How to Stay Motivated

How to stay motivated

Why is it 92% of us who make New Year’s resolutions abandon them before January is even over?

A new year means a new beginning. We reflect on how much (or little) we accomplished the last year and promise ourselves this year will be better/different. This year we’ll lose the weight, finish our degree, get a better job, travel more, etc. Our enthusiasm and optimism is running high – we are motivated with a capital M. But sometime before February 1 we start running out of steam, we are stressed, tired and end up falling into our same old habits and routines.

How to Stay Motivated

How do we keep up our enthusiasm for our goals in the “real” world?

  1. Come up with a compelling “why”. What is the reason for wanting this goal? To feel better, make more money, find a sense of purpose, be more fulfilled? It should be personal (i.e. something you feel strongly about achieving, not something your parents/significant other/boss/friends think you should do).
  2. Make it positive. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – make your “why” positive. You will be focusing on it a lot and it’s hard to stay motivated if your constantly pounding away at the negative. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight (even the word “lose” has a negative connotation), focus on the positive benefits such as better health, feel better, have more energy (your compelling “why”) instead of “I don’t want to be fat”. With the latter, fat becomes your focus and you’ll end up with more of it, not less! Examine your goal, if achieving it makes you feel like you have to deprive yourself, you need to either find another goal or get a different perspective on the situation.
  3. Envision the end result. Create a vision for life after you’ve reached your goal. Imagine what you’ll look like, how you’ll feel (joy, pride, confidence, peace, etc). The key is to make your vision as vivid as possible to tap into strong, positive emotions. I make it a habit to think about my goals right before I fall asleep because our minds are in a receptive state. Another way to keep your vision front and center is to create a vision board or post pictures on your bathroom mirror or fridge. The pictures you choose should evoke a positive emotion.
  4. Break your goal into small steps. Maybe your goal is to lose 50 pounds. That’s a pretty daunting goal – it can feel out of reach when you’re just getting started. Break your goal down. Commit to losing two pounds this week. Feels much more doable.
  5. Find a buddy. Find a friend who is working on goals (they don’t have to be the same goals) and check in with each other. First, having someone support you, cheer you on, bounce ideas off of and bitch to is helpful. Secondly, if you’re like me, I tend to find it harder to break a promise or disappoint someone else so I tend to step up my game.
  6. Celebrate the wins. Don’t wait until you’ve achieved your goal, celebrate all the small little wins along the way. Find ways to celebrate that won’t throw you off track or sabotage your progress (such as treating yourself to a donut when you’ve lost 2 pounds). It could be something simple like hitting the neighborhood park, watching an episode of your current Netflix obsession, indulging in a hot bath with candles and music, any little treat you wouldn’t normally do.
  7. Learn from the losses. There will be times when things don’t work out so well, maybe you backslide. Forgive yourself, learn from it and move on. Maybe it’s a sign you need to take a different approach. Maybe you’re pushing yourself too hard and need some downtime. But don’t use it as an excuse to give up. One slip doesn’t mean failure. It means you’re human.

 

Quit Depending on Willpower

Willpower is ineffective in achieving goalsThe American Psychological Association does an annual survey called Stress in America. The most cited reason for not being able to follow through on changes (such as losing weight) is willpower.

What is Willpower?

Willpower is self-control. The ability to delay gratification, a strong determination, or restraint. Willpower is a tool our conscious mind uses to help us control our lives. It carries a negative connotation – deprivation. It is an ineffective way to achieve goals.

Why Willpower is Ineffective

To illustrate why, I’ll share with you what I learned in my neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) training.

Willpower is an ineffective tool to changeThink of your mind as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg, the part that is above water, represents your conscious awareness. In addition to willpower, we also use rational and analytical thinking as a way to control ourselves. Unfortunately, only about ten percent of what we do, we do consciously.

Below the water line lies the rest of the iceberg, our subconscious mind. This accounts for 90% of our behavior. Herein lies our habits, physiological systems (ie. breathing), impulses and emotions and our strategies for dealing with our world.

