I did something last Friday that I absolutely love! I gave a talk on Friday to a group of therapists and shared with them how to live more of an Exceptional life, I suppose I’m a bit of a closet entertainer! However I was approached afterwards by someone who wanted to seek my advice about how to be more confident in front of groups of people because they got very nervous, which is something that I help people with from time to time.
It made me ponder about what is nervousness? How do we know that we are nervous? Well usually we get that anxious feeling in pit of our stomach, maybe it churns a bit just to let us know that it is there, we may feel sick or simply want to cancel and run away! We may be worrying about what might happen, will we remember what we have to say? Will people enjoy it? What if you get it wrong?
I’ve always been quite lucky in that I’ve felt comfortable being in front of audiences, but I remember when I was first recovering from my burn out, my memory didn’t seem to be as good as it had been and for the first time I got incredibly nervous talking to groups of people, now this wasn’t like groups of 30 or 40, even talking socially in groups of 3 or 4 would set my nerves off and I would start to worry about what would happen if I forgot what it was I wanted to say, because it had happened before and it could just happen again.
This is really the crux of the issue, we learn by experience, remember when you were little your mum would say to you don’t touch the oven it’s hot, and she may have said to you a hundred times, but it wasn’t until you touched it that you learnt! Well that lesson got recorded, if you like, in your brain so that next time you went near an oven you knew not to touch it! The difficulty is, is that we do this with all of our experiences not just ones where we really will get hurt, and this is a fault in the design if you like. Now whilst I’d had lots of very good experiences of speaking, at that time, I’d had a couple of bad ones, and these were the ones that my brain remembered. So in it’s view, to keep me safe, it would flag them up and remind me what happened, so I wouldn’t put myself in that position again or I’d know to be extra cautious. Our memories are made up of lots of different elements, we may have a picture, we may have noises or talking or we may have a feeling – now I got a lot of feeling and I also remembered visually all the times where I had messed up before in glorious technicolour!
One way of approaching this is by reducing the intensity of the previous memory, so that when you refer back to it, it doesn’t seem that overpowering (this is especially useful if it is a phobia). But it is also equally as powerful to remember that it is simply just a memory, it’s not happening now and it’s not a premonition as to what will happen, it’s really just made up of our thinking. Often it can be hard to ignore the feeling that goes with it, but that is just there as a result of the thinking, it’s an indicator if you like, as to what thinking is going on and no more than that, we are, after all completely safe (it’s not as if audiences have clubs and stones to throw at you!). I remember the first time that I remembered this, I was about to give a talk at my first conference and my head was full of all the times I had forgotten what to say! I remembered that the memories couldn’t tell me anything about what was going to happen and that I was ok, my head almost instantly quietened and I felt much calmer, that previous feeling of nervousness had dissipated and my confidence returned, more importantly, none of my worst fears were realised and the organisers have invited me to return many times since!
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