What has 4 letters and starts with an “F”? You say it more often than you should, and people tell you not to use it from a very young age. I’ll give you a second to think. Ready? The answer is…
Fear is a mental construct based on a preconceived and predetermined feeling associated with a certain thing or act. Essentially, fear is created based on experiences that we have had with something ourselves, experiences we have heard that others have had, or experiences that we believe can happen.
Fear is a thought based on a believed rationale. It makes sense that a frightful experience that has happened to us may give us fear the next time we partake in an activity. Take flying for instance. If you were on a tiny plane and endured a bumpy flight, it may make sense that you may fear flying the next time. That’s fair, and I can’t stop you from thinking that way.
But what I can do is encourage you to not let that fear disallow you from missing out on the euphoria that occurs when you conquer a fear. You stare that fear in the face, you duck once, you duck twice, and then you punch it square in the nose. You have withstood that next plane ride and have a new perspective and respect for life. It is the sense of accomplishment you receive from getting a good grade, getting a promotion, or scoring a goal. You have achieved the unexpected, and there is nothing quite like it.
How I Overcame a Common Fear
I was about to give my first speech in front of a group of people. I had the whole thing memorized, actually had two other versions memorized as well, I had practiced over twenty times, I had done it in the mirror, in front of a small group, polished it, and I even got feedback from a fantastic professor! I seem to have been pretty well prepared right?
Wrong! I was still scared shitless.
Public speaking is such a common fear, there is a multi-million dollar industry associated with overcoming it. It is taught in schools, colleges, at certain businesses, yet for some reason, people still can’t shake getting up in front of a group of people and simply sharing a few thoughts through the spoken word.
“You just have to think of people in their underwear”, you may be thinking. Sure, that works for some people. But other people like to picture themselves in their underwear, so it gives this light, vulnerable feeling that immediately puts the audience on their side. There is not a “correct” approach, except the one that comes after personal analysis.
So like I do in so many scenarios and what I urge you to do all the time, I took a step back and thought. This was a 2-step process.
What was it about public speaking that I was truly fearful of? I began to go through each part the day before my speech. Was it that I didn’t like my voice being heard? Well I speak all the time, and nobody has said anything to me by now, so I don’t think it’s that. Was it that I didn’t believe in the content? No, I really enjoyed what I had prepared, and really wanted to share it. Was it that I didn’t want people looking at me? This one started to get me to think. I’m pretty COMFY with the way I look from a physical standpoint, but then I began to actually envision dozens of people staring at me. What if they didn’t smile when I cracked a joke? What if they all had blank stares? What if they were looking at my face and I twitched? What if they were looking at my eyes, and I went cross-eyed for a second? What do I do with my hands?
These were the questions that started racing through my head, and I knew I had discovered the root of the problem. I was fearful of the tiny eyeballs glued to my every move. I was fearful of the judgment, from a physical standpoint, that it would have on my body. Would I sweat, would I stutter, would my voice crack, would I forget something? I feared an unknown situation, but one that I could control, so I devised a plan to get around it.
If discovering the root of the fear is the hard part, then understanding how to defeat it is the easy and fun part. I came up with a very simple solution. At the beginning of my speech, I asked the audience to first, close their eyes. I gave the same exact speech, with the same exact imagery, with the same exact story and message, except I began by asking them to close their eyes. This worked like magic.
Without anybody piercing into my soul, I began to gain momentum. I saw the smiles, I saw the laughs, and I didn’t care or think about what I was doing. I was much more fluid and natural. By the time I had told the audience to open their eyes, they were already on my side, and I was on a roll. I had picked apart my fear, broken it down to its very core, and beaten public speaking.
It Comes Back to the WHY
I mentioned this was a 2-step process. The other question I asked myself to ensure that I crushed this speech was, why am I really doing this? And my why was that I had things to say that were genuinely helpful for the audience, and I sincerely believed that.
So when I thought about if this speech would have the impact I wanted it to have, sure the initial reaction was certainly fear. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, so long as we move past it.
To feel fear or anxiety or nerves means that whatever you are doing has true meaning to you. But we must not let this fear consume us so that we do not achieve what we set out to do.
This all reminds me of Babe Ruth’s old adage, “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” But I think this is thinking too far in advance. The first thing you should be thinking about, before getting up to the plate, before striking out is:
“Why the fuck are you even playing baseball?!”
Once you understand that, once you believe that what you are doing has some sort of impact on yourself or others, then you know that fear is a fallacy that can be destroyed. For me, it was an understanding that this speech was going to help others. Why should I care about how I looked, if I stuck completely to the script, if I smiled nicely, if I stood up tall, when I knew that I had benevolent intentions, and should be focused on others rather than me? In short, I shouldn’t care. So I didn’t. I didn’t think about any of that, I overcame my fear, and I succeeded.
Do something that scares you every single day. Talk to a stranger. Jump in a cold shower. Scrub your toilets! Do something that when you’ve completed the task, you look back and think, yup, I did that, that was all me.
Getting COMFY, specifically, is a 5-step morning routine to energize the body and soothe the mind.
Getting COMFY, more broadly, is a movement based on Getting COMFY waking up in the morning, Getting COMFY in your own skin, and Getting COMFY with the rest of your life.
Getting COMFY: Your Morning Guide to Daily Happiness, is a book coming out on January 31st that highlights these ideas.
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