Today’s most popular movies may be full of superpowered fantasy figures, but you don’t need to be retrofitted with an adamantium skeleton or get bitten by a radioactive spider to be a real hero. You don’t even have to look good in Spandex, although it’s pretty cool if you do.
You do, however, have to raise your game. No hero in history or fiction ever traveled a path without challenges. “The word ‘hero’ is, in truth, a verb and not a noun,” says Dan Edwardes, CEO of Parkour Generations and a founder of the Hero Round Table in London. “It’s a personal standard, a way of acting and being, that we must strive to hold ourselves to every day and in every scenario.”
Sound like too much trouble? For most, it is; that’s why there are so few real heroes among us. Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University and the president of the Heroic Imagination Project, defined heroism in his writings as “a concern for a moral cause or other people in need, knowing there is a personal risk, done without expectation of reward.” In a survey he conducted with 4,000 Americans from different walks of life, he concluded that just 20 percent qualified as heroes based on this definition.
But even if we shy away from battling evil on a daily basis, most of us like the idea of being heroic. And certainly, according to a 2016 study, the more the idea of “everyday heroism” is promoted, the more successful ordinary people are in recognizing their heroic potential.
Here are three ways to unleash our inner goodness and make performing heroic deeds part of who we are.
1. You Live with Self-Doubt
Most heroes feel the fear and do it anyway, says Edwardes. They’re scared, uncertain, and riddled with self-doubt. But those are all important obstacles, because the current literature on what ignites heroic action shows that heroism and villainy are often two sides of the same coin.
“The ability and need to question one’s own motives, actions, and intentions is critical in ensuring that a confident and competent individual doesn’t stray down a darker path and become inflexible and, ultimately, destructive,” he says. “Self-doubt acts as a check against hubris, arrogance, and absolutism.”
Make it so: Cultivate a practice of deep, honest self-reflection, Edwardes advises. Question everything, even briefly, and consider your actions from conflicting perspectives. “This is perhaps most effectively done in dialogue with another, as we are often blind to our own biases and prejudices,” he notes. “If your passionately held beliefs can withstand the objective scrutiny of others, then you can be confident that they’re worth maintaining.”
2. You Turn Your Weaknesses into Strengths
Heroes are often held to impossible standards of strength and perfection. The truth is, we all have flaws. The wisest among us accept them as part of who we are, and even see in our weaknesses the source of our strengths, Edwardes says. “Heroes stand out from the crowd not because they’re better than others, but because they embrace and express their differences and have the courage to be themselves, flaws and all.”
*Make it so: *Edwardes suggests making a list of your weaknesses, and then reframing them to see if some are actually strengths. For example, have colleagues called you stubborn when you don’t give them slack on a project? Perhaps you’re just dedicated. Berated for setting unrealistic goals or deadlines? Maybe optimism is the key characteristic here. “This is about not resisting who you are and learning to use every trait to the maximum effect for positivity,” Edwardes says.
3. You’re a Work in Progress
As soon as you think you understand your strengths and weaknesses, new questions will arise, and with them will come new fears, uncertainties, and self-doubt. Why? Because that’s life. There’s always something new to learn, and new ways to make yourself a better, more heroic person. But only if you’re open to it. Real heroes are. They’re curious and adventurous. “Heroes have a growth mindset,” says Edwardes, “and this means accepting that you’re a work in progress until the day you die.”
*Make it so: *Get out of your comfort zone early and often. Try new things, learn new skills, read books on unfamiliar subjects, chat with strangers. “You’ll soon find that your view of the world is far from complete,” Edwardes says, “and that there is plenty of growth yet to be done.”