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The Power of Negative Visualization: Minimize Fear and Anticipatory Anxiety

The Power of Negative Visualization: Minimize Fear and Anticipatory Anxiety

In the back of my mouth are two lonely wisdom teeth patiently awaiting their long overdue eviction notice. They need to be pulled. Two of my four wisdom teeth were extracted three years ago and a week later I was supposed to make an appointment for the remaining pair to be pulled. Instead, because my first experience in the torture chamber, ahem, back room of the dental office, I avoided it. For the last three years, I’ve successfully dodged a myriad of follow-up phone calls from the dentist and well-meaning reminders from my wife.

I won’t go into the details but the procedure didn’t go smoothly. It was painful and a little terrifying.

I am now one of the 10-15% of people that are scared enough of the dentist that they avoid ever going. (Different from the 75% of people that experience anxiety but still go). But I know I’ll eventually have to overcome the fear and make the appointment.

This got me thinking about fear, anxiety, and emotional suffering caused by the anticipation of future events and how we can overcome it. The Stoic Philosophers practiced something called Negative Visualization. This is the practice of imagining undesired events, such as the death of a loved one, so that when the event inevitably occurs you are emotionally prepared to deal with it. It’s dark stuff to think about, there’s no denying that, but it could be helpful, especially to someone with a terminally ill loved one whose death in the near-future is expected.

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In addition to helping someone deal with a future event such as death, it also helps them better appreciate the time spent with loved ones. In William Irvine’s book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy he describes this idea by comparing two fathers – one who uses negative visualization and one who does not:

“To see how imagining the death of a child can make us appreciate her, consider two fathers. The first takes [this] advice to heart and periodically reflects on his child’s mortality. The second refuses to entertain such gloomy thoughts. He instead assumes that his child will outlive him and that she will always be around for him to enjoy. The first father will almost certainly be more attentive and loving than the second. When he sees his daughter first thing in the morning, he will be glad that she is still a part of his life, and during the day he will take full advantage of opportunities to interact with her. The second father, in contrast, will be unlikely to experience a rush of delight on encountering his child in the morning. Indeed, he might not even look up from the newspaper to acknowledge her presence in the room.”

In this way, negative visualization is a powerful tool for helping someone appreciate anything they value in their life. Simply imagine losing something important to you or being forced to live without it. A greater appreciation will naturally follow.

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Negative visualization is also used in business. There it is known as a pre-mortem and is enacted as a strategy at the beginning of a new project to dissect imagined scenarios where that project has failed to determine what could potentially lead to that failure.

Adjusting the Strategy: Using Negative Visualization to Overcome Fear and Anticipatory Anxiety

With a little tweaking one could also apply the idea of negative visualization to overcome the fear of an upcoming event, such as my inevitable tooth extractions. Overcoming fear and anxiety is different than overcoming grief and sadness, thus it requires a slightly different approach. Instead of simply visualizing the event that one fears, they would visualize something much worse.

If I imagine something far worse than getting my teeth pulled, such as James Franco cutting his own arm off with a pocket knife, like he does in the movie 127 Hours, then my procedure, complete with numbing medication and proper dental tools, doesn’t seem so bad.

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This helps turn my focus away from the fear of a negative outcome and onto hope for a positive one. It helps me focus on the obvious benefits of my situation over James Franco’s character’s situation in the movie.

At the dentist, I will be either sedated or numbed so there should be no pain. The dentist will be using the proper tools to remove my teeth so It won’t be a miserable marathon of agonizing pain like it would be when cutting your own arm off with a pocket knife. (I’m going to squeeze that visual into this article as often as I can!).

This technique of downplaying an event by imagining something far worse is used in other situations with different objectives. For example, my dad would often “sugar-coat” things rather than tell me the bad news upfront.

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As a teenager, before I had a driver’s license, I would have to call him to come pick me up from work. Even when he knew he wouldn’t be able to leave the house for 30-45 minutes, he would tell me he’d be there in 10-15 minutes. While this particular scenario still ended in me being frustrated when he didn’t show when I expected him (and I don’t agree with its usage), he still eliminated the frustration it would have caused me to hear upfront that I would have to wait for him.

Salespeople use this technique too – they call it softening the blow – when they have to tell a client the cost of their service.  If the actual cost of said service is $500, they might joke with a customer and say it’s going to be $1500.  When the client’s jaw drops, the salesperson says, “Ha ha, just kidding, it’s only $500.” The visualization of a far-worse scenario softens the blow of the real thing. Cha-ching – sale made.

The Stoics may have been the first to put negative visualization into regular practice, but similar methods have been applied by everyone from psychologists to my dad. It’s widely used and seldom recognized but it’s effective and it can help to both avoid suffering and amplify enjoyment and gratitude. Simply put, it’s a tool to help us manage our emotions.

Consider visualizing James Franco cutting his arm off with a pocket knife. Then go make a dentist appointment.

Featured photo credit: Frank MckEnna via unsplash.com

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Chris Egan

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Last Updated on November 5, 2019

How to Memorize a Speech the Smart Way

How to Memorize a Speech the Smart Way

Did you know that 75% of the population suffers from glossophobia? That scary sounding word is one of the most common phobia’s in the world, fear of public speaking.

I’ll bet even as you are reading this, you are getting nervous thinking about giving a speech.

I have got good news for you. In this article, I will share with you a step by step method on how to memorize a speech the smart way. Once you have this method down, your confidence in yourself to deliver a successful speech will increase substantially. Read on to feel well prepared the next time you have to memorize and deliver a speech.

Common Mistakes of Memorizing a Speech

Before we get to the actual process of how to memorize a speech the smart way, let’s look at the two most common mistakes many of us tend to make while preparing for a speech.

