A client mentioned recently during our public speaking training session that she tends to be a pessimist and that she thought her tendency was affecting her public speaking ability. She asked me what she should do to turn that around.
Begin with awareness
I believe that change begins with awareness and acceptance of your current status, accompanied by deep-seated desire to change and a long-term commitment to move toward the status you want to reach. In my experience, permanent change is a gradual process. It takes time, it takes awareness and it takes patience. I think many of us are aware of our current status but we're not aware of the limitations that our view of the world can place on us. That's totally normal, by the way. We all develop perspectives on our lives. Those perspectives often limit us. And because they've been with us for so long, they just become part of our "reality", even if our perception of "reality" is holding us back.
Work with strengths
Our early life experiences tend to define who we think we are. I know this because I have lived it, particularly when I was a young man from a small town who came to Toronto. But we can rise far beyond what anyone would have ever expected, based on our early-life trajectory to excel and do much more than we might ever have imagined. We simply have to recognize our strengths and work with them to move forward toward greater life potential and satisfaction, including the ability to speak confidently in public.
Your perceptions can persuade you to withdraw from experiences in an attempt to protect someone you may have been at one time long ago. The problem is letting those old values and identifications get in the way of current reality. And the current reality may be that you are a mature, intelligent, sophisticated, powerful person whose old perceptions are no longer working for you and instead are working against you.
The hard part
So what can be done? Well, like I said, it begins with awareness and acceptance. Once you become aware and accept, you have to decide if you want to change. And that's where the hard part begins. It's hard because so many of us grew up in environments where people tried to hide who they were, expected others to take responsibility and leadership. Most of us grew up among followers, not leaders. That can make us afraid to take responsibility. In a community where those around us were directed by others, we never learn leadership. And that makes the concept of leadership a little intimidating and frightening, particularly in a large, highly competitive city like Toronto and the GTA.
People want leadership
Too often, capable people are concerned that if they excel and stand out from the crowd they will be considered "uppity" and "too big for your britches" by those around them. But here's the dichotomy: Most people WANT leadership! They want someone strong up front to show them the way and to deal with the issues. They may carp, complain and criticize but they don't want to be leaders themselves. Why? Because they're terrified of taking responsibility.
Risk can be valuable
It took me a long to time to realize that. Sure, everyone wants to be on top but the problem is that most - almost all - of those people don't want to take any risk. But life - real life, not just existence - is about risk. I'm not talking about foolish risk. I'm talking about researched, measured, responsible risk. If we never step up, we get left behind. Responsible risk can be a very valuable thing.
So how do we get from pessimism to optimism and the confidence to speak in public? One good route is to create a list of positive affirmations and repeat them as often as circumstances allow. You can learn about positive affirmations here: http://www.vitalaffirmations.com/affirmations.htm. The article will suggest some affirmations but you can make up your own and they will probably be more powerful for you because they will relate directly to you.
Appreciate the good stuff
Please understand that affirmations are just meaningless mumbo jumbo if you just mouth them without feeling them. You need to look at yourself and your life, pick positive things and really appreciate them. Most of us take all the good stuff in life for granted and complain about what we don't like. It should be the other way around. We should treasure the good stuff and take the bad stuff for granted because "stuff" is going to happen but, for the most part, we're very well off. Positive affirmations are about really appreciating the good stuff.
It takes time
It takes time, it takes patience, it takes self-forgiveness when we slide back a bit. But if we're really committed to making change in our lives it really is possible. Whether it's public speaking, skiing, sky diving or just looking in the mirror and liking what you see no matter what's happening around you, positive thoughts about the little things can take you a long way.