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The Big Happiness Interview: Why being braver will make you happier

‘Go bigger.’ I’ve been talking for two minutes to Caroline Pankhurst and she’s already encouraging me to think big.

‘How do create your best year yet?,’ I had asked Caroline, a business coaching consultant, psychology doctoral researcher and founder of Be Braver coaching programme. Don’t think about it in years, go bigger,’ she responded. ‘Think about it in terms of your legacy. Think about who you are and what you stand for and how you want to create a life that you are proud of.’

Caroline encourages me to ask questions like: what do you want people to be saying about you when you’re not in the room? What would your eulogy say? What difference do you want to make? How can your life have counted for something that mattered? And what does that look like? I don’t know exactly, but Caroline insists that the only way I’m going to create that life is by being braver.

The psychology of courage is Caroline’s field of study – how our understanding of risks and fears can accelerate, or diminish, the opportunities and growth potential we realise for ourselves – be it as leaders, individuals, teams, communities and organisations.

Here Metro.co.uk talks to Caroline about how to be braver in 2023.

Where should you start in creating a plan for 2023?

Start with the end in mind, so think about how you want to feel at the end of 2023, not just the things that you want to have done or achieved. For example, you might want to feel more connected, less isolated and lonely. So, ask yourself: ‘Where are the spaces and places that I can go where I have the opportunity to create connection with people that have like minded interests to me?’

Notice where there are gaps and where there are opportunities for you to do things that you’re not currently doing now. You need to make space for the unexpected things to come along, that are going to railroad your plans and ambitions. Because one thing that you can certainly bank on, is the fact that unexpected opportunities will come your way.

Think about how you want to feel at the end of 2023, not just the things you want to achieve.

How do we plan for the worst?

Put your focus on the things you can control and the things you can influence. When adversity strikes, sometimes it’s easy for you to take responsibility when it’s not yours to take. Notice where you have responsibility for what happens and where you don’t, because that impacts how you experience it, and what you carry, and how you navigate that.

Also have a list of resources that recharge and refuel you. It’s different for everyone – for some it’s yoga, for others it will running, for others, talking therapy. Figure out what works for you before any adversity hits.

How to we become more confident in being brave?

We should aim to have less confidence, not more confidence. I think too much confidence is dangerous. You will make reckless decisions, not brave decisions. If you don’t feel confident, that’s great because you have the self awareness to know what you need to learn, how you need to create connections, how you tap into resources, and you are far better prepared, and far more likely to get better outcomes for yourself.  

We don’t want to continue living in this world that rewards overly confident bravado or hot air like a lot of the leaders that we have. I also think wishing you had more confident is just a way of sabotaging yourself. You think, ‘If I had more confidence, I would…’ Confidence is not some magic pill. You are still going to have to learn, fail, and work hard. It’s only an issue, if there is a massive disconnect between the competencies that you do have versus what you actually see of yourself.

Confidence is not some magic pill. You are still going to have to learn, fail, and work hard.

If you’ve got a disconnect between the beliefs that you have about yourself, and the reality of what you’re able to do, then you need to give yourself the time to work out what that is – be it with a coach or a therapist because it will make a massive shift for you.

Why is it important to live a values-aligned life and how do you identify your values?  

Identifying your values can be uncomfortable because it’s about getting really truthful about what really matters to you – versus what your partner, family, religion or culture tells you what’s important.

Then it’s about looking at whether your choices and decisions are aligned with your values. We will only ever be the best version of ourselves when we live truthfully to your own values.

I know this from personal experience. I left my job because there was a massive big disconnect between the work that I was doing and the choices that I was making about where, and how, I was spending my time versus where I was going to find the best version of me. I didn’t want my life to be about capitalism but rather community and social purpose.

How do you identify your values?

Start with a blank sheet of paper and answer the question: what really matters to me?’ Then explore the opposite: what don’t you tolerate in life? Sometimes looking at the things that you found difficult and challenging can actually shed light to you on the things that actually matter.

If you’re struggling to connect with your own values, think about the heroes that you really admire in history or in life or your friends. What are their qualities or attributes or behaviours? What do they do that you find really attractive and inspiring? Often the things that we are so drawn to in other people are actually very often mirror reflections of the qualities that we hold dearest in ourselves.

In my Be Braver coaching programme, you soon realise that there are no heroes coming to the rescue, and you’re the hero of your own life.

The qualities we’re drawn to in other people are those that we hold dearest in ourselves.

Why is it important to be brave?

If we don’t choose courage, we don’t grow, advance, innovate, we don’t create, we don’t connect. Courage is about taking risks, it’s about moving forward into uncertainty and unknown. And that is the space and the place where life happens.

Playing safe is only ever going to get us so far. Staying in your comfort zones won’t shelter you from grief, pain, illness, death, trauma or heartbreak. We’re never going to avoid the things that really are painful in life. Yet somehow, as we grow older, we start to have an awareness of other people; society starts to put expectations on us, we start to be concerned about fitting in and belonging. And then before we know it, we’re starting to carry all this armour and we can become more and more diminished and we become more and more risk averse.

Yes, as we get older, we obviously get more responsibilities but we stop being brave, we don’t expose ourselves to the fullness of what life has to offer, and all the opportunities that there are out there, because we’re not taking risks. We’re playing safe all the time, we miss out on the best bits of life because we’re trying to avoid the inevitable things which we’ve got no control over.

How do we learn to be braver?

Learning to be brave doesn’t mean wandering around finding excuses to do brave things, for the hell of it – it has to have a purpose.

If we don’t choose courage, we don’t grow, advance, innovate, we don’t create, we don’t connect.

And you’ve got to be deeply connected to why you would do that thing. Our brains are really good at noticing the things that we want to avoid or predicting the things that we think might go wrong. We’re less good at being able to predict the opportunities or the rewards that come with having made a courageous values aligned decision.

What is the connection between happiness and courage?

If you are brave, you have a much better shot at happiness. When you choose courage, you open yourselves up to way more opportunities.

Since I’ve been practising courage, and being braver, I’ve been the happiest I’ve been. Yes, I have had more outcomes that I would not have desired, but I also have had so many more unexpected, unimaginable things that I would never have even had the audacity to envisage could happen. And that’s just because I practice courage.

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