When we employ willpower to make changes in our lives, such as weight loss, we are only using ten percent of our mind. However, the other 90% is running the show. You are pitting logic (conscious mind) against emotions and deeply ingrained habits and strategies. As a result, willpower is always going to be a struggle.

If you want to elicit real, permanent change, you have to get your subconscious on board and leverage its power.

Imagination is More Effective than Willpower

There is a reason why diets fail and you have trouble breaking bad habits (habits of thought included).With willpower, you are in a constant battle with your subconscious mind. The odds are against you and your subconscious mind is going to sabotage your efforts.

Instead of having your subconscious fight you, (willpower creates stress by exerting force) you want to win it over so it will work for you. How do you do that?

Luckily, we have the perfect tool – imagination. Imagination is positive and affirming. Using our imagination diminishes stress and opens up our creative channels instead of strong-arming us into submission, like willpower.

Change in itself is often stressful. The key is to find the path of least resistance, make it as easy and fun as possible. Imagination and visualization helps us do that. There are a couple of guidelines to make this work:

  1. Know your “why” – what is motivating you to make this change?  What result or outcome do you want? Just because your spouse, boss, parent, etc said you should do it is not enough motivation and chances are you won’t succeed. Make it personal and meaningful to you.
  2. Make it positive – When you have your why, the reason you want to make this change in your life or why you want to achieve a goal, make sure it’s positive. When times get tough (and there will be some rough patches), your “why” is going to be your life preserver. It’s going to remind you of the big payoff of all this hard work. You’re going to be giving it a lot of focus, so make it positive. If you’re goal is to lose weight because you are tired of being called a fat slob, then all that’s going to do is dredge up bad feelings. And if you’re an emotional eater, next thing you know you’re shoving down donuts as a means to comfort yourself. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of losing weight – having more energy to play with your kids, feeling better, etc.

Once you determine your reasons for making a change/achieving a goal are truly yours and you are motivated to do it, you can enlist the power of your imagination and use visualization instead of willpower.

Note: Imagination/visualization are tools to keep you motivated and should be used in conjunction with action, not instead of. Without action, you aren’t going to achieve anything.

How do you use imagination to help create positive, permanent change? Find a (preferably) quiet place. Giving yourself time right after you wake up or right before you go to bed is ideal but you can do it anywhere – while on the train/bus to work, waiting in line, drinking your morning coffee, taking a shower, etc. Then use your imagination to visualize any of the following scenarios. Make it as real as possible, include sounds, smells, sensations, etc. Evoke as many positive emotions and feelings as you can.

  1. Visualize your life after you’ve accomplished your goal. If it’s weight loss, imagine how you will look in your new clothes and how confident you feel. Picture your new found energy, imagine just how much better you feel when you can climb up stairs or playing with your (grand) children without getting winded. Focusing on the end result will help keep you motivated.
  2. Mentally rehearse. Our brains don’t distinguish between real and imaginary events (which is why our bodies react to imaginary fears as if they were really happening). Athletes employ this technique all the time but it can be used for any situation. You can rehearse a speech, visualizing yourself in front of the crowd, appearing confident, enjoying yourself.
  3. Vent your emotions.Change is hard and one of the things that trips us up is our impulses and emotions. And since what we resist, persists, give them a voice and acknowledge them instead of burying them. If you don’t, eventually they’ll rear their ugly little heads and the littlest thing will push you over the edge. Instead, invite all those emotions in – fear, jealousy, doubt. You can give them names and personalities. Let them have their say and vent. You can do this in your head or you can write it out in a journal, which is my favorite method. The point is, acknowledging them diffuses their power.

When you use these tools, you’ll achieve your goals with less stress because you’re leveraging your subconscious mind with the power of your imagination instead of trying to force yourself through willpower. In other words, which would you prefer, a boss who is a drill sergeant or someone who acts more like a mentor?

 

 

Self Confidence Tips

Tips for Self-Confidence

My clients often ask me “How can I become more confident?” Lack of confidence appears to be a major stumbling block for many women. The problem is we think confidence is the source of our success when it is the result of our success.

Self-confidence is a trust in our abilities. We have faith we are capable of doing what we need to do. Where does this trust and faith come from? Experience. Think about something you’re really good at, for example, cooking. Chances are you weren’t so good in the beginning. But it held your interest and you kept at it, practicing it until it became second nature. Over time you became confident enough to experiment and create your own recipes. You didn’t begin confident, but you grew confident with practice.

So what do you do in situations when you’re entering new territory, moving outside of your comfort zone and learning new skills? Situations where your confidence is low?

Confidence is nice to have but it isn’t required to proceed. When we were toddlers, learning how to walk and talk, we weren’t concerned about confidence but we were motivated. We just kept practicing until we became proficient.

As toddlers, our efforts were praised, no matter what the outcome was. Later on, especially in school, we learned mistakes were “bad” and to be avoided so many of us developed an aversion to going outside of our comfort zone lest we look stupid. Right around this time we start developing the Voice of Judgement.That’s the voice in our head that tells us we aren’t good enough, we’ll be laughing stocks, etc. Unfortunately you’re not going to get rid of that voice but you can choose to refocus your thoughts and drown it out. Here are some tips for cultivating confidence:

Self Confidence Tips

Acknowledge your Successes

Often we take for granted the things we are good at and what we accomplished. Recognize all you have already succeeded at – and by succeed, I mean know how to do proficiently – both personal and professional. Mastering language (reading, writing and speaking) is one of the most complex things we had to learn and we did it at a very young age. No matter how good you are at something, you started out as a beginner. Remember that the next time you take on a new challenge. You may not have confidence specifically in this new area but you do have the confidence of knowing you were able to learn and become proficient at other tasks.

Focus on your Desired Outcome

Fear of speaking in public is suppose to rank higher than death. What causes people to get up in front of an audience, sputter, go blank and generally mess up? They are focused on…drum roll please…sputtering and going blank! Focus on what you want to happen. Visualize yourself confidently giving your speech, remembering all your points with ease and the audience listening attentively and clapping enthusiastically when you’re done.

Prepare & Practice

Confidence comes with practice. If you have to give a speech, write out what you are going to say and practice it. Practice it in front of family members, practice while you’re stuck in traffic, practice it while you’re showering. Even if you’ve never given a speech in your entire life, preparing what you are going to say and practicing it will breed confidence.

Think Positively

You’ve heard the saying “garbage in garbage out” as it relates to computers. Well, the same thing can be said for your brain. What we say and think will be literally translated by our brains. If you constantly tell yourself “I can’t…” your brain will follow your instructions. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Beware of the negative self-talk and the Voice of Judgement. If you catch yourself saying “I can’t…”, challenge yourself – “Who says I can’t?” Take the confidence you have in other areas of your life and use it to assure yourself that if you can master knitting (car repair, baking, etc) you can master this too.

Ask for Help

If nothing else works, ask for help. This can take on many different forms – finding a mentor, taking a class, reading a book, joining a group, asking someone who’s done it before. Ask in a respectful manner, being cognizant of their time. Some people will say no, thank them and move on until you find someone who can help you.

Overcoming Procrastination

Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination is a common problem. Clients often tell me that it’s a huge problem for them. But procrastinating is not the real problem, it is merely the symptom of an underlying issue.

Before I get too deep into procrastinating and how to overcome it, I’d like to talk about incubation. When in the creative process or working out a problem, it is typical to go through a “ruminating” phase, when you turn over all of your work to your subconscious and give it a chance to work on the problem. This is where those “aha!” moments come from. Do not confuse this important phase with procrastination. You should be able to tell the difference. For me, when I’m letting ideas percolate, my thinking is fuzzy. I feel slightly agitated because I don’t like not knowing. When I am procrastinating there is a feeling of avoidance and resistance.

