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Last Updated on April 22, 2020

17 Ways for Building Resilience and Staying Tough

17 Ways for Building Resilience and Staying Tough

Have you ever failed at something or gone through a rough patch? Have you made a mistake or suffered a setback and found yourself eating way too much ice cream afterward?

Take heart! You’re in good company.

Even Beyoncé and Albert Einstein have faced hard times. But the difference between people who rebound from difficult situations and folks who stay curled up in a fetal position is the way they CHOOSE to respond to these events.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “resiliency” as the “ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change.” The good news is, you can learn how to become more resilient. Yes, you can make the CHOICE to bounce back from bottom.

So, put down that ice-cream carton and get ready for a pep talk. Here are 17 strategies for building resilience that will help you overcome obstacles and rock your life.

1. Failing is Normal—Just Keep Going

According to Kenneth Ginsburg, author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens, the first of the “7 C’s of Resilience” is “COMPETENCE.” For young people to succeed, they must develop skills to deal with difficult situations. This goes for adults, too!

To bolster your competence, take a look at a learning curve. It shows you that you can improve after you fail simply by persevering. But your performance won’t improve steadily. Knowing this fun fact can prevent you from giving up too soon.

If you take a closer look at the “curve” below, you’ll discover that it’s actually jagged. Those peaks and valleys mean that you’ll get better on some days, as promised, but you’ll also have days in which you hit a plateau or your performance plummets.

    So, give yourself some slack and hang in there. If you persist, you will succeed.

    2. Adopt a “Growth Mindset” to Build Confidence

    Ginsburg’s second “C” for building resilience is “CONFIDENCE,” the belief in one’s own abilities. Here’s an interesting fact. It turns out that the way you view your abilities is more important than your actual abilities. Let me give you an example

    According to psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, praising yourself for being intelligent or telling your children they are smart encourages a “fixed mindset,” the belief that your ability is static.[1] When you fail a test, you feel defeated because you believe your set amount of intelligence wasn’t enough to succeed.

    On the other hand, praising effort and hard work cultivates a “growth mindset,” the belief that intelligence can be developed. When you do badly on an exam and believe you can get smarter, you view it as a challenge. You put in extra time and effort and do better the next time.

    Whether it be sports, parenting, business, or pretty much anything else, your capacity to get back up after being knocked down depends on your mindset. To learn how to shift toward a more growthful mindset, take a look at this article: 5 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset for Self Improvement

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    When you understand that you can strengthen your abilities through effort, you will do better in work, school, and life over time.

    3. Use Failure as Feedback

    Did you know that Oprah Winfrey was demoted early in her career as a news anchor because she did not have the “it factor” for TV? She went on to reinvent her career and rule daytime talk shows for 25 years. She told Harvard’s 2013 graduating class,

    “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

    Perhaps your talk didn’t go over as well as you’d hoped because you gave it to the wrong audience. Maybe your last relationship didn’t work out because your ex was not a good match for you. A square peg won’t fit into a round hole no matter how hard you try to force it and you’ll wear yourself out in the process. What’s the point? Find a square hole!

    As Zig Ziglar says,

    “The most successful people are the ones who learn from their mistakes and turn their failures into opportunities.”

    4. Come Up with Alternate Pathways to Your Goals

    When you suffer a setback, don’t throw in the towel. Come up with a different plan to get where you want to go.

    For example, I decided to become a rock star when I was 30 years old. Even though my music was well-received, an A&R agent in LA told me I was too old to make it in the music business. So, I shifted my attention to launching a CD overseas and got signed to PolyGram in South Africa.

    Research by Dave Feldman and Diane Dreher on “hope interventions”[2] found that when people set a goal, visualized three steps to get there, imagined three obstacles that could get in the way, and then developed three strategies to overcome them, they were successfully able to solve problems in their lives and reach their goals.

    Set up a meaningful goal and come up with alternate routes to reach it in case you hit a roadblock. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

    5. Develop Your Superpowers

    You were born with unique set of gifts that no one else in the world has. Making a commitment to develop your natural superpowers through study, discipline, and practice can boost your competence and confidence. It may seem like it would be hard work but it’s actually fun. Nothing feels better than getting better at something you love to do.

