Pushing yourself slightly outside your comfort zone could radically change your life for the better. 

By Ruth Soukup
Photo by Kathryn Gamble

A few years ago my oldest daughter, Maggie, was selected to play the part of Young Cosette in a local production of Les Misérables. The closer we got to opening night, the more nervous my 9-year- old became. 

“Mommy, what if I forget my lines?” she asked, terrified. “What if everyone laughs at me? I’m so scared!”

“Honey, everybody gets scared,” I said, reminding her of the same things I tell myself as an entrepreneur almost every single day. “Real courage is when you feel scared but you take action anyway. Sometimes you just have to do it scared.” 

As adults, we too get cast in roles that can be terrifying to play. I’ve learned that you can build your courage muscles—and make it more likely that you’ll overcome the next nerve-racking obstacle that stands in your way—with these simple exercises.

Be Brave Daily

Make a conscious effort to do little things that scare you every single day. It could be striking up a conversation with a stranger in an elevator or at the supermarket, trying that new combat fitness class at the gym or speaking up in a meeting at work. 

For me, it was public speaking—just the thought of it sent a chill through my body! But I also knew that being able to communicate effectively to a crowd was key to future success in my career. I started with short videos on YouTube, which led to a live segment on the local news, which opened the door to small speaking engagements, which eventually led to keynote speeches in front of hundreds. Every time I was scared. But those small wins gave me the courage to do just a little more each time.

Use Fear for Good

If your goals don’t make you nervous enough to motivate you, they’re either not big enough or you haven’t committed to them. The next time you set a goal—like taking an online class, posting a dating profile or running a 10K—do a gut check. Are you feeling that knot in the pit of your stomach? Good! It will inspire you to get out of bed a little earlier, push yourself a bit harder and work a little longer, just to make sure what you want happens. And if you don’t feel it? Then set a bigger goal or make a firmer commitment until you actually do. Embrace this good kind of fear to add fuel to your fire.

Always Fail Forward

Think back to the last time you made a mistake and ask yourself a few key questions: What went wrong? And how can I do things differently next time? By redefining your breakdowns into breakthroughs you’ll overcome being afraid of messing up. 

Then, the next time something goes wrong—and it will, because everyone makes mistakes and that’s OK—instead of beating yourself up, go straight back to those questions. Remind yourself that all the best lessons come from failure because you have the opportunity to learn, which means that even when you lose, you win. 

And in case you’re wondering: My daughter did push through her fear and was amazing—for all six performances.

Ruth Soukup is a speaker, blogger and entrepreneur, as well as the CEO of LivingWellSpendingLess.com. Get inspiration from her Do It Scared podcast at DoItScared.com.