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Are Past Failures Ruling Your Life? Here Are 5 Practical Strategies To Help You Take Control

Are Past Failures Ruling Your Life? Here Are 5 Practical Strategies To Help You Take Control
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“You’re on your way now but this is no time to dwell on how far you’ve come. You’re in a fight against an opponent you can’t see, but oh you can feel him on your heels, can’t ya? Feel ’em breathing down your neck. You know what that is? That’s you. Your fears, your doubts and insecurities all lined up like a firing squad ready to shoot you out the sky.” — Nike Rise & Shine Motivational Video.

I have failed so many times in my life that I have lost count. Some of my past failures have been pretty epic and some not so bad. I don’t care what anyone says when you fail, it sucks. Even though your friends and family support and encourage you, at the end of the day you are the only one who deals with the emotions and feelings that are associated with defeat and failure.

Your past failures can control how you live your life in the present and in the future. I know this from experience. I have missed taking opportunities in my life because my past failures and my self-limiting beliefs had control of my thinking. As a result, my decisions tended to lean toward choosing the easy option because I was too scared to step out of my comfort zone and risk failing. I also became an expert at convincing myself that I was making the “right decision” and suppressing those thoughts that were challenging me to be more courageous.

It took the very painful experience of losing three jobs over a period of 18 months for me to finally realise that if I kept doing the same things in my life, I would keep getting the same results. I had to make some changes and take control of my life so that I could live a life that was flourishing, rather than languishing for the rest of my life in frustration, disappointment, and fear.

Overcoming your past failures and the fears that are hidden deep within you is hard work. You would think that after losing my first job, I would have taken the opportunity to reflect and and think about what I really wanted to do with my life. I didn’t do this because I was so consumed by my fear of rejection and feeling like a failure that I took the first job that was offered to me. The money was good, and as it had taken me nearly six months to get a job, I believed I had no other option. I had to take this job or I would be even more of a failure in life.

When I walked into the office on my first day of work of my second job, I knew I had made a mistake. However, I convinced myself that it was the right decision because the money was good and I should be grateful. This was a bad mistake because it was the wrong job for me, and as a result, I didn’t last long there.

When I lost my second job, I once again became consumed by my fears of failure. Not only did I have to deal with feelings of worthlessness and rejection, I also was in a panic over financial uncertainty.

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There were many nights I would lie in bed wondering why me? Why is this happening to me?

I would look at friends and other people’s lives and think why can’t I have a life like theirs? Why can’t I be successful like them? What am I doing wrong? As I am writing this, I am really feeling uncomfortable as I can so clearly see how much control my fear and past failures had over me. At the time, I didn’t recognise it and I was miserable.

Trying to pick myself up to go get a third job was really hard. I just wanted to crawl away and hide from the world. Deep down, however, I knew that if I gave in my life would get worse, not better. I wanted my life to get better and I wanted to feel better about myself. I decided that I had no other choice — I had a family to support and I had to keep going.

I was far more cautious about my third job and I didn’t rush into it despite the fact it took me seven months to get the job. I was keen to keep it long term, however this was not to be. Six months into my job, the organisation decided to restructure and again I was told I had no job.

It was here that I got angry and realised that I truly had to sort myself out. To survive the three job losses, I had to take control of my life and that meant that I had to learn how to survive and thrive on the rollercoaster ride of life.

These 5 strategies that I am sharing with you helped me take control of my life and better manage my fears, and there were many, around failure.

This didn’t mean that I stopped failing in life, because I still fail. I am, however, more resilient and able to bounce back from failure a lot quicker than in the past. I now accept and understand that failure is an important part of life’s journey.

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The key to surviving and thriving in life is learning how to manage and move on from the past failures and setbacks you face in life. Hopefully, these five strategies will help you take control of your life so that you can live the life you desire.

1. Start A Failure Journal

This is a very pragmatic and logical way to explore the reasons for your past failures. It is important to learn from your past failures, and you need to find out if there are any trends and patterns that sit behind them.

When I started my failure journal, I identified five fears I had surrounding failure and dutifully wrote them in my journal. As time when on and I learned more about myself, I discovered that I had a lot more fears than I realised. I actually stopped writing these fears down when I reached 20!

