What Makes us Brave?

What Makes us Brave

A 4-minute read with 5 strategies for a courageous mindset

I’ve chucked myself out of a plane at 12000 feet skydiving. I’ve bungee jumped with a 42m elastic band wrapped round my ankles. I’ve travelled solo across the globe to defend death row inmates in Jamaica. I’ve walked away from a successful 19-year career at the Bar to start my own coaching and speaking business. And yet I never considered myself a particularly brave or courageous person.NA-Raising-the-Bar

That was until I was asked by a mum on the school run just after my book, Raising the Bar (left), was published: “What makes you so brave? I’d love to have half as much courage as you.” The question – and compliment – stopped me in my tracks.

Looking back, it’s crystal clear to me that our life experiences expand proportionately to our courage. I’ve pinpointed the five common character traits and attitudes which helped me – and might help others develop the art of effortless courageousness.

  1. Goal Orientation

I have always been a goal-orientated type. From firstly wanting to become a barrister to then determining a new path to becoming a coach. I form a clear vision of what I want, making it easier to identify the action steps needed to get there. I find that having a strong sense of purpose in this way makes overcoming fear-based inertia much easier. It may not happen overnight, or indeed first attempt, but with a consistent focus on the end point, it makes the road to getting there much clearer.

For example, in 2004, when I met an innocent man sentenced to death in Jamaica, then stabbed 23 times by other inmates whilst on Death Row, he told me: “One day you might write a book about this.” That little acorn planted became a clearer vision in 2018 when I wrote on my goal board: “I am writing a book.” Even by mid-2019, I hadn’t yet put pen to paper, but the fact that I had the vision, committed to in writing, gave me compelling motivation to do so. I had concerns that people would judge me for writing it, not think it was any good etc – but to quote John Wayne: “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” So I gave myself the hard word: If I still wanted to write the book, then I simply needed to knuckle down and get on with it. Two months later, Amazon Bestseller Raising the Bar was published.

  1. Positive Mindset

Identify your USPThe IDEA of doing something is often way more terrifying than actually doing it. Take the skydive – which I ruminated on for days before, fear building up by the hour. And yet, at the point of maximum danger, when arguably fear should be at its most acute – plane doors opened and my legs dangling over the edge – adrenalin kicked in and my experience was one of pure, mind-blowing pleasure and wonderment, rather than any feelings of fear.

Similarly, when I am about to have a conversation with a large law firm wanting to hire me for coaching services, or I’m going on stage to speak, an element of fear kicks in. If we didn’t have this “flight or fight” mechanism, our instincts wouldn’t be able to keep us safe. That anxiety is there to prevent us becoming blasé, not caring whether we do a good job. And when I feel those instinctive reactions kick in, I use positive affirmations to get me into the right mindset. One of my favourites is: “If it is to be, it is up to me”. Nobody else is going to deliver results to you, and you have a choice about how you will show up. It was Winston Churchill who said: “Fear is a reaction; Courage is a decision.” What will you decide?

  1. Developing a Rhino Hide

It may be that courage does not come naturally. It does, after all, come hand in hand with confidence. As the Wizard of Oz reminded Lion, “You have plenty of courage, I’m sure. All you need is confidence in yourself.” So how do we find, or develop, that confidence? I’m finding more and more that confidence can be learned – through experience and practice. Even developing your ‘game face,’ giving the external appearance of confidence, can do wonders to inspire those around you to have confidence in you. And reflected back, it will improve your own confidence in yourself. We can also remind ourselves of our own brilliance by making a success board or brag book with our finest achievements to date, whether at work or in our personal lives, or just by writing down our top three skills or strengths. It’s fear that provides an opportunity to grow – and ruffling the odd feather means we’re making an impact. So when our back is against the wall, but the evidence outweighs self-doubt, we can say with sincerity and self-belief: “I’ve got this.”

  1. Strong Sense of Values and Beliefs

Strong Sense of Values and BeliefsMany of us live our lives hiding behind a mask – because we feel we have to show up a certain way at work, or to keep at a career because it’s all we’ve ever known. I know how that feels, having battled on for a number of years at the Bar with the sense that somehow things weren’t right, but feeling pressured to stay because of all the hard work I’d put in, the status it provided, and the security of income. Looking back, I now see a lot of that was to do with fear. And yet I knew deep down that I wanted to be in a more positive environment – still helping people but in a different and, for me, more wholesome way.

An Australian palliative care nurse researched the top five regrets of the dying and concluded that many wished they had “the courage to live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect.” To live an authentic life is to have a strong connection with your values and beliefs, and a clear sense of self. You have to know, and like, the person behind the mask. “Courage is being yourself every day in a world that tells you to be someone else.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

  1. Admitting Mistakes

By being your authentic self, it’s much easier to admit a mistake too. We are all human, and we all make them. For me, there is no failure in that, only learning. Every mistake is evidence that you are prepared to develop and grow. It might be a stretch to take on a new and challenging case, but you’ll inevitably you learn things along the way. If you make a mistake, admit it and ask, what did I learn and how will I do things differently? The biggest challenge of course, is to avoid making that mistake twice.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” (Nelson Mandela)

Postscript: The school mum who inspired this post, having read it, answered her own question about courageous leadership: “It’s backing yourself to believe that you can make today’s floor tomorrow’s ceiling and having the determination to make thoughts a reality,” she said.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.


Nikki Alderson Biography

Nikki Alderson, specialist Corporate & Executive Coach, Keynote Speaker & Best Selling Author, & former Criminal Barrister with 19 years’ experience,

  • supports organisations, law firms & barristers’ Chambers to retain female talent; &
  • empowers female lawyers to achieve career ambitions.

Nikki specialises in 3 areas:

  • Women Leadership Transition & Change;
  • Enhanced Career break returner support; &
  • Workplace resilience, confidence & wellness.

She is the author of Amazon No.1 Bestseller Raising the Bar: empowering female lawyers through coaching , (https://amzn.to/3fodKQX) nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards, Champion of the Year Category & finalist in the 2019 International Coaching Awards, International Coach of the Year Category.

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