When I was in training, our instructors would have us run for hours. This was no light jog; it was a sweaty, gasping-for-air marathon. They’d watch until they saw us begin to struggle. But did they let us stop? Not a chance. They’d push us to run through our exhaustion and draw from energy stores we didn’t even know we had.
This might seem excessive to someone without military experience, but there was an important reason for this exercise; it built courage. It prepared us for that inevitable moment when we’d have to make a tough choice between satisfying our bodies’ needs (in this case, taking a much-needed rest) and doing the right thing (trusting that our instructors had our best interests at heart and following through with the training).
Wondering what this has to do with courage? Imagine you’re on a ship. You’ve been working hard all day, performing tough physical tasks in harsh conditions. You’re exhausted. Your muscles are aching and you’ve strained your back. You’re on your way to bed when someone shouts the words that you never want to hear at sea: “Man overboard!”
What do you do? There isn’t much time, so you need to make a snap decision. Do you cross your fingers and hope that someone else steps in and fishes him out? Or do you push past the fatigue and the screaming muscles and dive in after him?
The running exercise was designed to help build both the courage and the stamina to go after that person. Our instructors wanted to know that if someone needed us, we’d find the courage to help, even after we’d reached our limit.
Would you have ignored the shouts, leaving that man to someone who was able to conquer their exhaustion? If so, I’ve got good news for you: courage is a habit that you can develop. Start making the right choice on a regular basis, and when the going gets tough, you’ll be more likely to find the courage to do the right thing. Think about it. If you start cutting corners on the little things, how are you going to respond when real courage is required?
When I was at one of my first big business meetings, I remember being astonished by all the people who weren’t taking notes. After all, how would they remember what they had learned? Building a business is tough even with advice—I couldn’t understand why would they make it harder on themselves by failing to preserve that important knowledge.