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How Focusing on the Positives Can Be Counterproductive

How Focusing on the Positives Can Be Counterproductive
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Whenever something bad happens or we’re feeling down, people will often tell us to keep our chin up—to look for the silver lining and keep focusing on the positives. The truth is that sometimes this is unhelpful and patronizing. When we are feeling sad or angry, when we’ve been through a rough time, we need our feelings validated and we need to acknowledge the negativity in a healthy way in order to move forward.

That doesn’t mean that we should wallow in bad feelings and harbor destructive tendencies. Instead we need to look for opportunities to see the bright side in healthy and constructive ways. We also need to give attention to negativity and address the things that are uncomfortable and unpleasant.

It’s important to find healthy ways of focusing on the positives.

When we face adversity, it’s vital to keep things in perspective so that we don’t spiral into depression and despair. Having an attitude of appreciation and gratitude about the things that are going right will help to balance our negative feelings. A good way to do this is to consider two things. Firstly, things can always be worse. Secondly, if things can’t get any worse, they can only get better.

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We should maintain awareness of privilege and ask ourselves, in the scheme of things, how bad is our situation really? Does what we are going through impact our physical safety and our health? Will it change our life dramatically in the long term? Or is it a minor hiccup, only causing us temporary discomfort and inconvenience? Often our emotional reactions are exaggerated because we are accustomed to a certain lifestyle or pattern and when things go wrong and our comfort zone is compromised, we can overreact. That is not to say that our initial feelings aren’t valid, but a brief moment of reflection will allow us to separate our immediate and reactive response from what is actually an appropriate and warranted reaction in a given situation.

It is precisely in the face of misfortune when experiencing joy is vital. There should be no guilt or shame for taking pleasure in the things that make us happy, even when a situation calls for grief or sadness. Laughter is indeed the best medicine and reminding ourselves about the things we love and the things that make us happy, in the midst of a crisis, is a good way to even out our emotions and help bring things into perspective. It gives us the relief and motivation we need to energize ourselves to get through hardship.

Living in the moment will take us away from the response to a bad situation that is often playing out in our minds rather than in reality. Often the psychological effects of a run of bad luck can be very powerful and crippling, stopping us from doing even simple day-to-day activities. Having a distraction from the drama and focusing on the positives in a healthy way, is best achieved by paying attention to the present. Sharpening our awareness of exactly what we are doing and where we are right now can be a potent strategy to take our mind off things.

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The good things in life are already good; let’s not taint them.

While putting things in perspective may inevitably mean making comparisons, we should be careful to avoid taking pleasure in others’ suffering. Schadenfreude is a German word meaning literally “harm-joy.” It refers to the feelings of happiness we can experience when we see others in a worse situation than ourselves. This is unnecessary and counterproductive. When we take pleasure in others’ suffering to feel good about ourselves, we inevitably assume others are doing the same to us when we find ourselves in crisis. Our attitude towards others will always inform how we think people see us too.

Instead of indulging in our privilege to boost our mood or self esteem, it is more constructive and kinder to understand our privilege and use it to promote empathy. Thinking about the good things in our life in comparison to the injustices others experience is important—not to serve the purpose of giving us satisfaction or pleasure, but instead to give us clarity and context. It should make us want to alleviate the suffering of others.

Altruism is cyclical. The more we connect with others and contribute to their well being, the more we find ourselves on the receiving end of the same generosity and affection and furthermore, the more we want to participate in the exchange. That doesn’t mean ignoring or shying away from trouble or ill feeling. It simply means using our common humanity and our shared experiences, even when they are painful, to raise each other up.

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Focusing on the positives and staying present shouldn’t result in a refusal to reflect on our past experiences or look forward to brighter horizons. Being mindful and present doesn’t mean disconnecting from the one thing that is unique to our human species: contemplation. In fact, mindfulness enhances this quality. The clearer our mind, the less clouded we are by irrationality, the more we are able to make sense of our past experiences in order to move forward.

While focusing on the positives in a self serving way can be counterproductive, we don’t need to spend our time dwelling on the negatives in order to extract value from our tribulations. Acknowledging our disappointment, feelings of betrayal, sadness, anger, jealousy and frustration is healthy, but it’s not necessary to feel obligated to indulge in ill feeling or lament injustice. It is perfectly normal and acceptable to respond appropriately to any situation that upsets us without needing to over analyze every aspect of it. However, to ignore these feelings or distract ourselves from dealing with them will only cause them to fester and grow. The result is a destructive and burdensome force that could have been prevented and avoided.

The negatives need our close attention.

Learning life’s lessons means living a life of complexity and diversity. We need the ebb and flow; the ups and downs to be able to make that distinction. How will we ever truly know and appreciate happiness if we never experience loneliness or sadness?

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Our endurance and resilience only flourishes when we are challenged and this in turn compels us to contribute and participate in life. It inspires us to want to make a difference.

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Diane Koopman

Writer, Author, Novelist, Self-Publisher

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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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