to overcome my fear, i.e. mountain climbing despite my fear of heights

to rely on my gut feeling and do what’s important to me (even if it means to do what nobody else does)

not avoiding uncomfortable situations but facing them

to walk down unknown paths without knowing how it will turn out

to openly display my fears or emotions, i.e. failing or crying in front of others.

Courage has many different aspects. Melanie Greenberg writes in one of her articles on Psychology Today that courage has the following 6 facets:

  • feel fear yet choosing to act – face your fears, act despite the fear
  • follow your heart – do what is important to you (even against the stream)
  • preserve in the face of adversity – keep trying, not run away when things get difficult but stay
  • standing up for what is right – speak up, say what you think, stand up for others
  • expanding your horizons; letting go of the familiar – go to the unknown without backup and not knowing what will happen
  • face suffering with dignity or faith – accept strokes of fate like illness, make the best out of it and support those who suffer

I would add one more aspect of courage that comes from Brené Brown:

  • being vulnerable – admit mistakes or fail in front of others, show blind spots, be imperfect (cf. Brené Brown, Daring Greatly)

Courage not only has different aspect, it also has various definitions.

I like the French word for courage very much: Cour-Rage. Heart & rage, the rage of the heart. What I love about this definition is that the passion and intensity of courage is emphasized a lot here. (vcf. Henry Kimsey-House, Courage and the Leader in Front).

In dictionaries courage often is defined as mindset or mental attitude:

the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear, bravery.

The definition of Robert Biswas-Diener describes courage very accurately:

Courage is the willingness to act toward a moral or worthwhile goal despite the presence of risk, uncertainty or fear.

Robert Biswas-Diener, The Courage-Quotient

I chose to pursue my goal although I am afraid is the essence of his Biswas-Diener’s definition.
With “moral” Biswas-Diener means action that has a positive impact on me or others. Without the moral aspect, the definition could also be applied to a thieve. A thieve is prepared to pursue his goal, which is worthwhile but not moral: make a burglary , despite the danger of being caught and despite his fear. (cf. Robert Biswas-Diener, The Courage-Quotient).

The researcher Cynthia Puthia differentiates in her definition between two types of courage: “General Courage” and “Personal Courage” (cf. Cynthia Puthia, The Construct of Courage).

“General Courage” is what one would commonly see as courage, i.e. a fire-fighter who rescues people will probably be seen as brave by a lot of people or an activist who speaks her opinion although she could be prosecuted for this.

“Personal Courage” is courage for me personally; when I overcome my very personal fear, which might not be brave at all for others, i.e. drive long distances by car or speak in front of a large audience.

Maybe not everyone of us will be a firefighter or activist.

But here is the good news concerning our Personal Courage:
We all have the powere to overcome our fears and saboteurs and become braver.

We can learn courage!

Do you want to be more courageous, too?


• Melanie Greenberg Ph.D., The Six Attributes of Courage, Psychology Today, 23.8.2012,
• Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, 2015
• Henry Kimsey House, Courage and the Leader in Front, Co-Active® Training Institute (CTI), 29.3.2019,
• Cynthia L. S. Pury, Cooper R. Woodard, The Construct of Courage. Categorization and Measurement, Researchgate, Juni 2007,
• Definition “Courage”,
• Robert Biswas-Diener: The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver, 2012

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14-year-old Laura Dekker sails around the world on her own – despite a big outcry in society and many obstacles.
Greta Thunberg starts a global movement for a sustainable climate policy and dares to speak-up to most powerful in the world about their destructive way of dealing with the environment.
Brazilian surfer Maja Gabeira is the first woman to ride a 14m wave. One day she falls off the board, badly injured. That doesn’t stop her from surfing again. A few years later, she rides a wave over 20 m high in the same place where the accident happened and sets a new record. (cf. Elena Favili, Francesca Cavallo, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, 2017)

These women have courage. We all know people who have courage (even men :)).

People who care for their sick parents many years and accompany them on their last days, being there when they pass away. A friend who flies long distances despite his fear of flying. Another friend who quits her well-paid job to follow her passion and found a charity.

Are all of them born with more courage?
Is courage a character trait?

There might be people who are more risk-taking by birth.

Researchers, however, agree on this: We can become braver. Regardless of age, gender or personality type. (cf. Boris Hänssler, Über Mut, Psychologie Heute)

Because courage is a mindset.
It’s a mental attitude towards facing intimidating situations. When I am courageous, I do all the things that I’m afraid of despite the fear I feel. I don’t let uncomfortable things or threatening situations hold me back or have them paralyze me.
I choose to act towards an important and often moral goal or as Robert Biswas-Diener defines courage in his book “The courage-quotient”:

Courage is the willingness to act toward a moral or worthwhile goal despite the presence of risk, uncertainty or fear.

Robert Biswas-Diener, The Courage Quotient

Courage, therefore, is a choice.
A choice FOR change, FOR risk, FOR breaking new grounds and exceeding limits.

And it’s worth being courageous!
In his 2016 study Christopher Keller found that courageous people are healthier.
The willingness to show courage and the somatic perception influence each other: When we have courage, we have less health issues and vice versa. (cf. Boris Hänssler, Über Mut, Psychologie Heute)

What else?
It pleases us sustainably to do things that we weren’t able to do before or to master hurdles that aren’t easy to overcome.

Exactly those things, that we do for the first time or that we do particularly mindfully and intensely turn into memories that stay with us. We remember situations in which we had to leave our comfort zone vividly and for a long time – the so-called Reminiscence Effect.
Courage creates happy memories! (vgl. Fabrice Braun, Welche Erinnerungen machen uns glücklich?, Sueddeutsche Zeitung).

I chose courage. I want to live my life as courageously as possible. Leave my comfort zone, make changes that frighten me, provoke mistakes despite my huge fear of failing, do the right thing, speak up, be there for others, help people who suffer and stick around when it gets difficult. Again. And Again.

Not so easy. But worth it.

Do you want to be more courageous, too?


  • Elena Favili, Francesca Cavallo: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, 2018
  • Robert Biswas-Diener: The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver, 2012
  • Boris Hänssler, Über Mut, Psychologie Heute, 8.11.2017
  • Fabrice Braun, Welche Erinnerungen machen uns glücklich?, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 27.12.2019
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