Procrastination – Why we do it

As I previously stated, procrastination is not a cause but a symptom of a larger and more complex issue. Some of the reasons why we procrastinate include:

  1. Fears – Fear is uncomfortable and we often choose to relieve our discomfort by distracting ourselves with T.V., surfing the web, cleaning (notice how appealing cleaning is when faced with something you don’t want to do?), etc.
  2. Lack of confidence
  3. Perfectionism – As a recovering perfectionist, I understand how hard it can be to risk doing something that doesn’t live up to your (often unrealistic) expectations. In order to avoid making a mistake, looking bad or failing, our modus operandi is to do nothing.
  4. Bad habits – We become comfortable with our routines and bad habits and don’t realize how big of a hold they have on us. Habits are hard to change.
  5. Expecting things to be easy – If things have been relative easy for you all your life, taking on something that requires an effort can be, well, hard.

Tools to Overcome Procrastination

While it helps to understand and be aware of where our procrastination stems from, these tools don’t require identifying the origin in order to be effective.

Small Steps

Break down what you need to do into the smallest step possible, such as sticking with the task for 5 minutes. Small steps actually works on several levels. First, getting started is often the hardest part. When I am avoiding a task, I often tell myself I only have to do it for 5 minutes. It seems counter intuitive, how will you accomplish anything if you only do it for 5 minutes but it works. If I stop after 5 minutes, I’ve achieved my goal (and built up a little confidence). But what happens more often than not, is I continue because I’ve broken through that wall of inertia and gained some momentum.

Second, we often overwhelm ourselves by making that first step unrealistic. I used to make these ridiculous schedules, leaving little breathing room for anything else. And -surprise – I never followed them! It’s much less daunting to write a sentence than a book so break things down. Then break them down even further.

Find a Buddy

Find someone who is also working on a goal. Make it a habit to meet and work on your goals together (5 minutes at a time, if you have to), supporting and cheering each other on. Be picky about who you choose. I’ve been running consistently for nine years because I had a running partner when I started. Not just any partner, but someone who already had a running habit making it hard for me to back out. I knew if I did she would not go easy on me. She was the perfect partner because her good habits rubbed off on me and appealed to my competitive nature.

What Worked in the Past?

This is a powerful question. It gets our minds thinking about what we are trying to accomplish instead of what’s getting in our way. We procrastinate because we are focused on the negatives – I’ll make a fool of myself – instead of what we are trying to accomplish. We all have areas we’ve had success in and feel confident about. What did you do then that you can apply to your current situation?

You can not tell me that you’ve never had any success in your life. If you are reading this, you’ve mastered one of the hardest skills there is and you did it at a relatively young age – language and the all intricacies involved with it such as reading and writing.

I have found these tools to be easy to use and produce incredible results in a short period of time. Give them a try the next time you find yourself procrastinating.

 

 

Template for Success

Formula for Success

Success isn’t complicated. I could sum up success in four words:

Success = Vision + Action + Feedback + Perseverance.

Actually, it’s not so much an equation as it is a loop.

You have a vision of what you want to accomplish (your goal).

In order for you to achieve it you have to DO something. Action is required. And you need to focus on the RIGHT action – actions that will move you toward your goal and give you the results you want.

This is where feedback comes into play. How do you know if you’re getting results? One way is to measure them. If you can’t measure them, then you need to find another means to evaluate your progress (or lack thereof). Are there patterns? Do you need more time and and consistent effort before you see results? Do you need to start from scratch or just tweak your plan?

The key with feedback is to not take it personally or be married to any one path – remain flexible and explore other options.

Finally, you need to shore yourself up for the long haul. Our enthusiasm is high at the beginning of any goal but we will encounter set backs and obstacles. We need to be mentally and physically prepared to see ourselves through these times, perhaps even plan for them. This is a good time to revisit out vision, why we are doing this in the first place. We need to cut ourselves slack and not expect perfection.

That’s it – it’s really that simple but it is by no means easy. I’ll be exploring the four components of success – vision, action, feedback and perseverance – in more detail in upcoming posts.

