These kinds of trial runs can not only help you feel more at ease in uncomfortable situations, Deterline says, but also help create muscle memory, so you'll still act according to your values when stress is running high. Social Fitness Training is modeled on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of mental health counseling that guides people to identify skewed thoughts that upset them and to substitute healthier, more realistic ones. (For instance, Everyone will look down on me for my mistake could become Everyone makes mistakes. Most people will give me a pass.) In brain-imaging studies, people who have gone through CBT show less activity in fear-related regions of the brain—the same areas that can influence us to act rashly or immorally when we panic. Henderson's workshops have yielded results in line with those findings, with clients reporting they felt less anxious after role-playing difficult social scenarios.

In Donna Hamlin's case, the workshops have helped her identify the kinds of behavior she won't abide. "As a person who has witnessed some pretty corrupt stuff," she says, "I know how hard it can be to say, 'I'm not going to stand for that.' But the more you practice, the better you get." While working as a consultant, Hamlin discovered that an executive was doctoring records. She advised the company's CEO to report the offense to the organization's board; after he refused, she opted to cancel her contract and leave, integrity intact. "Social Fitness Training has changed the way I think about courage," she says. "I've moved from thinking Only heroes have it to I can have it, too."

15 Minutes to a More Moral You

Practice how you'll handle dicey discussions while staying true to your values.

Step 1
Think of a tough conversation you need to have. Maybe you want to confess to a friend that you haven't kept an important promise or talk to your boss about a colleague who's treating others poorly. Describe the situation in a few sentences.

Step 2
Jot down the thoughts that come to mind when you think about having this talk—things like: My friend is going to think I'm a liar or If I speak up, I'll get fired for sure.

Step 3
Question each thought, asking yourself, What's the likelihood this is true? What'sthe evidence? Are my initial thoughts reasonable or exaggerated? Now list potential outcomes that are more realistic.

Step 4
Come up with a positive statement to encourage yourself as you enter the conversation—such as, "I'm speaking up because I'm committed to being honest." What would you tell a friend who found herself in a similar situation?

Step 5
Practice the conversation to refine your approach, then go for it! Now that you're amped up and feeling more confident, find your opening and get the discussion rolling.

Elizabeth Svoboda is the author of What Makes a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness.


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