You’re here because you want to face your fears.
Maybe your best friend called you a coward.
Or you’ve caught yourself backing down from a challenge.
Perhaps you even watched a movie and realized you don’t resemble any of the traits of the brave characters.
Either way, most of us, at some point have been consumed by our fears and taken the easy path instead. Sometimes for a little too long.
In this article, I’ll explain what it means to be a coward, why we despise cowards, and how you can train yourself to be brave.
What does it mean to be a coward?
A coward is someone who lacks the courage or bravery to endure unpleasant things, especially if their courageous acts would serve others. This is why society has no respect for cowards.
A cowardly person is timid, scared, selfish, and unreliable. Everything you don’t want to be around. And definitely not someone you want a part of your team.
They contemptibly seek the easy way out and never endure any risk. They also have no regard for who they might impact. They’re certainly not sorry for this. A coward has a logical justification for why their actions make sense.
“As Cicero says, we hate gladiators if they are quick to save their lives by any means; we favor them if they show contempt for their lives.”Seneca, On Tranquility of Mind
In the movie Saving Private Ryan, there’s a scene with Corporal Upham that conveys just how detrimental a coward really is. He abandons his fellow soldiers at a time when they need him most.
The opposite of cowardice is bravery. And society needs brave people.
A brave person is willing to stand up for what they believe, accept the risks associated with doing the right thing, and be outcome-independent. They do what they need to.
This isn’t easy.
Especially living in a fragile society, where cancel culture and politically correct ways to conduct yourself dictate how people act.
How to tell if you’re a coward
It’s not always easy to know if you’re a coward or if you’re dealing with one. However, there are some tell-tale signs of a coward you should watch out for.
- They don’t stay true to their word
- Always back down from a challenge
- Avoids confrontation even if it’s justified
- Hasn’t achieved anything of significance
- Doesn't have any guiding principles in life
- They do not apologize or in some cases apologize way too often
If this sounds like you don’t freak out. Your past experiences have probably led you here.
Trauma often rewires the brain for self-preservation. This means traumatic events in your life, regardless of how insignificant they may seem, can cause risk aversion. Over time, this can lead to a feeling of cowardice.
This is exactly what happened to me.
I had numerous close calls where things could’ve ended tragically. One particular event that made me avoid taking risks was a jetski accident. I concussed myself on a jetski two hours offshore in a foreign country with no one in close range. I was disorientated, bleeding from my head, and not sure if I would get back okay. It scared the sh*t out of me.
Over time, I caught myself avoiding anything where there was a risk of dying. Even a minor one and especially in the water. I wasn’t diving as deep as I usually would when I spearfish. I also avoided pushing myself at the gym for fear of damaging my body. This seeped into my career as well.
I wasn’t playing to win, I was playing not to lose. This might sound wise, but it’s actually pathetic.
Eventually, I realized I can’t live a significant life if I’m avoiding necessary risks.
Cowards live a life filled with guilt, regret, and shame. I wasn’t going to let this happen to me.
I started becoming intentional with my life and managed to move past this.
You can too if you follow the practices listed below.
How to stop being a coward and lean into your fears
Learning to be brave requires intention and discipline. You need to be committed to this, otherwise, you’ll fall back into your old habits very quickly. It will be uncomfortable, frustrating, scary, and probably intimidating. The good news is that each method below will help you become an inherently courageous person.
1. Develop your own principles & core values
What’s important to you?
What do you care about most?
Are you trying to achieve a specific goal?
It’s hard to take the right action if you don’t stand for anything.
You need to have some direction and principles in your life otherwise you will always succumb to your fears. Without this direction, you’re more likely to experience a greater sense of anxiety and depression.
A good starting point is to adopt a stoic philosophy. The stoics lived a virtuous life by adhering to four key principles.
Wisdom: This is simply knowing what is good and what is bad. It’s important because it helps us navigate our decisions. The more life experiences you have the wiser you’ll (likely) become. The action item here is to explore the world and yourself more frequently.
Courage: Courage is taking action even when you’re afraid of something. Epictetus said, “Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself”. A brave man is revealed when he does the right thing despite the potential consequences. If you want to stop being a coward, this virtue is key.
Justice: This is the concept of morality, equity, and fairness. The stoics believe that everyone should be given what they deserve. Justice requires courage to stand up for what you believe is fair.
Temperance: This is all about self-awareness and self-control. The stoics believed in moderating your self-indulgences. You can not become successful without discipline and self-control.
2. Get out of your comfort zone
How often are you putting yourself in situations that lead to personal growth?
Do you frequently push your mind and body to their limits?
It’s difficult to have courage if you’re never really pushing yourself. If you don’t know what is possible you’ll lack a sense of confidence and always back down from a challenge.
According to Positive Psychology, one key differentiator for those who make it from the comfort zone to the growth zone is self-awareness. Try to ask yourself “what am I backing away from because it’s uncomfortable?”.
“Most people have experienced leaving the comfort zone in at least one area of life, and there are usually plenty of insights to be uncovered from this experience.”Oliver Page, Positive Psychology
Below is seven ways you can get out of your conform zone more often, without having to make dramatic life changes.
- Learn to say no
- Volunteer for an event
- Practice keeping your word
- If you’re single, go on more dates
- Start taking cold showers every other day
- Initiate a conversation with someone new each week
- Join a martial arts gym and train at least once a week
Related article: 16 Proven Methods To Boost Your Confidence As A Man
3. Embrace your obstacles
Regardless of how safe you try to play life, obstacles will appear.
You can do everything in your control to mitigate risk and still experience unforeseen circumstances.
There’s a lesson in each obstacle. Embrace them with a positive attitude and they will help you achieve more than you could ever imagine.
In Ryan Holidays' book Obstacle Is The Way, there are three key learnings to adopt when it comes to obstacles. These are also derived from the stoic philosophy.
The discipline of perception: When you’re hit with an obstacle how do you react? Are you emotional and short-sighted? This might be your natural response at first, however, you need to view obstacles with an objective lens. A quote from Seneca sums up the discipline of perception perfectly. “A good person dyes events with his own colors and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.”
The discipline of action: This is all about taking the correct action. Your actions need to be in the direction of your values. Taking action is crucial because it requires you to be courageous. If you were to read all the self-help books in the world they would all kinda say the same thing. Which is to start taking the correct actions.
The discipline of will: The last discipline is all about our attitude toward the events that happen in our life. Especially the ones that are not in our control, such as obstacles that may arise. These obstacles can only make our life miserable if we choose to see them that way.
4. Update your soundtracks (positive affirmations)
Soundtracks are the affirmations we play on repeat in our heads. The problem is most people have broken soundtracks. The little voice in their head is constantly telling them to avoid something because it's too hard, too scary, or too risky.
You need to get rid of this voice and replace it with a better one. Here’s how to do it according to Jon Acuff.
Step 1: Ask yourself if your thoughts are true, kind, or helpful. Remember, if they’re not helping you become more courageous and achieve your goals then you need to drop them.
Step 2: Borrow soundtracks from people who inspire you and invert your old thoughts into positive affirmations. Here are my favorite soundtracks:
- “The most consistent win at everything” – Ayn Rand
- “Build wells, not holes” – Nick Bare
- “If it is to be it is up to me” – William Johnson
- “As you sow, so shall you reap” – English Proverb
- “It’ll feel awesome after.” – Jon Acuff
Step 3: Embed your new soundtracks into an item to make them permanent. This could be a piece of jewelry, clothing, or even a tattoo.
5. Practice radical transparency
A coward usually fears honesty since it often comes with some form of confrontation and discomfort. When you’re radically truthful with other people (and vice versa) you open yourself up to criticism which is uncomfortable.
However, this practice will not only force you to become “better” but it will stop you from being a coward.
In the book Principles by Ray Dalio, there’s a chapter dedicated to radical transparency. Dalio explores how radical transparency in his personal and professional life has led to fulfillment and success.
“The more people can see what is happening— the good, the bad, and the ugly—the more effective they are at deciding the appropriate ways of handling things.”Ray Dalio
Adopting this mindset to your own life will help you strip away the comforting lies you tell yourself. It will also help you be more honest and truthful. Over time you will be forced to become a more courageous person. You’ll also win the respect of your friends and family since you’ll be known as an honest person.
6. Learn to be resilient
According to Tim Grover in the book Winning: The Unforgiving Race to Greatness, one of the crucial separators between winners, and everyone else is resilience.
“Resilience is the power to stay in the fight when your fear is telling you to run.”Tim S. Grover
To be resilient is to adapt well in the face of trauma, threats, or stress. A resilient person continues doing the things they know they should even if they’re scared, upset, or not motivated.
Many Psychologists have established mental models and frameworks for defining how to be more resilient. In summary, you need to:
- Train yourself to view challenges as opportunities, do not let them cripple you
- Set realistic goals and take the right action towards achieving them
- Never view yourself as the victim of a situation or circumstance
Resilience will naturally become the byproduct of your efforts if you follow all of the pointers in this article.
Meditation has a long list of health benefits that make it the perfect daily habit. One particular benefit is that it helps you become less fearful.
Meditation is the set of techniques used to become more aware, calm, and focused. This is usually done through breath and visualization exercises. Through meditation, you can train your mind to observe and let go of the fear you might have.
There are various practices you can start right away. However, the easiest method I’ve found is guided meditation using an app. This way, you’re more likely to stick with it.
The headspace meditation app hosts 16 various types of meditation including visualization, noting, and skillful compassion. You don’t need to spend a long time meditating, simply using the app for 10 minutes of guided meditation per day will help you on your quest to become more fearless.
8. Lean into your fears
We’re programmed to take the path of least resistance in life.
In the same way, water runs downstream humans will take the easier path if it’s available to them. Avoiding this requires intention. If you’re avoiding something because you’re scared, then this should be a sign to lean into it.
There’s really no perfect way to approach this. The idea is to become aware of what you’re scared of and lean into it. It could be applying for a new job, trying to hit a personal best at the gym, or asking a friend for help.
Cowards avoid facing their fears at all costs. If you want to stop being a coward then you’ll need to start facing them. It’s really as simple as that.
Over time you’ll realize it wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be.
Three books that will help you face your fears
The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday: I’ve referenced this book many times throughout the post, and for a good reason. Ryan Holiday is an extraordinary writer, he does a great job at applying ancient stoic philosophy to the modern world. There are many ‘stoic’ lessons in the book you can apply to your own life.
Mans Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl: Viktor Frankl shares his experiences as a prisoner of a Nazi concentration camp. He makes it clear that having a sense of purpose in life will help you endure any sort of pain or obstacle that arises.
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie: This book has been a self-help classic for decades. Carnegie provides actionable steps and a plan to stop you from worrying so often. Some of us can become crippled by anxiety, and this book will help you overcome your fears.
Related article: The Way of The Superior Man by David Deida (Book Summary)
You don’t want to get to your old age and regret all the things you avoided simply because you were a coward. It’s okay to be scared. But it’s not okay to let it get the better of you without attempting to overcome it. In some cases, it does make sense to seek professional help. However, I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point. Working through issues on your own is powerful and in itself will build a new level of confidence.