Whether you are an actor, a musician, a comedian or simply need to give a talk or a presentation at work, sometimes you may feel so nervous about performing or speaking in front of an audience that even the thought produces fear in you and you'd do anything to avoid it. Even the most seasoned performers can experience this, and it is due to the emergency part of our brains (the "amygdala") interpreting your circumstance as a threat and switching on the fight or flight response.
In a previous article, I have explored how our negative core beliefs keep us stuck. If you are not familiar with this I suggest you read “How to get Unstuck” first.
Now before going ahead make yourself comfortable. Take a pen and paper and get ready to do some very valuable work that will make a real difference in your life. Take your time with this. The more you put into it the more you will get out of it.
Ok, let’s get down to work: start by writing down the first restrictive negative belief you want to change. Then proceed with the following steps:
1) On a scale of 1-10, how true does this belief subjectively feel?
2) On a scale of 1-1- how true is this belief in reality? (be as neutral and objective as possible)
3) When does this belief the most emotionally convincing?
4) When does it feel the least emotionally convincing? Take your time answering this question as this will reveal to you what conditions exasperate the issue and what makes it better.
5) What actual evidence do you have for this belief? what supports it? Be realistic and as neutral as possible
6) What actual evidence contradicts and challenges this belief? What evidence is there to show you it might not be necessarily true?
7) What possible advantages are making you want to hold on to it? In what way could this belief be serving you beneficially in some perverse way?
8) What disadvantages are there in holding on to it?
9) Now remind yourself of a circumstance in the past when you had doubts about a belief. Go back to that time and recall what it felt like to experience doubt. How did you know you were doubting your previously firm beliefs? what were you experiencing? what made you change your mind?
10) Recalling and staying with this doubting state start doubting your current belief. Ask yourself those questions again: does this belief really fit with what is truly important to me? In the past, when did this belief interfere with what I wanted to do? What would it be like to be free of this old belief?
11) After rolling these questions in your mind for a while focus again.
Is this negative belief an over-generalization? Is it the result of catastrophizing? Is it just a personal attack against your person or others? Does it label you or others into something fixed? Is it the result of demanding of yourself something unreasonable, such as ‘you SHOULD be or do such and such”?
12) After careful consideration how true does your old belief feel now on a scale of 1-10? Now comes the fun part: relax, take a few deep breathes and close your eyes. Imagine that there’s a furnace somewhere deep inside yourself.
If you really want to permanently destroy that old belief imagine throwing it into that fire and watch it burn away into ashes. Take pleasure in doing this.
13) Now ask yourself: what would be a more helpful and realistic alternative belief to have? State it positively (say what you want not what you don’t want!).
Make sure you are happy with it. Word it in the present tense, as if it was happening now. (i.e. I believe I am good enough as I am, or, I believe I deserve love just as I am)
14) On a scale of 1-10, how true does it feel right now?
15) As you did before ask yourself, when does the new belief feel the least and the most emotionally convincing.
16) Examine the evidence against this new belief? Is there any problem with it? Then find evidence that proves its correctness and usefulness. Write it down
17) Write down any disadvantages there may be for holding this new positive belief. Be as objective as possible
18) Write down all the advantages of holding this new positive belief now.
19) Now go inside yourself again. Recall a time in the past when you felt receptive and willing to learn. Remember what it was like to be open to change and new beliefs. How did it feel? Re-live that time in as much detail as possible. Where in your body did you feel those feelings? What were you telling yourself? Do all it is possible now to achieve that same state again now.
20) Staying with that memory of feeling receptive and open focus on your new belief. How would it feel to accept this new belief? How is it better than the previous one? How different would your life be if you held this new belief as your own? What would you be doing that you were doing before? What could you achieve and overcome that you weren’t able to before? Think about all this and engage with your new belief.
21) Now evaluate your new belief. Do you need to make any changes? Can you improve on it in any way? How good do you feel holding it? On a scale of 1-10, how true does it feel now?
Now decide to take some action. What can you do differently right now, today, as a result of having acquired this new belief? If you truly believed in it, what would you do differently? Set yourself a task based on this belief being true and decide what action you would take.
Start doing things differently right now so that your new belief gets empirical support and you experience it in your life. This way it gets verified, enhanced and supported and therefore embedded in your new behavior patterns.
Have fun with it, experiment and watch your life change and feel great as a result!
When we are blocked in an area of our lives it often is due to the fact that we feel safer that way. We may feel unhappy but that is easier to deal with than our fear of the unknown. We begin to change when the pain we experience in staying stuck is bigger than the anticipated pain of change.
A lot of fear comes down to our negative core beliefs : deeply held beliefs acquired some time in the past due to painful experiences. Becoming conscious and challenging these beliefs is the first step in the process of change.
For a moment, think about something you would really like to do or be right now but don’t feel able to. When you’ve got that, write it down. Do that now. Maybe you have always wanted to be an artist so write down “I am a capable and talented artist”.
Now, in all probability a voice in your head has just emerged to criticize this statement bringing up all sorts of reasons why this is either impossible or a bad idea. Positive affirmations can give us a sense of safety and hope if we let them but at first you will probably feel they sound fake, embarassing or not right. No surprise there. If you have spent all your life bludgeoning yourself with negative beliefs such as “I am worthless” or “I am not good enough” or “I must be perfect to deserve success” anything else will sound unfamiliar and syrupy or cheesy . So saying to yourself ” I am lovable just as I am” or “I am capable and confident” will surely sound untrue at first.
