I think most people love an epic tale of courage, especially when it is a story of a simple person or an underdog that triumphs through dramatic acts of bravery, courage and sacrifice. Think about the injured cowboy who gets up from his death bed to bandage his head/arm/leg and rides into town to shoot the gang of six black hats. Or the innocent hobbits that travel hundreds of miles through thousands of enemies and face almost unimaginable challenges.
Sometimes they are real life stories of war heroes or terminally ill individuals who accomplish great things with their final days. The examples are endless. And who isn’t inspired by these amazing acts? It is great when seeing someone else persevere and succeed motivates us to do great things for ourselves or others.
On the other hand we may wonder if we would be able to do the same things in similar situations. Are we brave? Do we have courage? We start to worry that we don’t measure up. We watch these intense, larger than life events and sometimes we forget just that. These examples are larger than life. They are the exceptions to life. Because life is actually made up of much smaller, less dramatic acts of bravery and courage. Just because you don’t show bravery and courage in the way we see in movies it doesn’t mean you aren’t brave and courageous in your own way.
Too often I see clients that truly desire to make changes to their lives or relationships. They want to accomplish something. It might be feeling more connected, or doing better in school or at work, or maybe they want to feel they are contributing back to society in some way. They really want to do it. But they get stuck. And often the reason they are stuck is they are convinced that change or accomplishment requires big, dramatic acts of courage. Just like in the movies. And that kind of courage and bravery and sacrifice can seem overwhelming. They don’t believe they are brave or have courage. So the easier option is to do nothing…except maybe have lots of anxiety or fear or frustration about the fact that it is so hard.
But in reality most change doesn’t require such momentous actions. It really takes lots of smaller changes, continually moving in the direction of change. In fact, research supports that important change only needs a few small actions to start things in motion. It can be changing one habit, or working to achieve one specific goal, or having one conversation in a different way. And it means being willing to get up and do it again tomorrow. Nothing dramatic, nothing incredibly dangerous. Just one small change today…and repeating it tomorrow.
It is easy to undervalue the importance and impact of small change. I see it with couples all of the time. One person makes a change so small they don’t really even consider it a change. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t dramatic and it wasn’t even all that hard or scary. But their partner reports a monumental shift. The partner’s perception of that small change can be gigantic. What matters isn’t the size of the change, but the size of the impact.
We often say therapy is about taking baby steps. Continual small steps in the direction you want to go. It isn’t about sweeping, one-time transformations. So don’t sell yourself short. Bravery and courage aren’t always about overcoming monumental and dramatic odds. Sometimes all it takes is just doing something…anything…and being willing to try again tomorrow.