    Jimi Hendrix practiced his guitar ALL the time. He wore it when he boarded planes and made scrambled eggs. He became a master guitarist because he constantly sought to boost his intrinsic talent. I’ve recorded hundreds of songs but I still take songwriting lessons to hone my skills as a singer-songwriter.

    Find some YouTube videos, buy a book, or take classes to improve your skills. Even if you only do it as a hobby or a side project, developing your innate skills gives you the energy and expertise you need to overcome challenges in your life.

    6. Find a Supportive Tribe

    Ginsburg’s third “C” for building resilience is “CONNECTION.” He encourages parents to offer children and teens the security they need to stand on their own and come up with creative solutions to problems. Adults need positive encouragement and community, too.

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    It’s not a sign of weakness to seek support. Even the mighty Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, etc.) join forces when threats grow too large for any one of them to handle alone. Dorothy Gale achieved greatness in The Wizard of Oz because of a little help from her friends The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion.

    Surround yourself with like-minded friends and acquaintances who can keep you on track with your goals. Find an accountability partner and check in with each other once a week. Be sure to form connections with “power-with” people, those who find their power from within themselves and enjoy aiding each other’s journeys.

    The next time life knocks you down, put out the bat signal for your tribe to come help you. They’ll help you rebound faster and own your power.

    7. Remove Kryptonite From Your Life

    As important as it is to surround yourself with a positive tribe, it’s also essential that you distance yourself from people who rain on your parade.

    If you have naysayers in your life, realize that this “power-over” mentality is a sign of inadequacy, not a show of real strength. There’s no need for people to aggravate, torment, or control you if their sense of self is intact. When people try to kryptonite you, it’s a sign of their weakness, not yours.

    To protect yourself from people who try to belittle or manipulate you, learn how to discriminate between helpful information and controlling criticism. The former fills you with energy and gives you a sense of direction; the latter leaves you feeling defeated and drained. Consider the source.

    8. Set Good Intentions

    Ginsburg’s fourth “C” for building resilience is “CHARACTER,” it’s about learning right from wrong.

    Superheroes use their power to save the planet. Super-villains often possess superhuman strengths, too, but they wield them for personal gain. Which camp do you fall in? Does it depend on what you’re doing?

    Create a list of your values and stand by them no matter what. Being true to yourself and living with integrity will help you get through hard times.

    9. Practice Kindness

    The fifth “C” for building resilience is “CONTRIBUTING” to the welfare of others. The tiniest act of kindness can make a positive difference.

    According to Talya Steinberg, Psy.D,[3]

    “Studies show that receiving, giving, or even witnessing acts of kindness increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood in the brain.”

    Being kind makes you feel happier and more at peace, which helps you stay grounded in difficult situations.

    What little act of kindness can you do today? Give your loved ones an extra hug? Call or email a long-lost friend? Here’re more ideas for you: 29 Ways to Carry Out Random Acts of Kindness Every Day

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    And be sure to high-five yourself the next time you see your reflection in the mirror. Being kind to yourself counts.

    10. Listen to Music You Like

    The fifth “C” for building resilience is using COPING strategies to deal with stress. One easy shortcut for buoying yourself up when you feel down is listening to music you like.

    Research shows that hearing your favorite music releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. When you’re happy, you organize information better, think more creatively, and become a better problem solver.

    I like to sing “Roar” to give me moxie. What about you? All you need is 15 minutes of your favorite tunes. So listen up!

    11. Give Yourself a Hug

    Another quick way to build resilience when you feel badly is to give yourself a hug. Sounds silly? It’s not.

    According to Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion, hugging yourself releases oxytocin (the love hormone that makes you feel safe and loved) which decreases stress.[4]

    The next time you’re challenged, give it a try. Even if you’re in public, you can discreetly fold your arms around yourself. You’ll be surprised by how much better you feel.

    12. Say Positive Affirmations

    When you mess something up, your inner critic often makes it worse by telling you that you’re not good enough or you’re an imposter. Just because these digs stress you out doesn’t mean the limiting thoughts are true.

