Monthly Archives: October 2012

Move through fear

One of the most common phobias known to mankind is the fear of public speaking. Also common is the fear of heights. Both fears used to stop me from participating in certain activities.

One day, I decided to face my fears head-on. I didn’t necessarily get rid of the fears altogether. Fears come and go. Sometimes the fear is there, and sometimes it’s not.

But I discovered firsthand that you can take effective action regardless of your fears. Fear serves a strong purpose. You can use it to your advantage.

Fear of public speaking

I used to dread even the prospect of public speaking. I thought it would be terrifying to step into the spotlight. Who wants to have a bunch of eyes staring at you – watching your every move, witnessing you trip over your own two feet, and noticing you stumble for the right words? Despite constant prodding from teachers and social pressure from classmates, I managed to escape joining the debate team in high school.

When I started college, I decided it was time to face my fear of public speaking. I was majoring in communications with an emphasis in public relations. How could I do this line of work if I was afraid to speak in public?

So, I took an introductory speech communication class. As it turned out, I loved it. By getting up to talk in a room full of people, over and over, I gained skills and confidence I didn’t have before. I ended up completing a minor in speech communication as part of my undergraduate studies.

I now speak before audiences on stress mastery, finding focus, and other professional growth topics as a life & career strategist. I also present oral arguments before appellate judges and represent clients at court hearings as a lawyer. I would not have these opportunities if I were still crippled by fear of public speaking.

Yet, irrespective of my experience, I can still get nervous when I speak before an audience. It doesn’t matter that I enjoy oral arguments before appellate judges and feed off the adrenaline that comes with speaking before large groups. Fear has a funny way of showing up when you least expect it.

Last Wednesday, as a Faculty Mentor and instructor at the University of St. Thomas law school, I spoke on networking before a small group of 16 second-year law students. It was an 8 a.m. class. When I woke up in the morning, I was looking forward to it.

But 5 minutes before I walked into the classroom, I began to have racing thoughts: Did I prepare enough? How would the students receive me? Would anyone show up? Would the interactive exercises teach them anything? Despite having some self-doubt and feeling a bit nervy, I walked in and had a great time with the students.

Fear of heights

As for my fear of heights, I learned to truly embrace it by skydiving! Ok, it was tandem skydiving. But nonetheless – audacious – wouldn’t you say?

A couple months later, I was invited by my sister and her friend, an expert climber, to go outdoor rock climbing. I myself had very limited climbing skills. I had only done indoor rock climbing at Vertical Endeavors a few times. But since I had recently jumped out of an airplane, I figured that outdoor rock climbing would be a piece of cake when it came to dealing with heights. Boy was I wrong.

When we got to Taylor’s Falls, I enjoyed climbing up the steep cliff and seeing the beautiful views from way above. It was the rappelling down that posed the greatest challenge.

Rappelling is a climbing technique that allows you to do a controlled descent. It involves your sliding down a rope on a cliff face to get back to flat earth. Sometimes it’s the fastest, easiest and safest way to get down.

On the surface, rappelling seems much simpler than climbing up a cliff. But it can be very nerve-racking and dangerous. It includes creating anchors, tying knots, managing the rope, rigging the rappel device, and using safety back-up systems to ensure safety. When rappelling, you need to focus, use good judgment, and lean into the descent.

I freaked out when I learned that I would need to rappel down from the top of the cliff. I felt like I was going to die. My legs were complete mush. My palms were sweaty. My heart was racing. My stomach was churning. Minutes felts like hours. Then I finally took a deep breath, leaned back on the rappel rope, and descended into the unknown.

Here are some things I learned about fear and how to move through it:

Fully experience the fear.

When fear arises, you naturally want to get rid of it and everything that comes with it: the physical symptoms (e.g. pit in your stomach, wobbly knees, sweaty palms) and the self-sabotaging thoughts (e.g. I’m a wuss. I’m not good enough. I can’t do this.)  Driving out your fear or willing it away is usually impossible. It’s easier to just be with it. Make space for it. Tap into it as a source of fuel for action. Let it be your guide.

