“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu.
Setting goals used to be one of my favorite things to do.
From sticking a piece of paper with all my goals on the ceiling of my room (so it would be the first thing I saw when I woke up) to planning my entire day out on Outlook, I tried to have my entire life organized and disciplined.
I was always determined to follow through on my goals and achieve them no matter what. The problem was that I was never happy even after achieving my goals. I just got greedy and soon, there were a lot more goals in my life and too many things to do every day. Eventually, I hit the point when life stopped being fun and I got burnt out from the stress.
In hindsight, that was a turning point in my life. It has been close to an year since I completely stopped setting goals. And I can definitely say that I am happier and am as productive as I was before, if not more. If you think you’re in the same boat, see if you can spot any of these 7 warning signs your goals may actually be preventing your best from coming out:
1. You are a perfectionist.
You plan everything to the last second. And when things don’t workout exactly as planned, you get upset.
Why it’s bad
Though planning ahead is a great idea, being too attached to things working out exactly the way you planned is just setting yourself up for failure. The thing with real life is that things never work out perfectly. This is just something we all have to accept.
These days I plan ahead but take care to not rely on my plans too much. I always improvise on my plan based on any situation that comes up.
2. You are missing out on your social life.
You really want to achieve your goals no matter what, and therefore maintaining your relationships with your friends and family is not a priority. You tell yourself that you will do this once you have achieved your goal.
Why it’s bad
It’s true that sometimes you have to sacrifice your social life when you want to achieve something. However, completely abandoning your social life only makes you less happy and therefore less productive.
This doesn’t mean that you always have to be there for all your friends. It doesn’t mean you have to show up at every friend’s birthday party. There is usually a small group of people who you really care about and vice versa. Make sure you spend time with them on a regular basis.
3. Working on your goal doesn’t make you smile anymore.
You do your work only because your to-do list says you should. You lack genuine motivation and have stopped getting satisfaction from your work.
Why it’s bad
When the things you do are actually because you want to satisfy the deadline given by a goal you created and not because you actually love doing it, you are no longer having fun.
For a week or so, stop doing everything you are doing. For a day or two, you will probably spend the entire day watching movies or other unproductive things you think you love. But if you wait long enough, you will start doing productive things that you genuinely want to do.
4. Once you achieve your goal, you don’t genuinely feel satisfied.
When you complete your objective, your reaction is to set new goals. You don’t feel genuine happiness even though you have achieved something really great.
Why it’s bad
That’s a very stressful and toxic way to react. Being ambitious is okay, but being greedy isn’t.
Ideally in a no-goals lifestyle, you feel satisfaction every day from doing the work you love and not because you have achieved anything. So, regardless of whether you achieve your objective, you feel happy because you’re working hard at what you love doing.
5. Nothing stands in the way of your goal, not even yourself.
It’s maybe not as dramatic as it sounds, but you stop taking care of yourself because that’s not helping you towards your goal. And by taking care of yourself, I don’t mean just dressing up well: I mean giving yourself a break every now and then, to sleep properly, to eat healthfully, etc.
Why it’s bad
In order to function at your best, you need to take care of your physical, mental and emotional needs.
Always listen to yourself and make sure that you make time to destress and relax every once in a while. You can save the world after you’ve first taken care of yourself.
6. You constantly fantasize about how great things are going to be one day.
Everything you do is for the future. You push everything else that’s not helping you towards your goal including things you’ve always loved to the future.
Why it’s bad
The truth is that this day never comes. Trust me, I’ve been in this boat. Something’s always different from the way you imagined it. You are so blinded by working towards your goal that you don’t see other golden opportunities that come your way.
If you feel a genuine need to do something, you don’t push it to the future. You do it right now. Because that’s your soul, or your inner voice telling you what you really should be doing right now. And like the Lao Tzu quote at the top, resisting this only creates sorrow.
If you are currently exhibiting any of the warning signs I listed above, I suggest you move on to a no-goals lifestyle and start having fun doing things rather than achieving things.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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: