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Last Updated on January 11, 2021

This Is What I Did to Stop My Regrets From Keeping Me Awake at Night

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This Is What I Did to Stop My Regrets From Keeping Me Awake at Night

“I want to live my life so that my nights are not full of regrets.” —D. H. Lawrence

Regret is a universal emotion that is felt by us all. The emotion of regret can be very powerful, and if we let it, regret can take over our lives. There are people who are good at managing their regrets, and there are some of us who are not so great at it.

For a long time, my feelings of regret dominated my life, particularly during stressful and unhappy times. I would lie awake thinking of all the things that I didn’t do, the mistakes I made, and the opportunities I stuffed up.

I would act out scenes in my head, which always began with questions such as, “What if? What if I had said this? What if I had done this?” These regret role-plays could go on for hours, and of course, the opportunity for a good nights sleep was lost. I would wake up tired, with no energy and feel unhappy. This was not a great way to start the day.

The more tired I felt, the unhappier I was about my life. I finally got to a point in my life where I realized that living my life full of regret was causing me immense unhappiness. I didn’t want to live an unhappy life, so I decided to change it.

This, of course, is easier said than done. Finding a way to manage the negative impact of regret in my life was not going to be achieved in a day, a week, or even a month. I decided that I would take one step at a time rather than rush off and look for ways where I would undergo some form of personal transformation in the hope that my regrets would magically disappear.

I knew that my regrets were never going to go away. I just had to get better at managing the negative influence they were having on my life.

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The Psychology of Regret

The first step I decided to take was to educate myself about the emotion of regret. What I learned from reading various articles and books enabled me to better understand and manage my thoughts and feelings around my regrets in life.

Two American psychologists, Neale J. Roese and Mike Morrison, conducted a National Survey on regret. The results from the survey showed that the six biggest regrets that we have in life are based on education, career, romance, parenting, self-improvement, and leisure.

“Regret is an essential part of the human experience—something everybody has as long as they have life goals. Rather than avoid it, it’s better to try to take some insights out of the regret experience.” —Neal J. Roese Professor of Psychology

This quote by Neale J Roese was for me an “aha moment.” Up until this point, I realized that I was living my life trying to avoid having regrets. Looking back now, I think I had become slightly brainwashed by reading too many “personal development” books, or maybe I just misinterpreted what I was reading about regret.

Somehow I had created a belief where I thought that by having no regrets I would have a happier life. I got it so wrong, and when I read what Neale J Roese said about regret, I realized that regret was actually an important part of my life experience. What I needed to sort out was how to deal with those thoughts and feelings of regret that were having a negative impact on my life.

Opportunity Breeds Regret

The report on the national survey talked about the Opportunity Principle and how our actions or failure to take action around opportunities in our life can create deep feelings of regret.

Another interesting fact about regret is that if an opportunity is denied or never presents itself to you then you are more likely to rationalize these feelings and move on. However, when you fail to take action when the opportunity presents itself to you then, you are more likely to have deeper feelings of regret. It is these regrets that are more likely to keep you awake at night.

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Mark Twain’s quote below sums up really well how your failure to take action can stay with you forever.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” —Mark Twain

By me committing to take action, I now embrace opportunities. I don’t focus on the outcome of the opportunity. I focus on how I choose to respond to the opportunity. By doing this I started to find that I would spend less time thinking at night about all opportunities that I had failed to take up.

Regret, the Power of Choice and a Good Nights Sleep

All is not lost however when it comes to “lost opportunities” in our life as we all have within us the power of choice. The benefit that lost opportunity and regret offer to us is the opportunity to choose to take corrective action.

Regret actually serves a purpose in our lives as it can remind us of what we need to do differently to move forward in our lives. We can choose to take action and create more positive feelings about our actions. When we do this our feelings of regret diminish, and once again, we are less likely to be kept awake playing out scenarios of regret in our head. We are more likely to be enjoying a good night’s sleep because we chose to take action. That is what makes us happy!!

I realized that for me to have better nights’ sleep, the more courageous I choose to be about stepping out and taking action, the better I felt about myself.

Going to bed feeling happy about myself was a key step for me to take control of the feelings of regret that were keeping me awake at night.

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Regret and Taking Action

Taking action was one key thing that I could do right now that could reduce the negative influence that regret had in my life. If I did this one thing consistently, over and over again, I would be guaranteed to get a good night’s sleep forever. If I keep taking action every time an opportunity presents itself to me and not worry about the outcome, the less likely I am to have thoughts of regret.

Here are three actionable strategies that I implemented in my life that helped me take control of my regrets so that I could consistently get a great night’s sleep

1. Move Onto Future Opportunities

Regrets are part of life, and the only way they can control our lives is if we let them. The more we think about our regrets the more influence they have over us. Dwelling on our regrets immobilizes us, and we eventually become fearful and unhappy about our lives.

Recognize your regrets, acknowledge them, and then leave them. Turn your attention to future opportunities — don’t dwell on the past.

2. Accept That You Cannot Change What Has Been Done

There is a great book I read about regret written by Arthur Freeman called “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Overcoming Regrets, Mistakes, and Missed Opportunities.”

In this book, Arthur Freeman talks about how regret will quickly disappear once we realize that the situation is done and finished. There is no going back, and we can’t change what has happened. The secret to dealing with our regret starts at the moment we decide what we are going to do next. It is our attachment to the past that breeds these feelings of regret, and once we let go of the past, we take more control over our future.

When you are being kept awake at night by your regrets, you are living your life in the past, and you have no control over the past. The more you look toward the future, the more control you have over your life.

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When you are lying in your bed at night, the first thing you do is think of one future opportunity that makes you feel good. Do not go to bed if you cannot think of a future opportunity because, trust me, those regrets will come flooding into your thoughts.

If you are really struggling read Arthur Freeman’s book as he provides lots of tools and strategies on how to unblock your attachment to the past.

 3. Make Your Regrets Work for You

Turn your regrets into lessons of learning. Put your regrets into context, acknowledge them, and then use them to motivate you to take more positive action.

This strategy I have used a lot, and it works. I always wanted to be a writer-speaker and coach, but for many years, I did nothing about it. I would lie awake thinking about my failure to take action, which of course meant that I never did anything about it for years. Then my parents died suddenly, and my life was thrown into chaos and pain.

As I went through the process of healing in my life, I realized that my regrets were not serving me well. In fact, they were preventing me from living the life I desired, and I needed to change that. So started writing with no expectation I just started. I didn’t want to live with a regret that I had never given it a go as a writer.

Here I sit today writing this article and so thankful that I took a regret and made it work for me.

I still do have the occasional sleepless night thinking about what I should have done, but my regrets today are not consuming my life. I have consistently more good nights sleep now than I had when my regrets controlled me and kept me awake night after night.

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Featured photo credit: Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu via unsplash.com

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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)

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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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