September 18, 2012
I was joking with a friend about my recent bout of angst prior to a mindfulness presentation I made at a conference last week. And my summary was: ‘I’ve seen the enemy, and it’s me!’ Not an original thought, but oh man, profoundly true.
I know I’ve said this before. Thoughts are just a bunch of words strung together, and the only meaning they have is the meaning we give them. I love that idea. Makes mincemeat of my darkest, heaviest, most debilitating thoughts. That was never more true for me than it was last week, and the months leading up to the conference. The way I survived my presentation anxiety was to remember, over and over and over, that I am not my mind, or my thoughts, or the emotional and physical reactions that follow my mind down the rabbit hole.
The really good news is that my mind is also very good at analyzing and problem-solving. So although it took me on a bizarre roller coaster ride, I can also use it in the way it works best. As a tool to learn from my experience and in this case apply it to my next presentation. Because in spite of months of traumatizing myself, I want to do it again. And my mind tells me from past experience that next time it’ll probably be at least a tiny bit easier.
The first thing I notice about the whole thing is that because I’m so passionate about this mindfulness stuff, my passion totally trumps my fear! That’s how I got myself into this in the first place, and then to the presentation on Wednesday. By reminding myself that I really, really believe that mindfulness is a big deal. It may not be the solution to all our ills, but my experience is that it’s a powerful tool in the toolkit.
My primary fears went like this: I pictured getting up in front of a bunch of people I didn’t know, to present something I couldn’t be sure they wanted to hear about, and to add insult to injury, I was the last presenter at the very end of a day in which they’d already been sitting for hours and hours. How much can anybody care at that point?! My mind also often held me hostage by simply reminding me that there are so many people out there who would be more interesting, more charismatic, better at this stuff, than I’ll ever be.
And yet I went through with it. Because I have enough experience to know that my mind isn’t who I am. The stories it tells me don’t define me or have to direct my behavior. My mind gives me information. And then with mindfulness I can step back and look at my thoughts and ask myself whether I believe them, whether they’re serving me, and what I want to do about them. When I’m not married to them, or treating them like facts rather than the ideas that they really are, they are simply information that I still have some programs running that I need to be aware of. Programs that tell me I’m not good or smart or engaging or pretty enough. Programs that create discomfort.
So in essence I guess I practiced what I preach as an ACT therapist. Over and over and over I got quiet, observed, accepted and became willing to experience my fears, and then chose to act in a way that was consistent with my values.
Love to hear your story about a situation where you met your fear and did it, whatever it was, anyway. So please leave a comment.