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8 Life Lessons To Learn From Remarkable Athletes

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8 Life Lessons To Learn From Remarkable Athletes

Rio. For 16 days, the entire world agreed upon one thing – if you could not get to Rio, you had to get to a TV somewhere and watch the games, or at least your favorite sports and athletes. There are two things that the Olympics serve to remind us: First, people from countries that are enemies can come together, live together, compete with one another in peaceful ways, and go back home with a wider perspective. Second, there are people with such commitment to their goals, that they will sacrifice whatever is necessary to achieve them. So, what do remarkable athletes show and tell us about life? What lessons can we learn? Here are 8 from some of the most successful.

1. Your successes are not your own. Along the way, others have supported you. With your success, it is time to give back – support others on their paths to success.

Lionel Messi, captain of the Argentine National Football (Soccer) Team, is now considered the best soccer player ever to take the field. Life was not always so good for Messi. He was born to a steelworker father who could not afford the $900 treatment for hormone growth deficiency. Fortunately, the kid had talent and the treatment was ultimately paid for by a youth football league. Messi knows that his ability to continue in soccer– aside from having tremendous talent– came from somebody who arrived at his financial aid when it was needed the most. Now, he gives back. He is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, active in the support of HIV and AIDS research to help families in Haiti, and has committed $8 million from his team for all of these efforts.

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2. Fear is destructive, and fear of failure condemns you to failure.

Michael Jordan did not make the team when he first tried out for basketball in high school. In his own words, he was embarrassed by the team list that was posted for days. Fear of being embarrassed again could have held a grip on him. Instead however, he overcame that by simply working harder. He eventually made the team, and when he began to play pro ball, his team lost the first three seasons. Again, he could have let embarrassment fuel fear, but of course, it did not. Today, Jordan says, “I know fear is an obstacle to some people, but it is just an illusion to me.”

3. Talent is a gift. But without hard work, it is meaningless.

Eugenie Bouchard is one of the youngest internationally ranked tennis players, and her story is a lesson for anyone aspiring to take his/her raw talent and turn it into success. Her interest in tennis was not initially strongly supported by her family. In fact, no one in her family aspired to any athletic achievements. All on her own, she began to play tennis at the age of 5, and the talent was obvious. By the age of 12, her parents were on board, and she and her mother moved to Florida so she could be coached by one of the all-time greats. Her training was grueling, and she gave up the life that other “normal” teenage girls usually have, to do it all. Today, she is worth about $2 million with a long career still ahead of her.

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4. Don’t measure your success by comparing it to that of others. When you are disappointed, you lose your joy and motivation

Tiger Woods. He had only one golfing goal since childhood – beat the record of Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major tournament wins. This was what motivated him. What he hadn’t counted on, were injuries that kept him off the circuit and a personal life that was a huge distractor. As he realized that he would not beat the Nicklaus record, he lost his joy for the game. And as he lost that joy, he lost his motivation, and his performance continued to decline.

5. Believe in yourself and become your biggest fan, not by being a braggart, but by loving who you are.

Serena Williams grew up in Compton, California, playing tennis on public courts littered with glass and practicing within hearing distance of gunshots. From that, she moved to the largest tennis stages of the world to be ranked #1. Aside from Arthur Ash, tennis has always been a very “white” sport, and when the Williams sisters first hit the professional scene, they were not graciously welcomed. As they began to win, many in the tennis world saw them as interlopers. The wins continued, but rather than developing an attitude, the sisters continued to be who they are; very comfortable. Lo and behold, the tennis world now loves them too.

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6. Be willing to reconcile with those whom you have fought if there is a greater good to be achieved.

When Lebron James announced that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat, owner Dan Gilbert wrote a scathing public letter in which he called James a traitor to the hometown that had loved him, among other things. James grew up in Cleveland and always loved his town. Gilbert knew that he needed James back on the team. Gilbert flew to Florida and sat down with James, apologized, they reconciled, and James returned to Cleveland. The ensuing championships are history. Cleveland has not always had a great reputation, but the Cavaliers have done their part to change that.

7. “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

This is a huge lesson from Muhammad Ali, boxer and philosopher who was so beloved. The lesson is to stop every once in awhile, and remove the small things that are slowing you down – some bad habits, some resentments, some guilt from the past. All of these things should be addressed and resolved. When you do it, you can move forward without the baggage and tackle those mountains.

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8. Sometimes you need to be the bigger person and apologize, even if it’s not required, in order to keep the peace.

The Olympics has brought us amazing athletic prowess and some wonderful events. Athletes are bringing home medals to countries that have never won any before. There have been comebacks and records broken. Michael Phelps, for example, has now won more gold medals than any other Olympian, a nice finale for his career. There have also been a couple of controversies. When the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was presented with their gold medals, as is tradition, the National Anthem was played. Gabby Douglass did not put her hand over her heart, as is custom. Immediately, Twitter lit up with posters condemning her for this “lack of respect” for her country. At times, it was vicious and certainly bullying. Fans came to her rescue with their own Tweets about all of her hard work to represent her country proudly, and about the fact that many do not put their hands on their hearts during the playing of the anthem. Ultimately, Gabby felt the need to post a Tweet explaining that this was not something she was taught to do but rather, to stand erect in silence instead. She then re-affirmed her patriotism and apologized if she had offended anyone. She was the bigger person, and Twitter has rewarded her for it now.

Athletes are a special breed. They represent courage, commitment, belief in selves, and amazing sacrifices. Yet all of us have the potential to do remarkable things (small or large) on a daily basis!

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Featured photo credit: Javelin Thrower in Action at a Competition via flickr.com

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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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