Stuck? Try Something Different!

Stuck? Try Something Different

If you’re not getting the results you want, stop spinning your wheels and try something different.

They (whoever “they” are…) say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Guilty.

I spent a lot of time trying to create a business with no success. I learned a lot along the way and one lesson was just because something worked for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone (i.e. me). I had blinders on, all my eggs-in-one-basket mentality, as if there was only one way to accomplish something. If it didn’t work, I blamed myself, dug in deeper and tried harder. It was as effective as hitting the gas when your car is stuck in mud. I was spinning my wheels, wasting time, energy and beating myself up for my lack of progress.

It’s important to understand when you are working on a achieving a goal, whatever it is, if you are not seeing the results you want, try something different, especially if this is a goal you’ve repeatedly tried.

For instance, if you are trying to lose weight, again, and decided to try the latest fad diet and/or join another health club, I beg you to reconsider. If the last diet didn’t work, maybe the problem isn’t you, maybe the problem is dieting doesn’t work (I’ll spare you my rant on diets…). If you’ve had a gym membership before and never went, what makes you think this time will be different? I’m not saying you lack willpower or should give up on losing weight and getting in shape, what I am proposing is there is more than one way to do it, find one that won’t make you feel deprived and tortured. It may take a couple tries until you hit on something that works for you. The key is to keep trying.

 

Lies we tell ourselves

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Everyday we tell ourselves lies that limit our potential. Here are some of them:

1.”It’s not my fault”

If you are talking about the weather or another person’s actions, then you’re right. But we often say these words when we have been called out on our behavior. In his book, The 8th Habit, Stephen R. Covey talks about our birthrights and one of them is freedom of choice. We all have the power to choose and as a result, we need to take responsibility for our actions.

When you apologize for your words or actions, try to right a wrong, suffer the consequences, make amends, fix your mistakes, etc, not only do you have a chance to learn and grow, you release yourself from the pain and memory and can move on. You are able to take that failure and make it a win. When you play the blame game, you end up holding on to all that negative energy and carrying it with you, letting it eat at your confidence and self-esteem.

2. “I can’t…”

At 53 my chances of becoming a prima ballerina are slim but nothing is stopping me from taking ballet lessons, watching ballet, photographing dancers, creating a movie about ballet, hosting a fundraiser for the ballet or writing a book about it or in any other way expressing my love for ballet.

There are some things that aren’t realistic anymore but there is a difference between accepting reality and fighting for our limitations. Don’t let your age, circumstances or physical abilities define what you can and can’t do. Ask yourself “Why can’t I?” “What if I did?” Maybe you don’t want to…but that’s OK, you’re making a choice which is different than accepting defeat before you even tried.

3. Letting your past determine your future.

The beauty of being human is that we are capable of learning and growing. What happened 1, 5, 20 years ago is inconsequential to what we are capable of doing today. Ten years ago I said I hated running and totally sucked at it. But today I am a runner and I can run an 8 minute mile. I’m not going to win any awards but my vitals (i.e. pulse, blood pressure, etc) not to mention my physique, have changed over time due to my commitment to running. The choices we make determine our future. If we want our future to be different, we do so by making different choices. Personally, if I’m still the same person in ten years as I am today, I’ll be disappointed. Living in the past is not living.

4. Life’s a bitch.

This isn’t a lie because life can be a bitch at times. As I write this post, it is my brother’s birthday. He passed away almost 20 years ago, leaving behind a wife and two-year-old son. That sucks, because if you ever met my brother you’d be instantly struck by how fun-loving and optimistic he was. He got sick when he was visiting me and I remember saying how it sucked and his comment when his wife brought him a bowl of soup was “Yeah, but I’m being taken care of.’ He wasn’t focused on how sick he was, he was just so grateful for the love and care his wife gave him.

People are probably tired of me saying it but it’s true – you get what you focus on. If you’re going to focus on the misery in life, that’s all you’ll see. And how does that make you feel? Not so good, I bet.

