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8 Self Improvement Skills to Learn that Have Lifelong Benefits

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8 Self Improvement Skills to Learn that Have Lifelong Benefits

Everyone gets to a certain point where they learn the same thing: Life is hard. There’s so much to learn, and, as you get older, so little time to do so. However, though there are endless bits of knowledge and and abilities that a person can learn throughout his life, there are many self improvement skills you can focus on to ensure that the rest come a bit more easily to you.

1. Time Management

In a time in which your phone is constantly beeping, your TV or radio is most likely on while working, and you have a million things to do before 5:00 rolls around, time management is of the utmost importance. There are a variety of ways to make your time work for you, rather than the other way around. When you make the most of your time, you have the benefit of being successful in balancing your work and your life with ease. Managing time now means freeing it up so you can do the things you truly enjoy. It’s more difficult than it sounds.  Make a to-do list the night before, and make sure you follow through with this list. If you set out to complete a task, don’t let any interruptions (other than major emergencies) stop you before you finish, or take a break at a predetermined time. Also, set time aside to do all the other things that would have interrupted you throughout the day; you’d be amazed to see how little time you waste checking your phone if you do it all at once rather than sporadically throughout the day.

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2. Empathy

Being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes is an incredibly important skill to master in your quest for self improvement. Doing so will benefit your life in a variety of ways. People will tend to flock to you if you show that you care, and that you always have a shoulder to lean on. Empathy is tough to learn, just look at the stereotype of today’s CEOs. They are known (fairly or unfairly) for being callous individuals who don’t care about other people’s problems which may spill into them having nothing in their personal lives to show for their professional success. On the other hand, empathetic and caring individuals who may not have the highest-paying jobs in the world make intangible connections with others throughout their life, which is a sense of wealth that transcends monetary gains. Learning how to show empathy comes with relating to the other person’s situation. When someone is talking to you, ask yourself, “How would I feel if this happened to me?”. Start from there and soon enough it will be second nature.

3. Mastering Sleep Patterns

Along with time management goes mastering sleep patterns. Many of us have uttered the phrase “there’s just not enough time in the day” at least once in our lives, and have felt overwhelmed by all the mandates of our busy life. But sleep is a basic need of survival. We can’t afford to discount it. High school students have to wake up at 6:00 to get to school by 7:00. College students spend all night studying (or partying), and have to get to a final by 9:00 the next day. Adults have commuting time to account for, and parents are up all night with their newborn babies. We simply don’t spend enough time at rest, and we suffer for it when the 2:00 slump hits us every single day. Maintaining a routine sleep pattern may be tough, but it’s absolutely imperative that we learn to do so in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and focus on complete  self improvement. Simple ways to employ good sleep habits include going to bed and waking up at the same time (even on weekends), unwinding before bed without the use of screens (cell phones, televisions, or even tablets), and not consuming caffeine within 6 hours of sleep.

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4. Positive Self-Talk

One of the most important skills a person can learn is to be nice to himself. It sounds easy, but for many people, it really is not. It’s much easier to beat yourself down than to hold yourself up. In a world in which many people only care about each other on a superficial level, it’s easy to get the feeling that “no one cares,” and let that feeling build up into other detrimental thoughts within your own mind. Just as we need to be kinder to our physical wellness by getting enough sleep, we also need to be kind to our emotional self as well. Taking the time to meditate on your positive traits and abilities may sound like a waste of time, but it can do wonders for your self-esteem throughout your lifetime. A great rule of thumb is to treat yourself like you would treat your best friend. Self improvement starts with treating yourself well.

5. Consistency

Most everyone experienced this phenomenon growing up: During the first week of school, you felt gung-ho about your studies, and knew “this was the year” you were going to do better. By the end of September, however, that feeling had passed, and as you fell into a routine, you came up short of your self improvement goals. Being consistent is hard. Putting in the same effort on a daily basis, Monday through Friday, for the entirety of your life is definitely an intimidating proposition. However, keeping consistent makes each day easier and easier, whether you realize it or not. Remember the last time you skipped leg day? How hard was it to come back to it the next week? They say it takes 21 days to make a habit so you will have to remain consistent until the habit has formed.

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6. Asking for help

There’s a ridiculous misconception in today’s professional world that everyone is supposed to know everything. It’s simply not possible. What we do need to be able to do is admit we don’t know something, and find the answer through a variety of means. Living in a world in which answers are at our fingertips means we are able to network with some of the most successful people in the world, and many of them will be willing to help out if we just take the time to reach out to them. Showing you have an interest in improving your skills and abilities can take you much further than pretending that you know everything. While it may be difficult to try for the first time, asking for help actually builds trust because it shows that you value the opinion of another person. Not only does asking for help make you a better employee, it also saves you a lot of time in the trial and error phase of business!

7. Knowing when to stay quiet

In a world where everyone can have a voice through social media, this one is a must. We all want our voices to be heard, but sometimes it’s just not the right time to open our mouths. When we’re upset, our instincts are to vent to anyone who will listen. However, those that are listening might be doing so for ulterior reasons which could end up digging a deeper hole for you than the one you were already in. Especially in a world in which everyone is trying to get ahead of their colleagues, you should never give others ammunition that will end up holding you back. A great way to know when to stay quiet is to take a moment to step back and ask yourself if you are being fair. Also, if you have to ask yourself you likely already know what you are saying is not going to contribute.

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8. Listening

This goes along with asking for help. Let go of the notion that you know everything. You never know when someone else will come up with a solution to a problem you’ve been having, and you don’t want to miss out on it because you blew them off for “not knowing what they’re talking about.” Advice and perspective can come from the most unlikely sources, so it’s important to keep an open mind (and ear) to everyone around you. Just remember — you have one mouth and two ears so use them in that proportion. This means listen twice as much as you speak.

Featured photo credit: Flickr via farm6.staticflickr.com

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More by this author

Matt Duczeminski

A passionate writer who shares lifestlye tips on Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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