Observe, with genuine curiosity, the thoughts and feelings that accompany your fear. Let go of your judgments and preferences. Bring your fear into light and into your consciousness. Investigate it. Learn something big or something minute – about yourself and about the fear itself.

Keep your sense of humor.

When I was first instructed to rappel down from the top of the cliff, I felt like crying. I took it as a serious, life-threatening decision. But then I recalled I had recently jumped out of an airplane.

What made the difference? On the airplane, before I jumped, I was relaxed. I was smiling, laughing, and joking around with my tandem master and fellow skydivers. So, to deal with the fear, I began to play around and have fun with it.  Next thing I knew, I was rappelling down – despite the wobbly legs, sweaty palms, racing heart, and churning stomach. I accepted the physical symptoms as part of the adventure.

Be present.

Fear often arises from your memories about the past and projections of the future. I tripped over my tongue the last time I gave a toast! I could crack my scull on the side of the cliff with one false move!

When you find your mind racing with negative thoughts, come back to the present moment. You don’t need to spend tons of energy trying to change your thoughts or think positive. Just let the thoughts come and go without hooking you.

Start by counting your breath. As you breathe in, count 1, and as you breathe out, count 1. Repeat 10 times and then return to 1 again.  Focus on the pure sensation of your breath.  Notice the rise and fall of your shoulders, rib cage, and abdomen. Most times, your breath will become quieter and deeper. Even if it doesn’t, that’s fine. Simply noticing your breath helps you to be present.

Instead of hiding from or fighting the present moment, be with it.  The now is when you have the most power. Once you realize this fact, you tend to calm down.  You gain clarity. You decide what you want to do or what you need to do. And you do it.

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Photo by: TOM81115

5 ways to recharge

5 ways to rechargeRound-the-clock productivity, extensive to-do lists, and overscheduled days can put you on the fast track to burnout. Fierce progress toward goals can be followed by your hitting the wall with a big thud.

Burnout often feels like depression, but it’s not the same. It cannot be managed with therapy or medication. Behavioral shifts are necessary to restore your energy and recharge your spark.

Burnout starts with highly driven, nonstop activity. Fueled by the desire for accomplishment, you override your body’s need for rest with caffeine, sugar, pure will-power, or stress hormones (e.g. adrenaline and cortisol).

But eventually, your body’s natural rhythm wins out. You begin to feel irritable, restless, and exhausted. With your physical and hormonal reserves depleted, you become more prone to stress-related illnesses. (Headaches, ulcers, insomnia, high blood pressure, and heart disease are among the many.)

Today, after several weeks of intense, perpetual activity, I had an overwhelming need to take it easy. I woke up at 10 a.m. with a splitting headache. Having a cold didn’t help either. I texted my friends, Kat and Steph, to say I wouldn’t make it to brunch. Then I went back to bed and slept some more.

When I woke up again at 1:30 p.m., my headache was gone and my cold symptoms had subsided. I had slept for a total of 13 hours. Many things I had planned to do didn’t get done. But that’s okay. I couldn’t have done them effectively when I lacked the energy.

Whether you’re dragging or you’re burned out, here are 5 ways to recharge:

Sleep. Getting enough shuteye is critical. While I would not recommend 13 hours of sleep daily, I needed that amount today. Sleep helped me deal with my headache and cold symptoms. It restored my energy so I felt well enough to write this blog post.

Research shows that most people need seven to eight hours of sleep to feel fully rested. When you’re burned out, you need more – perhaps up to ten hours plus frequent naps. Allow yourself to get the rest you need. Let go of the guilt. There’s a big difference between being lazy and being tired.

Shed your should-do list. If you put too much pressure on yourself to produce and create, you could wind up with mediocre work. Or you might just plod along with nothing to show for it.

Go with your instincts. Do only what you must do or want to do. Forget about what you think you should do.

Indulge in quiet time. Turn off the TV. Disconnect from the Internet. Shut down your smart phone.  Give your brain a rest from external stimuli and information overload.  Keep a notebook or an electronic device to jot down creative ideas or random thoughts that clutter your mind.