Being hopeful about the future is important. It doesn’t mean ignoring the harsh realities of life, it means you choose to remain confident things will work out. As Winston Churchill said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Studies show optimists live longer, are healthier and more committed to and likely to achieve their goals. Dreaming about a better future motivates you to work towards it.

Personal control is one of the traits of happy people. When we feel we are in control of our life, we are happier, more productive and have more confidence. We can pursue our dreams and have a sense of purpose in our life, which gives us meaning and more fulfillment. Stop the lies, quit putting limitations on your life and take control of your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Questions to keep you on target

4 Questions to keep you on targetSo you have a goal – lose weight, start a business, get over your fear of public speaking, learn new software – whatever it is. That’s wonderful! Life is really just a series of goals – growing into our full potential. Before you dive in, it’s time to do a quick assessment of where you are at. This is not a one shot deal, you should check in with yourself often. Asking these questions will help keep your impulses/emotions from side-tracking your progress.

Am I hungry?

“Wait,” you say, “that’s great if I was on a diet but that’s not my goal…” Have you ever heard of the word “hangry”? It’s actually in the Urban Dictionary and is a composite of the word hungry and angry and defined as:

“When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both.”

Since I mention diet, I will bring up two cases to illustrate the importance of this question.

First, I had a client who’s goal was to lose weight. She tried every fad diet, which are usually full of restrictions and create a deprivation mentality. Her enthusiasm would be high in the beginning but sooner or later (usually sooner) her hunger would become unbearable and she’d end up gorging on junk food. This would put her in a cycle of shame and blame that got her nowhere.

My second client wanted to finish her degree and start a new career. She was working full time and enrolled in night classes. Three nights a week she was driving from work to class and would be there for 3 hours. Her first semester grades weren’t good. She questioned her commitment and her intelligence and came to me as her one last hope before giving up. One of the things I discovered is that on the day of class, she didn’t eat dinner until she got home, usually around 9 pm. She would snack on soda and a bag of chips or a candy bar.

The problem was that both of my clients were hungry! Food is both a need and a basic pleasure in life so eating a well-balanced, nutritionally dense meal is important for mental and physical performance. I worked with both clients to develop healthy options so they were getting the nutrition they needed to function at an optimal level while also feeling satisfied. I knew why my first client couldn’t lose weight – she thought she had to eat salad all the time and hated every minute of it! After some research, she was able to come up with some healthier versions of her favorite meals as well as some snacks that satisfied her but were still nutritious.

My second client started planning some time into her schedule to have a light, nutritious dinner or pack a healthy snack that would still keep her focused during class.

Are there any emotional issues that need to be resolved?

I’m not talking about childhood or other big emotional traumas here. For those you should seek the appropriate help, such as a licensed therapist. I’m referring to those little emotional blips that we get caught up in a daily basis such as being stuck in traffic, oversleeping or dealing with a grouchy child. Little things that just seem to yank our chain and get us angry or frustrated. It’s best to clear the air before you try to do anything else.

Especially if you need to deal with someone else, one of the best tools is to write it out. Journal your feelings and frustrations. Have a little hissy fit on paper, rather than doing it in person and escalating the situation. Most of us get tired of our pity party and when that happens you can sit back and look at the situation objectively and do what you need to do to get back on track whether that means laughing it off as just one of those days or apologizing.

Is your social calendar bare or overloaded?

We are social creatures but we all need downtime. Is there a balance in your life? Is every spare minute filled up with work and social activities that you have no time to yourself? Or, are you starved for a little social interaction? Extroverts are rejuvenated by spending time with others. Introverts recharge by withdrawing into themselves. Know which works best for you and make sure that you schedule enough time so you don’t feel deprived and drained.

Consider your preferences when you are setting your goals. I had a client who was taking online courses but as convenient as they were, she often made excuses instead of doing them. Turns out she preferred the interaction of being in a classroom. Once she switched over, her motivation and enthusiasm returned.

