When I grew up, for some reason I thought that being seen in the self help section of the bookshop was a sign of weakness. I had a notion that books in this section had some sort of lesser value than the more intellectual (albeit rather less interesting) scientific tomes and journals. So this bias meant I missed out on reading the (now) classic when it first was published in 1987 – Feel the Fear and do it Anyway. If you want to know more about the author Susan Jeffers or the history of the book read more here .
The interesting thing is that it’s through my reading and research into the differences between male and female brain biology that this book has come back into my consciousness. Let me explain.
Right now I’m about to embark on a part of my life that up until a year ago would have been something out of a nightmare. You guessed it, I’m launching my career as a public speaker – and I’ve always been terrified of it.
I, along with about 75% of the rest of the population, have a condition called glossophobia - fear of public speaking.
Okay, I’ve done it in dribs and drabs - I teach yoga, I’ve provided MCing and introductions at conferences plus I facilitate small group workshops. I’ve even booked, briefed and advised more speakers than you can poke a stick at through out my professional career while programming industry conferences.
But for some reason I had made a mountain out of a molehill, and the thought of actually being the centre of attention and giving a speech about my ideas has been something that makes my brain and body respond in really irrational ways;
- My memory goes blank at mid sentence - even though I know my material inside out and back to front.
- My voice gets all plummy, posh and pretentious which means I sound incredibly inauthentic and …. lets face it, awful.
- And my legs shake. Not just minor shakes, but huge wobbles that make my knees knock. Thank god for lecterns to hide behind.
The title of my new presentation is Decision Making Under Pressure – and the reason I talk about this is so that I can speak to a mixed gender audience about neuroscience (the study of brain biology) and then gently introduce some of the interesting and generalised tidbits about the differences in brain scans between men and women.
- Did you know that the Anterior Cingulate Cortex is larger in women than in men according to Dr Louann Brizendine author of two interesting books The Female Brian and The Male Brain? So that’s really only interesting if you know that the Anterior Cingulate Cortex has a nickname of the “worrywart” centre. You guessed it. According to brain scientists and fear scientists women are twice as likely as men to experience worry and anxiety.
- Did you also know that testosterone is a great dampener of one of the stress hormones - cortisol? Some years back a researcher called Amy Cuddy presented a TED talk which has since gone viral where she talks about body language. The benefit of Power Poses (i.e. standing in traditionally masculine type poses - arms and legs akimbo or hands behind head with legs apart) is that after about two minutes in the pose this boosts testosterone which in turns dampens cortisol so your stress response drops. And .. the connection is quite obvious, in general men naturally have more testosterone than women.
So in preparation for my first talk I’ve explored the role of stress, anxiety and worry plus fear in keeping us playing small - and how getting over or transmuting these (frequently intense) feelings can help us get on with our bigger game plan far more quickly.
I’ve been reading about emergency service personnel and staff in casualty in hospitals and how they deal with stress and fear.
I’ve been reflecting on the latest scientific research on anxiety and worry, in particular Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool by Taylor Clark .
Tara Mohr's "Playing Big" talks about how our brain isn't particularly good at differentiating between anticipation fear and survival fear. Where we feel fear could be an opportunity for real personal growth. Once we tackle something really big and achieve it despite our fears and anxiety, we feel like we can do anything.
Or The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler on the power of flow state - from the Flow Genome Project.
So what have I found out? That the advice given 25+ years ago by Susan Jeffers was pretty much spot on. Feel the fear and do it anyway. If you can learn how to transmute those feelings somehow (and the devil is in the detail) and work through the irrational part of your fear response then you can actually continue on to achieve great things in the face of that fear.
Hence me deciding it was high time to tackle my particular glossophobia head on. And that the discomfort that I will no doubt experience in my first year, will one day subside and just might open new doors and opportunities where I can truly make a difference – as I help others to step up, speak out and take charge.
So what have you done to face your fears lately? What are you hiding from? What else could you be doing if you got over something you are scared of?
If you would like me to speak at your conference about the power of channeling fear into positive energy, along with some of that devilish detail of how to function through strong emotions such as fear, worry and anxiety, then send me an email. firstname.lastname@example.org I'm sure it will make me feel stressed and anxious, but think of it as being good for me!