I HAD BEEN AFRAID OF public speaking since
my first day of kindergarten. My mom walked with me to school
that day. It was a beautiful morning. Quiet. So peaceful. Just
me and my mom.
I had never been to preschool or anything
like school, so I didn't know what to expect, and I hadn't thought
much about it. But when we got there, the door was at the front
of the class, and everyone was there already. I must have been
about five minutes late.
As soon as I saw all those kids turn to
look at me, I froze. I didn't want to go in. My mom gave me a
little nudge from behind. "It's okay, honey," she said,
"go on in and take a seat."
I grabbed the sides of the door and tried
to get back out. The teacher came over and tried to pull me in.
My mom was outside trying to nudge me in, but I was having none
of this. I wanted to get away. I started yelling at them and
hanging onto the sides of the door as if my life depended on
it. Finally they got me inside. I felt so embarrassed I'd made
a scene, and I was forced to acquiesce. From that moment on,
I didn't ever want to be in front of a class again.
Another time I was in my first judo competition.
My dad and my brother were there. I must have been in third grade
at the time. I went out for my first match, and my opponent threw
me on the ground in about a half a second and it was over. I
was eliminated from the tournament. That was it. I felt humiliated
in front of all those people.
And one more: When I was in the fourth
grade, a teacher tried to make me get in front of the class to
recite a poem. Again, it was a humiliating experience.
So needless to say, when it came time years
later to start speaking to groups, I had a kind of ancient dread
of doing anything in front of a group. I looked forward to an
upcoming speech like someone who would hang at dawn. Dread. Serious
But I cured the dread.
The first stage of the cure occurred in
a conversation with my wife. I was telling her how much I was
dreading the speech I had to do the following week. I was silent
for a minute. I went through each phase of the speech in my head:
Driving there, getting set up, talking for twenty minutes about
something I know a lot about. I realized that, in spite of the
feeling of dread, there was nothing actually difficult about
this task. Nothing at all. I've done a lot of difficult things,
and this was easy. The only thing that was hard about it was
the dread itself. And somehow the realization that the whole
thing was really easy lifted the dread. I said, "It's going
to be easy."
Immediately I felt light.
Whenever the dread came back, I did the
same thing, and I recommend it to you: Don't just tell yourself
"this is easy." Go through the event, step by step,
judging each step by how difficult it really will be. How much
of a strain will it be? How much effort will it require? How
much skill will it take? And then when you realize really how
easy it will be, then say to yourself, "This is going
to be easy."
This filters out everything but what you're
mentally adding. The dread is something you mentally add to the
situation, rather than residing in the situation itself. Did
you know shyness can completely disappear when someone is hypnotized
if all the hypnotist does is put a block on the person's memory
of his own past? In other words, without mentioning shyness or
confidence without even uttering the words all
the hypnotist needs to do is temporarily erase past memories.
Shyness vanishes. With no memory of embarrassing moments, what
is there to fear?
It is the anticipation of the pain
that is actually the painful part. In a study by British and
Canadian researchers, they found what they call "dread zones"
in the brain. These zones don't actually process the pain themselves.
They are in communication with the parts of the brain
that deal with the experience.
In the experiment, the researchers hooked
volunteers to a device that could deliver both painful and pleasant
sensations. In front of the volunteers were two lights. When
the blue light came on, there was a warm, pleasant sensation.
Every thirty seconds, the red light would start flashing. After
seven seconds of flashing red light, the volunteers experienced
about eight seconds of a painfully hot sensation.
Meanwhile, they had the volunteers hooked
up to some of the most powerful MRI equipment (magnetic resonance
imaging) in the world. As the experience was repeated, the volunteers'
"dread zones" became more and more active. The zones
were communicating to the parts of the brain that actually experience
the pain. And the volunteers experienced more and more pain even
though the actual amount of heat they received remained the same.
Their anticipation of the pain made the experience more painful.
When I realized speaking would be easy,
somehow it freed me up to really think about how I'd like to
do the talk. I started thinking about what I wanted to
do rather than what I thought they wanted me to do or
expected me to do. And that changed everything. I totally redesigned
my speech. I talked about what I really wanted to talk about,
what I really thought they ought to know, and I told stories
and illustrated my points the way I would enjoy, rather than
trying to please the audience. Of course, if it was enjoyable
to me, it would likely be enjoyable to them, but I concerned
myself with doing it the way I would enjoy. This small change
made a big difference.
When you dread something, look carefully
until you really see how easy it will be. And then wrack your
brain trying to figure out how you can do it in the way that
would be most enjoyable to you. Easy and fun will get it done.
Look at what you dread
and realize, "This is easy."
Do the job in a way you