Take a walk around the lake, in the park or down the block. Be with nature. Embrace the space. Meditate and reflect. Notice your breath and slow it down. Practice savasana (pronounced “shah-VAHS-anna”).  

Engage in self-care.  Take in food that is loaded with nutrients, fiber and antioxidants. Eat your veggies and fruits. Drink pure water. Exercise for the sheer joy of it. Reconnect with your loved ones (family members and friends you likely neglected while you were busy striving for your goals).

Get in touch with your natural rhythm. Stress is inherent to leading a fully engaged life. But burnout is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve been pushing yourself too hard and too long.

Skip the latte (caffeine), Oreos (sugar) and other artificial stimulants. Get in touch with your natural rhythm. Tune in to the ebbs and flows. Neutralize intense creation and productivity with deliberate rest and renewal.

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Photo by: tjuel

Putting reactive work on the back-burner

Customer service reps, tech supporters, air traffic controllers, police officers and firemen are expected to tackle urgent issues as they arise. Their work is largely unplanned.

While you might have a better handle on planning your work, you can still find yourself putting out fires and attending to other people’s priorities on any given day.

It’s hard to focus on important, high-value, creative work when you’re busy handling reactive work.

Your boss stops in your office with a problem that is urgent to him, but seems trivial to you. But you’re expected to solve it right away and drop what you’re doing.

Your business partner sends you an email with a major concern that she wants handled now. You feel compelled to get on that immediately, even though you were on a roll with another project.

Your client calls to complain about an issue that is really beyond your control. You stay on the phone to try and relieve her stress, when she would be better off talking with a friend or therapist.

Reactive work is a trap. It never ends. In this age of constant connectivity and instant communication, it’s easier to act on impulse than on purpose.

Meeting last-minute requests, replying to emails, and answering telephone calls as they flow in can give you a false sense of productivity and professionalism. Attending to seemingly urgent things can leave you terribly behind on your most important tasks.

Some reactive work is necessary and beneficial. You just can’t let it eat up your time to the point where you neglect important work, which requires creativity, commitment, persistence and follow-through.

If you want to put reactive work on the back-burner to focus on real work, here are a few tips:

Accept that you will ruffle feathers.  If you stop responding to every demand that comes your way, you will be met with complaints from those who want you to attend to their priorities, not yours.

But you can’t do great work if you’re constantly jumping from one urgent matter to another. People who scream the loudest don’t always deserve the most attention. Resist the temptation to please everyone

Take a hands-off approach.  Do you need to attend to impromptu requests yourself? Could others solve the problem or find the answer without your input? Are there systems and processes you could set up to deal with reactive work more efficiently?

Teach and guide others how to do things themselves. Discourage them from depending on you to solve their issues. Resist coming to their rescue every time they fail or have a setback.

Do your most important work first. Many start their work day by reading emails and listening to voice mails. But this can lead you away from your true priorities. You could wind up processing and addressing inquires all day long without getting any real work done. At least set a timer to prompt you to move on to more significant tasks.

Spend the better part of your day on creative work, not busy work. Block out time to do real work when your energy is at its peak and when there are fewer distractions

Make a realistic plan. At the end of your day, decide on the single most important task that you need to do the next day. Schedule it on your calendar. Make sure to initiate it or complete it as planned. That way, no matter what happens, you will accomplish at least one thing that matters to you.

Pare down your to-do list to the top three things that you can reasonably commit to getting done. You will stress yourself out if your to-do list is too long and you try to do everything on it.

Reflect on your progress. Pause purposely. Observe with curiosity. How is your day going? Are you doing the things you set out to do? If not, what are your obstacles? How can you overcome them? What will you need to put aside to do your real work?

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When you spend too much time on daily firefighting and attending to others’ needs, you can lose sight of your top priorities. Strive to put reactive work on the back-burner so you can focus on important, high-value, creative work that satisfies your own agenda.

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Photo by: timailius