In my latest blog post, I argued that most entrepreneurs are optimizing for productivity when they should be optimizing for courage.
It turns out that how you spend your time – hour to hour – does not determine your success. The only thing that matters is how willing you are to act courageously on extraordinary, BIG ideas.
Bill Gates isn’t worth 80 billion because he’s 800,000 times more productive than you – but he did have an extraordinary vision for the future and the courage to execute on it.
So how DO we optimize for courage? What mental weights can we lift to build the muscles that help us pursue risky, hugely rewarding opportunities?
This article will show you five strategies to do exactly that…
1. Share an opinion of yours that most people don’t agree with
It’s become trendy for everyone to have a blog. People stay stuff like “It’s never too early to start building your personal brand”.
Being a thought leader definitely makes entrepreneurship easier, but there’s another – subtle, but no less powerful – benefit to building your platform and finding your voice: It gives you an opportunity to tell the world how you see things differently.
What do you believe in that no one else does?
The above is Peter Thiel’s favorite question to ask budding entrepreneurs, and it requires ENORMOUS courage to answer publicly.
While a lot of bloggers are publishing inane list-posts, guides to social media and other noise, you can build your courage muscle by bravely publishing your most unconventional thoughts, beliefs and opinions.
You’ll get bolder by default while also learning first hand that anytime someone violently disagrees with you, someone else vehemently agrees.
2. Eliminate the enemies of Courage
One way we can build our courage is by removing the obstacles to it flourishing. Neuroscience has confirmed a link between Anxiety (the antithesis of Courage), stress and depression. By focusing on eliminating the latter two, we can remove anxiety from our lives and significantly increase our capacity for courageous action as entrepreneurs.
The best way to do it is to ritualize both exercise and meditation into our every day life. My most risk tolerate and successful clients – those two aren’t conflated by accident – all have some form of the above as a part of their routine.
The human nervous system can’t keep up with the fast paced decisiveness (in the face of relentless uncertainty) that entrepreneurship demands of us… without a regular neurological flushing of the happy chemicals brought on by intense exercise.
Likewise, it gets hard for us to see the best, courageous path forward when we’re manic and stressed. Finding the mental space to see the truth, though some form of mindfulness, is a game changer.
3. Go Social Skydiving to grow your own thick skin
“Social Skydiving” is my new favorite concept. I believe it was originally pioneered by the geeks-trying-to-learn-how-to-talk-to-girls crowd, but we shouldn’t let that stop us appreciating a brilliant idea.
At it’s core, Social Skydiving is the act of leaping into social situations where you HAVE to interact with others in uncomfortable, but ultimately fulfilling ways.
The classic example is to simply introduce yourself to a group of people at a bar. Do so and you’ve leapt from the plane and now have to build your own parachute. What do you say next? How do you navigate the corner you’ve just painted yourself into? How do you keep this bold thing going without coming across as a total weirdo?
If that sounds like the most horrifying thing you’ve ever heard of, then you’re getting it.
Social Skydiving forces you to confront the part of your brain that is TERRIFIED of being rejected or ostracized from the tribe. It’s jumping into your fear of strangers and forcing yourself through it, to the joy of spontaneous social interaction on the other side.
Though you can’t imagine it, after the initial failures and inevitable learning curve… winning at social skydiving actually starts to feel phenomenally rewarding. If that isn’t a metaphor for entrepreneurship, I don’t know what is.
4. Find Courage buddies
Your income is supposed to be the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Your ability to do courageous things in business is the same.
This is perhaps the most important distinction in this article: When you’re assembling an entrepreneurial mastermind, dinner party or coffee date it’s worth re-evaluating who you really want to spend time networking with.
The intuitive approach is to simply aim to connect with as successful person as you possibly can. This can have mixed results – especially when you’re starting out – because people who appear successful won’t always be the courageous ones. A lot of people create small amounts of success by pursuing mediocre and non-risky business ideas.
Early in the game the courageous people are busy FAILING – which means shortsighted people will look over them as an opportunity to network and connect. (Side note: The courageous ones are also the people who NEED that connection.)
When you move up the entrepreneur learning curve and get to meet the titans of business, you’ll realize only the courageous people have remained. The “me-too” uninspired entrepreneurs with unoriginal businesses have all ended up doing something else.
Hang with courageous people and they’ll rub off on you.
5. Read about Courage
I saved this one for last, because it’s the most accessible in that it requires the least courage to get started. Most people will jump on this and ignore the preceding four tactics. You shouldn’t be one of them, because while reading about courage WILL build yours… it’s long and incrementally slow process. For best results, combine this with one or more of the above suggestions.
Reading is the ultimate brain washing because words put images, thoughts and feelings in your head. Symbols on paper and screens cause you to hallucinate different realities.
When you pick up a biography of a courageous individual, reading puts you in their shoes and literally activates the same neurological pathways and connections they used to do the courageous thing you’re reading about.
Vicarious courage is still courage.
I’ve written extensively about the masturbatory nature of most self help material, but when seeking to inspire courage… inspiration really does work. Pro tip: Stick to real world based material (biographies and first hand accounts) for the really powerful stuff and skip the abstract personal development.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. What do you do that builds your courage? Share your thoughts in a comment below this article.