    Research shows that saying positive things such as “keep going” and “you can do it” can replace negative self-talk and help you get on your feet again.[5]

    Need some ideas for positive affirmations? Here’re some: 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life

    13. Relabel “Fear” as “Excitement”

    When something scares you, your sympathetic nervous system gets you ready for fight or flight. Did you know that you experience the same physiological reactions when you’re excited?

    The next time you get sweaty palms, try reinterpreting that response as excitement and use that nervous energy to master whatever you’re trying to do, whether it be giving a talk, going on a job interview, or winning a race.

    The fact that your inner critic is messing with your mind could mean that you’re on the brink of a new growth opportunity. Take advantage of the adrenaline and go for it.

    14. Stand in the Wonder Woman / Superman Pose

    According to Amy Cuddy, best-selling author of Presence, adopting the Wonder Woman power pose — hands on hips, feet wide apart, shoulders back — for two minutes can make you feel powerful.

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    This postural feedback gives you the experience of being a laid-back alpha (i.e., a superhero). When you need a jolt of power, try it. It works! If you’re a guy, just pretend you’re Superman or Thor when you do it.

    You can learn more about the power of this pose in this TedTalk:

    15. Write about Tough Times

    The last thing you probably feel like doing after a painful experience is dwell on it, but research by Dr. James Pennebaker shows that writing about tough times can actually improve your psychological and physical well-being.[6]

    Jot down your thoughts and feelings about the emotionally charged event for 20 minutes per day for four consecutive days. Afterward, you will feel mentally and physically stronger.

    16. Stop Passing Judgment on Yourself

    The final “C” for building resilience is to learn how to feel a sense of CONTROL over your life. The Serenity Prayer wisely advises us to accept what we cannot change, change what we can, and learn to tell the difference. But let’s be honest. That last part can get tricky.

    Eating balanced meals, exercising, and getting enough sleep helps you bounce back from tough times. But what if you have a bad habit that prevents you from engaging in these healthy habits? Here’s a tip a wise woman gave me years ago that can help you break the pattern:

    Imagine for a moment that each time you eat that extra cookie, or drink that extra glass of wine, or stay up too late watching TV, a layer gets laid down in an imaginary bowl. Every time you repeat the pattern, another layer goes down and the layers stack up over time.

    To get unstuck, just observe yourself eating that extra cookie instead of judging yourself for it. At the same time, imagine that a layer gets removed from that make-believe bowl as a result. If you engage in the bad habit again, do not pass judgment. Watch yourself with compassion and see another layer come off in your mind’s eye.

    Over time, this metaphorical bowl grows emptier and you begin to catch yourself sooner in the process (e.g., when you first put your hand in the cookie jar). Eventually, you’ll be able to stop yourself before you even begin. This gentle mindfulness tool can help you change habits that seem beyond your control.

    17. Set Yourself Up for Success

    My friend Mike enjoys skiing really fast, to the point where he is about to break his neck, because it puts him in the moment and brings out his best performance. If he were to try a steeper slope, he would fall; the bunny slopes would bore him silly. Like Goldilocks, he found the hill that was “just right“ to put him in the zone.

    What does this last point have to do with building resilience? When you’re in the zone, you do your best work. If the activity is too simple, your mind wanders. If it’s too hard, you get knocked out of the moment, too. These are the critical moments when your inner critic sneaks in to fire zingers at you.

    To create a successful outcome, consciously choose to do things that are fairly challenging, but not too challenging. This Goldilocks approach will keep your inner critic at bay and bring out the best in you. When you succeed in one area of your life, you’re more likely to succeed in others.

    Final Thoughts

    We all experience defeat at some point; it’s part of being human. But you have a CHOICE about how to react to hardship. If you CHOOSE to learn from your mistakes and persevere with a growth mindset, you can succeed at pretty much anything, especially if you come up with alternative pathways to your goals and surround yourself with people who believe in you.

    When you feel overwhelmed or stressed out, write about it, listen to your favorite tunes, give yourself a hug, say positive affirmations to yourself, relabel fear as excitement, or stand in the Wonder Woman/Superman pose.

    Just a couple of these hacks can help you get your mojo back. Just remember to keep going. You’ve got this.

