Exercising the Muscle of Emotional Courage

Peter Bregman | Methods for Leading with Emotional Courage

Emotional courage is like a muscle that can be strengthened through practice. The best way to train your emotional courage is to actually feel uncomfortable emotions.


“We’re now going to talk about practicing feeling and we’re gonna use temptation as the way to do it. Developing emotional courage means that you have to be willing and able to feel the entire spectrum of human emotions. Remember, if you’re willing to feel everything, then you really can do anything. Feeling everything includes feeling less comfortable emotions like shame or anger, frustration, or even temptation. You might be thinking, why would I want to experience temptation? The answer is because we grow our emotional courage. By using it, you increase your tolerance to feel things by actually feeling them. In other words, the only way to face down temptation is to experience it without giving into it. The reason why any of us give into temptation is in order to avoid suffering through the feeling of wanting. It’s why we so often break our diets, lose our temper, or gossip. The tension of what we’re feeling in the moment is too much for us, so we satisfy our desire and Presto. No more feeling the desire will have been fulfilled. The tension will have dissipated and we’re comfortable again.

How good are you at feeling your temptation or desire? Imagine you’re on a no sugar diet. You and your friend are out at a restaurant and your friend orders a dessert. It just so happens that they order your favorite one. They know you’re on a diet, but just to tease you, they keep mentioning how good it is and offering you some. ‘Are you sure you don’t want any? It’s so good.’ ‘I’m sure it is,’ you reply. Temptingly they add, ‘It’s so delicious and I’m not sure I can eat the whole thing by myself.’ Determined, you answer, ‘I’m glad you’re enjoying it so much.’ With one last ditch effort, your friend taunts you, ‘Come on, you probably haven’t had a cheat day in awhile and your meal was so healthy. One bite is not going to kill you.’ What would you do at this point? Have just a bite. It can’t hurt, right? Or maybe you would…”