In business and life, we all encounter situations where we experience unhelpful nerves or emotions. In this article, I am going to share with you a really simple technique that can help you to remain more in control.
Whether running a Presenting with Impact course or coaching someone to have a difficult conversation, frequently the question arises – “what if I get so nervous I forget what I’m saying?” or “what if I get all emotional?”
To understand why we may experience these unhelpful emotions and how this technique works, let’s look at the brain: emotions, like fear, sadness and love, are processed through the limbic system which is located in the temporal lobe of the brain. The limbic system is responsible for the six f’s – fighting, fleeing, feeding, fear, freezing-up and fornicating, which have played a major part in making the human race successful in working together, learning, developing and escaping danger. If we are in a life-threatening situation our body secretes chemicals automatically in seconds, one of which is adrenalin, to prepare our body to physically respond by fighting or fleeing. Whilst great for ensuring our survival, the problem is this system hasn’t reached a level where it can differentiate between the real danger of an approaching tiger and a perceived threat of speaking in front of a group, dealing with an angry colleague or, an emotional conversation. The result is an influx of chemicals whose impact on us physically and emotionally are not helpful.
So, what are we to do? We know we are nervous, the release of chemicals has been triggered and the more we worry about losing control, the worse it gets!
The answer is simple – Breathe & squeeze
First take a controlled deep breath, then trick your body into believing it has physically reacted and resolved the issue/threat by contracting a large muscle. I have to confess that from experience the best muscles to use in most instances are… your buttocks! Why the buttocks? Because your gluteus maximus is a big muscle and therefore sends a strong message to the brain you have reacted to the situation. Also, we can contract this muscle on its own, whilst remaining stationary either seated or standing and no-one is aware of what you are doing. The only time I wouldn’t suggest using the buttocks is when writing on a flip chart or any other reason your backside would be visible!
Why does it work? I believe there are four reasons this technique is effective:
1. Taking a deep conscious breath slows your breathing, which is usually speeding up at this time, and allows you to mentally start to take control.
2. Contracting your muscles triggers your body to release different chemicals to return your body to resting as it senses the threat has passed.
3. It temporarily distracts your brain from unhelpful thoughts and towards constructive ones.
4. Once you know it works you have a self-belief that you are more in control and therefore start sending the brain different messages.
I have long since been an advocate of this technique; whether coaching someone for a best man’s speech, a panel interview or for giving a compelling team briefing. In fact, the comedian and psychologist Ruby Wax uses it to control her stage fright. Yet it was only last year that I used it for myself: I was asked by my brother to say a few words at his wedding. I was delighted and honoured to be asked and as I speak in front of groups for a living, you would think it would be easy. However, having lost our mother several years ago every time I practiced, and it could only be in my head, I got all emotional and the tears would start rolling. Not only was this frustrating, but the thought of losing control in front of family and friends was making me rather anxious. Then I remembered ‘the clench’, every time I felt the emotions building I clenched and… my mental faculties and control returned. I am delighted to report all went extremely well on the big day!
I strongly suggest you give this simple, slightly unusual, and highly effective technique a try to help you stay in control, whether in a professional or family setting.
If like many people, you find giving talks & presenting is something you dread and would like to overcome this fear, or have an important speech approaching fast or would like to know more on this subject please contact me at Soozi@newhatthinking.co.uk or visit www.newhatthinking.co.uk