    More About Resilience

    Featured photo credit: Michael Descharles via unsplash.com

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    Dr. Michelle Millis Chappel

    Michelle is a psychology-professor-turned-rock-star who has helped thousands of people create successful meaningful lives by using their superpowers.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    How to Fight Your Irrational Fears And Stay Strong

    How to Fight Your Irrational Fears And Stay Strong

    She could hear her beautiful baby crying but was frozen in the doorway unable to move. The crying got worse and she knew that unless she comforted the infant soon the baby would be inconsolable, and yet her feet wouldn’t move. She didn’t look at the cot but the floor in front, where the venomous hairy monster sat before her…. .okay it was a UK spider so not likely to kill her at all, and yet still her body was frozen as the tears fell down her face. “What a useless mother you are” she berated herself.

    That awful mother was me 14 years ago. My fear of spiders had not been controlled for years and I was at the stage where I wouldn’t open a newspaper until my husband had read it and removed the images of spiders. I hated houses that had wooden floors or skirting boards because every knot in the wood could be a spider about to crawl across me.

    At the height of my fear, I tried to get out of a moving car. Clearly this harmless 8-legged creature had massive levels of power over me but now that fear is gone, I’m never going to love spiders but I’m not going to leave the room because of one and I can read the word without freaking out and sobbing.

    If you think that fear is irrational, what about the fear of going to airports? Or the fear of not asking for help?

    Today I want to look at how our irrational fears impact on us, how they can destroy (and I don’t use that word lightly) our success. They can damage our health and even stop us from living our lives. And then I’ll share the benefits of fighting that fear and most importantly how you can fight your fears too.

    How Irrational Fears Impact Your Life

    The thing about irrational fears is that we are not keen to look at them. It makes us feel inadequate, weak and daft because we can’t do things that it seems everyone else can. That gives the fear power.

    Fear loves negative emotions and saps up yours making your fear bigger and uglier and even more powerful. Not ideal to say the least. Fears can cause us to:

    • Avoid situations where that fear may have to be faced. Dodging parties, new jobs, new experiences where we aren’t sure we will be able to protect ourselves.
    • Stop us from sleeping for fear the thing we fear will “get us in the night.” For me this was massive, and I stopped sleeping which had massive implications when my job was to look after a toddler and a baby. I felt half dead most of the time!
    • Feel ill with the stress. Stress can be the cause of wrong decisions. Drinking alcohol when we shouldn’t, eating chocolate because it makes us feel better, the list of excuses is long that we hold on to so that we can avoid the cause of our stress.
    • Cause more distress as our minds overload us with negative thoughts of inadequacy. This can damage our confidence. Having coached thousands, I know that a lack of confidence is usually the underlining impactor on most people’s success across all areas of their lives.
    • Risk looking aloof or arrogant because we won’t participate like other people. Our fears can even isolate us in our personal and professional lives too.
    • Feel debilitated. Needless to say, these fears may look irrational and shouldn’t exist to the outside world but to the sufferer they are debilitating. Even impacting on their earning potential, love life, hobbies, travels and personal and professional success.

    Why Bother to Fight the Fear

    Couldn’t you just ensure you live your life in way that you don’t have to deal with your fear?

    I had a client that was so scared of flying that they couldn’t even take their partner to the airport, another who had avoided public speaking for over 20 years and yet now at the height of their profession they had no choice, what were they going to do? Quit? There was another who could never ask for help and another who feared people finding out who they really were.

    All these fears and many more can be fixed but only if we can appreciate the benefits of fighting the fear.

    Let’s look at the benefits of fighting your fears:

    If you’re going to change the way you do something, something that has impacted on your life, thoughts and actions for years, it can be hard to believe change is possible.

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    The first thing you must do is give yourself a big enough reason why. Go back through your life and remember all the occasions that this fear was there.

    I can still see the spider trapped in my hair because it had obviously been on my hairdryer. I also remember that I probably looked ludicrous in the South of France in my underwear running down the lane screaming and flinging my hair everywhere. The poor spider had not only been flung a long way from my head but was probably destroyed in the flight.

    Remember the feelings, the actions, the negative feelings you felt afterwards, for me it meant that every time I picked up a hairdryer I could see a spider crawling towards my ear in my hair. Guess how helpful that was for reinforcing my reactions and irrational fear?