Are you tired?

According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is a public health problem. Not enough sleep can result in difficulty concentrating and remembering things as well as lower reflexes resulting in vehicle crashes, industrial accidents and medical and other work related errors. People who are regularly sleep deprived also have more medical problems such as depression, obesity and hypertension. The amount of sleep we need depends on our age but the average adult should be getting 7-8 hours a night.

Trying to make changes in our life requires energy and it’s hard to stay on track if you aren’t getting enough sleep. It helps to establish a regular bedtime, turn off the electronic devices, avoid caffeine and alcohol and avoid large meals before bed.

Working towards our goals is part of what makes us happy but in order to give them our full, focused attention, we need to make sure some of our basic needs are taken care of.

In Praise of Toastmasters

In Praise of ToastmastersI don’t care who you are or what you do, being a good communicator is an essential skill in life and for that, Toastmasters is probably one of the best learning experiences that your money can buy. I recommend it for everyone.

It is the eve of my final Toastmasters speech, after tomorrow I will officially be a Competent Communicator (you can go to the Toastmasters header to see all my speeches. I tried videotaping all of them but the first few had some operator errors…as in I forget to press the shutter button so it would actually record…)

For those of you unfamiliar with Toastmasters, everyone starts out with the Competent Communication (CC) manual and there are 10 speeches to complete. Each speech focuses on a particular part of public speaking – tone, body language, organization, persuasion, etc. The tenth speech is a culmination of everything you learned – it is the inspirational speech. After you finish the CC manual you are free to choose from a variety of other manuals based on your individual goals (titles include: The Entertaining Speaker, Technical Presentations, Special Occasion Speeches, Communicating on Video, Facilitation Discussion and Storytelling)

My goal was to finish the manual in 10 months – one speech for every month. I will have achieved this goal but I wasn’t paying attention in the early months so I didn’t sign up fast enough. In order to finish in 10 months I’ve had to do four speeches in a row. I’ll be very happy when I complete this last one and will take a break from the speech writing/giving for the summer. There are other roles in the club that I’d like more experience in anyway, such as being Toastmaster or an evaluator.

As I said, everyone can benefit from being in Toastmasters. It doesn’t matter what your job is, whether you’re a stay at home mom, blue collar worker, student or CEO, we are always communicating. Even when we aren’t talking, we communicate through our body language, how we dress, our eye contact, mannerisms…everything we do says something about us.

Let me walk you through a typical meeting at my local club. Other clubs might have slight differences but there is a basic structure to most clubs.

Our club has several different roles that are filled each week by members. There is a Toastmaster, who determines the theme of the meeting and is kind of like the Ringmaster in a circus. There is a timer, speeches and evaluations are timed. A general evaluator who evaluates the overall meeting – and speech evaluators. Feedback is critical to our growth as speakers. I was resistance to “areas of improvement” because I saw that as a criticism but I soon realized that it was more important for me to grow than get praise (see this post). The Table Topics master picks out topics and then chooses someone from the audience to speak about it for 1-2 minutes. Table topics can be intimidating but it helps you think on your feet. We also have what we call a WAG, who comes up with the word of the day, counts “ah’s” and other superfluous words (some people might use “like” a lot or “and”) and checks grammar. Sometimes we have a meeting listener who will ask questions about the meeting to see if we have been paying attention. Participating in these roles, along with doing the speeches, helps build a well-rounded communication education.

