How to Acknowledge Triumphs to Create a Courage Reservoir

Among Native Americans, the Plains Tribes have a tradition called “counting coups,” whereby a warrior in battle would touch an enemy during live combat with either their hand or coups stick—a short, decorated staff designed for that purpose. Counting coups was more of an honor than striking an enemy down because of what was required: courage. The warrior had to show courage to stand toe to toe and eye to eye with a threat, a source of fear, and say through actions, “I am not afraid of you.”

In our lives and careers, we will all have plenty of moments where we’ll have a chance to exercise bravery and show courage to overcome situations fraught with anxiety, stress, fear, or pain. Think of how many of those moments you’ve had on your journey. When we display these moments of courage in action by facing our challenges and fears head on, we must recognize them. When doing this, we can store these precious and powerful experiences in our kit for future use. Here’s how to do that and why it matters:

Don’t just get through it

So often, when we endure something hard, painful, or scary, we stumble to the other side and think, “Whew, glad I got through that,” and off we go to the next thing. When we do this, we’re leaving so much goodness on the table that can serve us in the future. First, we must recognize that we don’t just “get through it” but almost always “grow through it.” When we realize this truth, we can consciously shift our mindset to being open to that growth the next time we endure difficulties in our lives. Don’t just get through it; grow through it, and leverage those lessons while forging the experiences into the steel of our spirit.

Reflect on what it required to overcome

When we stop blowing past our moments of overcoming challenges, we pause and reflect on what those challenging moments required of us. This is where we process the events and debrief our teachable moments. What was required of you when you decided to change careers, leave a relationship, go back to school, tackle a daunting project, get back in shape, or confront someone’s bad behavior—or make the decision to deal with your own? Of course, they required decisiveness, discipline, grit, support, etc., but the root of these requirements is courage. Honor that truth. Celebrate how much of a badass you’ve been in those moments. Then you can ask questions like “What did I learn about myself?”, “What surprised me about the experience?”, “What was the hardest part of it all?” and, most importantly, “How can I use what I’ve learned going forward?” Perhaps you’ll see that things weren’t as bad as they seemed…or maybe they were much worse, and you still rallied through. We don’t learn or reach wisdom if we don’t take time to reflect and process the learning.

Base your belief on something more than faith

Don’t get me wrong, faith is a powerful, sustaining force, and believing in what we can’t yet see is critical to our progress. However, now that you’ve got these moments stored away in your courage reservoir, the next time things get scary, you don’t have to rely solely upon faith when it comes to your courage. You’ve got hard evidence and concrete examples to lean on! You can confidently say, “I’ve got this,” because you’ve been here before. You know what bravery in action looks and feels like, and now you know how to respond. Think about this: no matter what scary thing you’re going through personally and professionally, I guarantee you’ve been through something just as difficult, and you’re still here doing your thing. Be proud of that and honor yourself in that realization. And have confidence in knowing you can draw what you need from your reservoir in the future whenever you need it. You have proof, based on evidence, that whatever you may face on your journey ahead, you indeed “got this”!

D.J. Vanas is an enrolled member of the Ottawa Tribe and a former U.S. Air Force officer. He’s a thought leader, speaker, producer, and author of three books; his newest is The Warrior Within. D.J. shows groups like Intel, NASA, Subaru, Disney, the U.S. military, Mayo Clinic, and over 500 tribal nations how to use traditional warrior principles to stay strong and resilient, lead with courage and serve at our best regardless of circumstances. He was also the host of the PBS special Discovering Your Warrior Spirit. To contact D.J. or for speaking inquiries, please visit


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