    Really experience the fear. Make it so painful that you probably notice your heart racing, your shoulders drawing up and your breath changing. That fear is causing physical change in your body, doesn’t feel good does it?

    When the irrational fear is challenged and destroyed, it can’t have power over you. So new opportunities can come your way and instead of fearing them and what people will think of you for your choices, you can be open to;

    • New hobbies
    • New travels
    • New opportunities
    • More success
    • Financially more secure
    • Happier
    • Healthier
    • Confident

    The list is long so what can you do to get rid of your fears?

    How to Fight Your Irrational Fears

    In my book Fight the Fear: How to Beat Your Negative Mindset and Win in Life, I cover 12 of the biggest fears that I see impact on success and happiness. Not all of these are obvious but they all have far reaching impacts on our lives.

    Here are some of those ideas to help you fight your fear and get more of what you want out of life:

    Why Did This Happen?

    For some people they really need to know why the fear started, for others all they want is to get rid of it. If you need to understand yours then don’t skip this tip. Learn how your fears are made and appreciate where yours came from. If you don’t care how it arrived, you can jump to top tip 2.

    I’ve seen some clients who are not prepared to look at how to get rid of the fear until they’ve understood how it got here in the first place. It’s not my place to tell them that is right or wrong, just to help them find the right steps to lead them to a happy path.

    When a fear first starts, we don’t acknowledge a fear has entered our lives. It is only after a few occasions that we begin to notice that there’s a strong negative emotion connected to this “thing”. That’s how fear is allowed to grow because as humans we have in-built responses that have kept us safe for our entire existence. This means we are meant to perceive fear and either run or fight, either way our bodies jump into action creating physical responses to the perceived threat.

    Look for when you first noticed the fast heart beat, the shallow breathing, the shaking hands, the redness. You have created an automatic way of dealing with this fear. It could be that it felt sensible to fear this because you had an unhappy outcome, although it is usually the case that your head has the facts and your heart is not prepared to hear them as it creates a version of the event that is far scarier than it actually was.

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    Learning how to remove the emotions and feelings will help you to change your body’s response. The first time I fixed someone’s fear of public speaking, they told me that it physically closed their throat, I worried that was it possible with words to change our physicality? The answer was yes! With the tools and techniques I share below.

    The Tool Kit to Fight Your Fear

    From the many people that have contacted me after reading Fight the Fear to my clients, I know for even myself creating a tool kit is a must. This is not a bag that you physically must haul everywhere. This is about learning tools that really resonate with you so that when you can feel the fear start to impact on you, you’ve got your kit ready to take it on.

    I don’t have the space in one article to share all of those tools so let’s visit a few:

    1. Why I’m Awesome?

    Creating a 2-page handwritten document of why you are awesome can help. This document will be packed with achievements, successes, overcoming adversity and all of those will be full of positive emotions, actions and feelings. It is not easy to write, and I get many messages telling me so however it is a powerful reminder that you can stand up and accomplish.

    2. Draw out Your Emotions

    Earlier we looked at how irrational fears can damage every aspect of our lives. If you were to follow the negative spiral down you can follow the positive spiral up again.

    I draw these individually for clients and with each action, thought or feeling we put an arrow between them. Each arrow is an opportunity to do something different. If we know that irrational fear is an automatic thought process, then we can start to see that we need to think, do or feel something different. Top tip 3 will help with that.

    3. Acknowledge That You Need to Change

    It’s not easy to change, and that is a belief that many hold. Top tip 4 could assist further, however for this tip, remember that when you want to do, think or feel differently, you’ve already achieved the first step and that is recognizing something must change (you don’t need to know what). But if you aren’t sure yet if there’s really something different you want to do, this story about Nancy may help you to figure it out.

    Then it’s about acknowledging it. That means not only accepting it but feeling that it is yours to take on and change.

    Then for 2 weeks, decide that you won’t allow the thought to be in your head. There are usually some negative thoughts allowed to fester in your head. At this stage, just say “No I’d like you to stop.” After 2 weeks choose a new thought that you would prefer to hear in your head, maybe “I can cope with situations that scare me” or “I am stronger than I know”.

