Bravery and Control — Why you can’t have both

The hardest things you do, require you to relinquish control over the outcome.


Photo by Dalton Touchberry on Unsplash

I feel like I am always having conversations about bravery and control. These conversations happen outside of my head, but many happen inside it too. I have to continually remind myself that discomfort is the path to growth, and it takes bravery and courage to step into discomfort, to relinquish control. I seem to be promoting that you can’t have bravery and control — you need to pick one.

Controlling your life

I’ve learnt recently that you tend to fight against the world until you feel like you have some measure of control over your life. You structure your day and create routines, you work to establish supportive relationships, you develop habits that align with your goals. Life keeps changing things on you, forcing you to work out how to adjust these patterns. Just as you realise you are in control, you realise that you are feeling a little stuck. 

So you read a new book, you try some different exercise, you leverage your relationships to inspire you to try something new. In every one of these moments, your mind is telling you to stop. To not do it. The reason why is that there is stress associated with the change. Your mind and body fights against it. You find reasons to procrastinate or revert to doing something more familiar.

This continual push from your mind to protect itself is biologically ingrained. If you choose to fight against it, you have to be brave and relinquish the feeling of control. You need to realise that the best results are just beyond the comfort zone. In a way, this small bravery is the hardest. 

In some ways, this is not dissimilar to those action scenes from movies and television. The ones where the hero hesitates, they might close their eyes for a brief moment, take a deep breath, then go into the danger. We see this chain of events and reflect on their bravery and courage. It is inspirational to see their decision to choose this over their own safety. 

Those choices to do something slightly uncomfortable, those small moments of bravery from you, each and every day, are exactly the same. You are choosing a different outcome when your mind is telling you it is unsafe. You are choosing bravery over control. You are choosing to do something knowing you are not in control of the outcome. This is my definition of bravery.

Bravery is choosing to do something knowing you cannot control the outcome

How your fear stops your growth
Becoming comfortable in the uncomfortable
medium.com


Bravery and Control

Think back to a time when you have felt really brave. Think about all the things that led up to that decision. If you think hard enough, you will realise that you were conditioned about the fear associated with a certain thing. You are conditioned to believe that it is unsafe, that you need to return to what is safe.

Take, for instance, the fear of public speaking.

Being the centre of attention, controlling a conversation, knowing that everyone is listening to your words and judging your competence. That can be very scary. For many people, that moment as you are preparing to speak is the moment you are feeling the most unsafe. In that moment the gap between not doing and doing it seems small but significant. It takes real bravery to step into that discomfort and be brave, to relinquish control. 

For it is not the actual fear of speaking that concerns you. It is the fear of the control you are giving to others. Control of their thoughts about you. If you stay small and quiet, stay in the background, you don’t give anyone control over their opinion of you. If you do this, you can regulate peoples opinion of you. If you stand up, at the front of the room and be brave, you give them the ability to change their perspective about you. You give them some control. 

This same interchange plays out in your mind every day in small and large ways. What I request of you is an acknowledgement. That in many small ways, you are being really brave every day. Every decision you make either moves you towards safety or away from it.


Photo by Joyce McCown on Unsplash

Choosing Bravery

The hardest choices you make are the ones requiring the largest amount of vulnerability. These choices of letting go of control, being brave and knowing what will happen, will just happen. 

Brené Brown describes it like this;

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” — Brené Brown

It takes true vulnerability to relinquish control. Many people see this as weakness, but I want to know that it is not, it is true bravery. For while you cannot truly be both brave and retain control of a situation, choosing to be brave is like a muscle. You need to use it to strengthen it. 

Every day you strengthen this muscle just a little bit, you grow a little. Every day you choose courage over comfort, vulnerability over armour, you get stronger. Most people will never see it, most people won’t know about the little battles you have waged against yourself each day. But you know it. You know you achieved something today. So, before bed tonight, think about a few of those moments from today. 

Then, out loud — congratulate yourself.

You are amazing, and today, you did a few small things that required you to be brave. To relinquish control. To be a little uncomfortable. Now you are stronger for it.

Hopefully, you are going to be a little bit better at recognising those moments. For if you recognise them, you can be more deliberate about choosing to be brave.


I’m a writer with a keen curiosity for people, human nature, leadership and growth.

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