Complete Memorization

In an attempt to ensure they remember every detail, many people aim to completely memorize their speech. They practice it over and over until they have every single word burned into their brain.

In many ways, this is understandable because most of us are naturally frightened of having to give a speech. When the time comes, we want to be completely and totally prepared and not make any mistakes.

While this makes a lot of sense, it also comes with its own negative side. The downside to having your speech memorized word for word is that you sound like a robot when delivering the speech. You become so focused on remembering every single part that you lose the ability to inflect your speech to varying degrees, and free form the talk a bit when the situation warrants.

Lack of Preparation

The other side of the coin to complete memorization is people who don’t prepare enough. Because they don’t want to come off sounding like a robot, they decide they will mostly “wing it”.

Sometimes they will write a few main points down on a piece of paper to remind themselves. They figure once they get going, the details will somehow fill themselves in under the big talking points while they are doing the talking.

The problem is that unless this is a topic you know inside and out and have spoken on it many times, you’ll wind up missing key points. It’s almost a given that as soon as you are done with your speech, you’ll remember many things you should have brought up while talking.

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There’s a good balance to be had between over and under preparing. Let’s now look at how to memorize a speech the smart way.

How to Memorize a Speech (Step-by-Step Guide)

1. Write Out Your Speech

The first step in the process is to simply write out your speech.

Many people like to write out the entire speech. Other people are more inclined to write their speech outline style. Whichever way your brain works best is the way you should write your speech.

Personally, I like to break things down into the primary points I want to make, and then back up each major point with several details. Because my mind works this way, I tend to write out speeches, and articles for that matter, by doing an outline.

Once I have the outline completed, I will then fill in several bullet points to back up each big topic.

For instance, if I was going to give a speech on how to get in better shape my outline would look something like this:

Benefits of being in shape

  • Point #1
  • Point #2
  • Point #3

Exercise

  • Point #1
  • Point #2
  • Point #3

Diet

  • Point #1
  • Point #2
  • Point #3

Rest and hydration

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  • Point #1
  • Point #2
  • Point #3

ConclusionNo need for points here, just a few sentences wrapping things up.

As you might imagine, this step typically is the hardest because it’s not only the first step but it also involves the initial creation of the speech.

2. Rehearse Your Speech

Now that you’ve written your speech, or outline, it’s time to start saying it out loud. It’s completely fine to simply read what you’ve written line by line at this point. What you are working on doing is getting the outline and getting a feel for the speech.

If you’ve written the entire speech out, you’ll be editing it while you are rehearsing it. Many times as we say things out loud, we realize that what we wrote needs to be changed and altered. This is how we work towards having a well rounded and smooth speech. Feel free to change things as needed while you are rehearsing your speech.

If you are like me and you’ve written the outline, this is where some of the supporting bullet points will begin to come out. Normally, I will have written several bullet points under each main topic. But as I say it out loud, I will begin to fill in more and more details. I might scratch certain bullet points and add others. I might think of something new at this stage while I am listening to myself and want to add it.

The key to remember here is that you laying the foundation for your awesome speech. At this point, it’s a work in progress, you are getting the key pieces in place.

3. Memorize the Bigger Parts

As you are rehearsing your speech, you want to focus on memorizing the bigger parts, or the main points.

Going back to my example of how to get in better shape, I’d want to ensure I have memorized my primary points. These include the benefits of being in shape, exercise, diet, rest and hydration, and the conclusion. These are the main points I want to make and I will then fill in further details. I’ve got to ensure I know these very well first and foremost.

By practicing your major points, you are building the framework for your speech. After you have this solid outline in place, you’ll continue by adding in the details to round things out.

4. Fill In the Details

Now that you have the big chunks memorized, it’s time to work on memorizing the details. These detail points will provide support and context for your major points. You can work on this all at once or break it down to the details that support each major point.

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For example, the details I might have under the “exercise” big point might include such things as cardio, weights, how many times a week to exercise, how long to actually exercise, and several examples of actual exercises. In this example, I have 5 detail points to memorize to support my major point of “exercise”.

It’s a good idea to test yourself regularly as you are rehearsing your speech. Ask yourself:

What are the 5 detail points I want to talk about that support my 3rd main point?

You need to be able to fire those off quickly. Until you can do this, you won’t be able to associate each of the details with the main point.

You have to be able to have them grouped together in your mind so that it comes out naturally in your speech. So that when you think of main point #2, you automatically think of the 4 supporting details associated with it.

Keep working at this stage until you can run through your speech completely several times and remember all of your big points and the supporting details.

Once you can do that with relative ease, it will be time for the final step, working on your delivery.

5. Work on Your Delivery

You’ve got the bulk of the work done now. You’ve written your speech and rehearsed enough times to have not only your main points memorized but also your supporting details. In short, you should have your speech almost done.

There’s one more step in how to memorize a speech the smart way. The final component is to work on how you deliver your speech.

For the most part, you can go give your speech now. After all, you have it memorized. If you want to ensure you do it right, you’ll want to hone how you are delivering your speech.

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You work on your delivery by rehearsing and running through it a number of times and making tweaks along the way. These tweaks or changes may be are’s where you’d want to pause for effect.

If you’ve found you have used one word 5 times in one paragraph, you might want to swap it out for a similar word a few times to keep it fresh.

Sometimes while working on this part, I’ve thought of a great story that’s happened to me that I can incorporate to make my point even better.

When you work on your delivery, you are basically giving your speech a personality as well.

The Bottom Line

And there you have it, a step by step approach on how to memorize a speech the smart way.

The next time you are asked to give a speech don’t let glossophobia rear its familiar head. Instead, remember this easy to use guide to help craft a powerful speech.

Using the method shown here will help you deliver your next speech with increased confidence.

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Featured photo credit: Anna Sullivan via unsplash.com

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