    There will be times when you fail. Don’t berate yourself because that is another negative thought you are allowing your head to process. Just start again and at times like that have a read of your “Why I’m awesome list”.

    4. Choose Your Words Carefully

    I’ve heard many clients tell me that “It’s going to be hard to change” “I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t petrified” or “This is a lot to ask”. Any thought that gives power to your fear takes away power from you to fight it. Therefore, choose how you word your goal to overcome your fear carefully.

    Think thoughts like “I remember when I achieved xxxx and that reminds me I’m far tougher and more capable than I give myself credit for”. (Take the xxx from your why I’m awesome document.)

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    5. Believe That You Have the Control Power

    The only person that can control what we think and feel is us. I know it can feel like other people are impacting on us, however they can only do that if we give them permission to do so.

    If you really think about that for a moment, can you see that you have the right to think and feel anything you want right now? I’m certain you wouldn’t choose pain, fear or anxiety. So, what would you choose to think about your fear?

    6. Put up Physical Reminders

    Working one to one, I can find the fear, work through it and create a tool kit of thoughts, feelings and actions that will help them fight that fear and get rid of it. For some, they don’t need physical things to help them; others do.

    For example, the CEO who was petrified of public speaking but could handle a conference call with 300 without a second thought, imagined the microphone was a phone when they spoke in front of 400 people to help reinforce the positive thoughts and ideas we’d created.

    Or the client that always worried that they were an imposter and “someone else can do this better” pinned on their office wall a tag cloud of all the words that made up their “Why I’m awesome document”.

    So they had a daily reminder. They were the right one for the job and they could do it. These daily reminders all come down to one key point — help you to Hack the Habit Loop.

    What would be your visual clues to remind you that you can overcome this?

    7. Physical Supports

    Music, environment and even smells can impact on us. Know the music that makes you feel alive and ready for anything. Try aromatherapy oils to feel positive and energised. Even choose your work environment or clothing to empower you.

    Changing these things is physical and giving yourself physical ideas to action can help power up your emotional state too.

    8. Don’t Go It Alone

    The fear to ask for help is very real (and has a whole chapter in my book) so I know people really struggle with this. The fact is we all need people. We are not insular by design and as such it can be tough to admit that you have a fear impacting on you.

    However, by sharing your fear with a trusted friend, colleague or loved one can mean that when you are feeling the fear. you can talk to someone. It could be that you share with them the contents of your tool kit and ask their permission to be added to it. That way they know what works for you and how to best support you.

    It’s not a sign of weakness to tell people about your fear. It takes massive levels of strength to say, “I have this fear, and I want to get rid of it.”

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    9. Get Physical

    One of the reasons that a fear can escalate is because we have come to accept that response. Our body reacted in a certain way, once repeated the behaviour and it became a formed habit that was accepted.

    Challenging a fear can be done using our body too when we appreciate that fear is actually a reaction inside our bodies. We don’t need to understand where in our brains or what chemicals are racing through us to use our physicality to help us challenge our fears.

    When I was writing my book, the Cuddy Superhero pose[1] was proved and disproved by various researchers around the world 3 times. Whether it’s real or not, the fact is the way we stand, the way we breathe and even the speed at which we speak can impact on us as well as those around us.

    If you have a fear of public speaking or a fear of people thinking you are stupid or a fear of what people are thinking you can look at how you speak, stand and move. If you compare these with people you deem confident and happy in these situations, how do you look? What can you learn?

    The research around placebo’s reinforces us that if it feels like it is working, then keep doing it! What could you use to help reinforce your power and fearlessness?

    Final Thoughts

    A little fear can be good. As someone famous once says:

    “It is not fear, it is performance energy.”

    Despite having an absolute hatred of public speaking 10 years ago, I now love an audience and yet I have a healthy level of fear. That level of fear says “Are you well prepared?” “Do you know your audience?” “Have you rested your voice?” “You really want to deliver to this audience what they need” And those thoughts are sensible.

    So as you reduce your fear, be aware of a good level of fear.

    More About Fighting Fears

    Featured photo credit: Isaiah Rustad via unsplash.com

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