Some of the specific benefits of Toastmasters are:

  • Confidence – it’s said that public speaking is more feared than death. Preparation and practice are the only way to overcome it.
  • Leadership skills  
  • Clarify your writing. Writing the speech is one of my favorite parts. Not only do you have to structure your writing in a way that makes sense, but you have to stay within a certain time frame so being succinct, knowing what to keep in and take out as well as narrowing your focus are important skills to hone.
  • Think on your feet. Sometimes we’re called upon to make a few impromptu words at a special occasion or your boss asks you for your opinion. Learning to think on your feet and be articulate is an important skill.
  • Listening skills. Communication is not just about talking, but also about listening and unfortunately our listening skills aren’t as developed as our speaking skills. Being an evaluator helps refine those skills
  • Critical thinking skills. Coming up with speech topics, research and organizing your thoughts into a coherent whole requires thought. As an evaluator you have to discern what the speaker is doing well and what they could improve upon.
  • Memory. I have yet to use notes in any of my speeches (though highly paid public speakers say they still use notes and there is nothing wrong with it.) I don’t say this to brag, I memorize my speeches because it’s good for my brain. My first speech I took 2 weeks to memorize. My ninth speech I learned in a day. I’ve given myself 3 days to learn the 10th speech because it is the longest speech and I didn’t want to be rushed. I’m hoping to finish strong!
  • Learn to take criticism. Criticism might be too harsh a word. We like to call them “grow” points but the fact is, if you want to learn and grow, you have to be able to objectively take constructive criticism.
  • Look for the positives. Everything about Toastmasters is geared toward being positive. Let people know their strengths, find something good in everything and when you do have a “grow” point, we phrase it in a positive light.
  • It’s fun! Turns out I’m a bit of a ham so getting up in front of an audience is fun. I love being animated and I always try to be either entertaining, informative or inspiring. Not sure if I achieve any of them but that’s always my goal.
  • Support. Finding a good club to call home is crucial. My club, while small, is filled with some of the kindest, funniest, supportive people that I’ve ever met.

I look back on my body of work with Toastmasters so far and I’m proud of everything I’ve done and have learned a lot. Maybe there’s a TED talk in my future…

 

One model for creating change

One model to make permanent changeIn my last post, I talked about how our subconscious mind, where our thoughts and beliefs reside, can sabotage our efforts to change without us even realizing it. It’s often the reason most new year’s goals are abandoned within the first month. Our beliefs and habits (including habits of thought) are so ingrained in our minds that no matter how much conscious exertion we put on trying to change (i.e. willpower), we often fail because we aren’t addressing underlying beliefs. The biggest problem is we usually aren’t aware that it’s our beliefs stopping us. We are trying to create change by using the wrong tools.

I’d like to share with you one model for making change.

Before I get into the specifics, I’d like to point out that change is not going to happen overnight, in most cases. It’s going to take practice so don’t be hard on yourself if you slip. Please don’t give up because it didn’t work the first time. You’re working against some pretty powerful forces.

Cognitive behavior therapy offers one model for change. It’s called the ABC model and this is how it works:

A = Activating event

B = Belief or perception

C = Consequence

So let’s say you decided to lose weight and just inhaled a whole quart of ice cream. You’re feeling a little disappointed in yourself (to say the least…) Here’s what you do. Get a piece of paper and write down the activating event – “Ate a quart of ice cream”. Stick with the facts.

Now write your belief or perception. You might write something like “What’s the use of even trying, I have no willpower.” “I’m a big, fat pig! I don’t deserve to be happy!” Get it all out. Often we’ll use absolutes (always, never) or words like “should”, “must”, “have to”, “ought to” which are indicative of irrational thinking.

What’s the consequence of those beliefs? Write them down. These are self-defeating emotions – guilt, anger, depression, a sense of worthlessness, self-pity, etc. These emotions don’t serve us, they leave us stuck and put us into a cycle of shame and blame.

In order to change you need to challenge/dispute your original belief. It could go something like this “I was stressed and hungry from skipping lunch. There are plenty of times when I’ve made healthy choices. I’ll ask my coach for some stress relieving tactics  and make sure that I make time for a healthy lunch so I’m better prepared.”

Now note the effect that this has on you emotionally. Do you feel differently than when you described the consequence? This part of the exercise elicits more positive emotions (disappointment, concern, sadness, hope). You recognize that you had a set back and have come up with some proactive solutions to keep it from happening again. This gives us a feeling of control and we often recommit to seeing our goals through.

Give this a try next time you’re having trouble making changes in your life