Some of the fears I had were the fear of success, the fear of embarrassment, the fear of rejection, the fear of being judged, the fear of vulnerability, and the list goes on. Identifying your fears is key to understanding and dealing with your past failures. While your fears exist, your past failures are still in control of you.

The journal enables you to to acknowledge your fears and your past failures, learn from them, and then move on toward a new future of embracing new opportunities.

Here are three questions that I found to be really helpful when it came to acknowledging my failures and working out how to take control of my life:

  • What did I do well?
  • What went wrong?
  • What could I have done to improve the situation?.

These three questions helped me look at the failures in a more positive light because I knew the only way I could move forward in life was to understand why these failures had so much influence over me and what lessons I needed to learn from them. Once I understood this, all my past failures began to slowly lose their control over my life.

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2. Use Your Power Of Choice

Learn how to use your power of choice so that you can make informed decisions about your life. Using your power of choice is important to building your resilience and to maintaining a hopeful and positive attitude about life.

You are the only one who has control of how you respond to life’s challenging events. Your power of choice is a gift that enables you to live the life you desire. It does not protect you from life events, but it does empower you to decide how you respond and deal with life’s challenges.

When I have to make a tough decision about my life, I never think about the decision as a final decision. I try to make a decision based on what I believe to be right at the time. However, if this decision turns out not to be what I expected, then my power of choice enables me to choose to make another decision.

What happens for many of us is that once we make a decision we tend to stick with it even if we know we have made the wrong decision. We hang in there because we keep hoping it will get better — of course, it never does.

Your power of choice is your secret weapon to managing the rollercoaster ride of life — the joy, the pain, the sadness, the scary, and all the future mistakes you will no doubt make. Use your power of choice to take control of your life.

3. Always Plan For The Unexpected

Accept that the unexpected will happen — it is a given. Learn how to manage the risk in in your life by asking these four key questions:

  • What is the worst thing that could happen?
  • If it did happen, would you be able to deal with it?
  • How would you deal with it?
  • Would your life be better if you gave up on your goal?

4. Learn About The Science Of Failure

This strategy had the most impact on me, in that I gained a better understanding of how much control and influence my subconscious mind has over my thoughts and actions. I read lots of books and listened to many Ted Talks to learn how to better manage my thoughts and behaviour patterns surrounding my past and anticipated future failures.

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Kathryn Schultz’s book Being Wrong and her Ted Talk “On Being Wrong,” was really powerful for me in learning how to admit and accept being wrong. Accepting that there are times in my life where I have been wrong enabled me to accept my past failures and move forward in my life.

Sometimes, failure can mean that we may be on the wrong path and we may need to make a detour. I realised that quitting doesn’t always mean I was failing. The key is knowing when to quit (not failing) and then moving on to something different and better.

5. Do Whatever It Takes To Build Your Resilience and Courage – Never Stop!

To face your past failures and deal with them is hard work, and you need to be mentally tough and committed to making the personal changes you need to make.

Your resilience and courage are your secret weapons — it is these two things in your life that will get you through the challenges, the pain, and the reality of life.

You will want to give up, and that’s OK. You will find it hard, and that’s OK. You will make mistakes, and that’s OK. You will fail, and that’s OK. Some days you will feel like you are in control and some days you will feel like you have no control — that’s OK.

Life will never be what you expect it to be. However, it is only you that can control how you react to the challenging events in your life.

Your resilience and courage will keep you strong and committed to living a life you deserve, where you are not controlled by your past failures.

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Some strategies I use to keep me resilient and courageous are:

  • I surround myself with people who support me, no matter what
  • I work hard to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle through exercise and healthy eating. Physical wellbeing is key to maintaining my mental resilience and a positive attitude in my life
  • I’ve completed a number of courses on mindfulness. I had lost faith in me and I didn’t trust myself. As a result of attending these courses, I have learned how to listen to my intuition and to trust and believe in me. The more self belief I had, the less control my past failures had over my life.

Failure is a part of everyone’s life. Nobody escapes failure. The key to surviving failure and moving forward in life is having tools and strategies to help you. I hope that these five strategies have helped you to choose to take control of your past failures so that you can live a fulfilled and joyous life.

More by this author

Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

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

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