The problem with not accepting a belief because it doesn’ t sound right though is that feelings are a result of thoughts and if you want to change a feeling you have got to change the thought first. It’s a bit like the idea of “fake it til you make it”. You can’t wait to feel it to believe it, you gotta believe it to feel it! Luckily there are some ways to get around this obstacle, but all of these do involve a certain willingness to suspend judgement and take a leap of faith, as well as engage our rational mind doubting limiting old beliefs.
So what is that critical monster in your head saying when you tell it you already are what you want to be ?( After saying your affirmation: i.e. “I am ok just as I am” )
Listen to the objections that come your way. What s the cruel voice saying inside your head ? “so you’re ok as you are… ah ah sure you are!”, “who are you kidding?”, “You are ugly”, “You will never change”, “You can’t do anything right”, “No-one will ever love you unless you are perfect”, etc etc… You will be amazed at the rotten things you can come up with. Write them down. These are your personal negative core beliefs.
Once you have written them down you can start having a good look at where these beliefs come from: Mom and dad? Your school bully? The boy/girl you were in love with when you were ten? Teachers that pushed you too hard? Your little jealous sister ? Scan your blurts for possible sources. Time travel back into your life in five year increments and list by name who influenced you the most in each block of time.
Once you have identified these challenge their opinions. What self serving reason could they have had to have done or said what they did do or say? How did their own worldview influence them ? What did they believe about themselves ? What messages did they grow up with ? Remember this is not about blaming or condoning, just understanding and distinguishing their beliefs from what yours would be if you hadn’t accepted theirs as true. If there is still a lot of emotional energy involved in recalling these memories you might have to release it first so you can forgive them and yourself and move on.
Keep in mind that it is also possible your negative beliefs may come from subtle non direct messages received from your environment or from an experience of something that happened to you where others were not directly involved:
Maybe you felt different because of a situation you found yourself in; maybe you were abandoned by a significant other; maybe you fell ill and became isolated; maybe you were born with something that set you apart from others and you yourself came up with the negative conclusion that you were not Ok just as you were: the possibilities are endless and very personal.
Whatever your monster is, after it has been brought up to the light of day you can start working on challenging its critical voice and changing those negative beliefs that keep you stuck and unhappy. If you would like help with a practical cognitive behavioral approach to this, read this article about “how to get rid of negative core beliefs”.
Some people seem to be natural public speakers: they appear charming, cool and confident; they stay relaxed and calm throughout the entire experience. For a lot of people, it is exactly the opposite: they fear public speaking more than most other endeavors and they find speaking in public a nerve wrecking experience. So what makes someone feel one way and not the other?
Are you born good at speaking in public or can you overcome your fear and become a confident public speaker?
The answer to this question has to do with our brain and its neuro-plasticity: that is, its capacity to change. In order to understand how this works, it is useful to know a thing or two about how emotions get processed in our brains and influence the way we behave.
The Amygdala is a very primal part of our brain that is geared for survival. By allowing us to recognize danger and immediately react to it, it makes us more likely to be able to avoid it and thus survive.
There are two parts of the Amygdala: the right side is responsible for registering risk in an immediate, profound and nonverbal way as if it were to say “oh-oh”… pay attention now!
Anything bad that has happened in the past gets registered here and since the amygdala is very alert to changes in the environment when something is seen as dangerous (whether new or related to the past ‘bad’ event previously registered) it gets activated. When this happens we become scared and as a result, our sympathetic nervous system gets aroused in what we call the fight/freeze or fight response. We experience this as getting a fast heartbeat, sweating, and a general feeling of being ‘on edge’.
After the ‘panic’ physical response has been triggered the information about the event is sent to the Hyppocampus (the part of the brain that deals with the exact details of the experience) and then it all gets sent to the pre-frontal cortex so that we can analyze what happened.
People with panic and high anxiety levels have a bigger Amygdala than most. Whether this is because they were born with it or whether it developed as a result of trauma is not known but what is important to know is that is why these people might feel easily triggered by changes in the environment perceived as threatening.
The good news is that there is another part of the Amygdala whose role is to help us ‘un-learn’: the left side. This side is responsible for comparing information as if it were to ask “Is what’s happening now exactly the same as what happened before?’ If the answer is no, it tells the right side to knock the fight or flight response off so that we can get back to normal.
The thing is, sometimes the fear that has been triggered is so high that it over-rides everything and the left side cannot get the message across to the other side. So in order for the right side to register that we are indeed safe, we first need to be able to calm our automatic reaction of ‘panic’. How do we do that? Simple: we breathe deeply.
This works because our autonomic nervous system has two branches: one that causes arousal (sympathetic) and the other that calms us down (parasympathetic). The two cannot be activated simultaneously, so if one is activated the other cannot be. In other words: if we have started the process of calming ourselves down we cannot possibly stay aroused. Conscious deep breathing immediately activates our parasympathetic nervous system. When this happens we gradually become calm enough to allow the left side of the amygdala to ‘think us out of the danger zone’.
So now that you know why you feel the way you do, you are already more in control of what you can do about it. Here are a few pointers:
Above all express perfect confidence in your capacity to change. If you don’t believe it, who will? You can change and if you truly want to, you will!
If you’d like help with the above techniques please feel free to contact me or just give me a ring on 075 44 24 7800.
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