Growing up takes time. I remember at 15 talking to my aunt on the 15th anniversary of her 21st birthday about the stigma of aging. Later that evening, I asked my grandfather about the hula girl tattoo on his arm.
“That’s your grandma,” he proudly answered before stretching out the skin on his forearm and quipping, “and this is what she used to look like.”
Don’t struggle through another year—shake off those birthday blues with these useful lifehack questions to unlock your mind.
1. Where was I this time last year?
Forecasting is both the most and least important part of planning. To get an accurate picture of where you are, you need to check where you were last year at the same time. Are you still on the right path? If not, what threw you off course, and what can you do to get back up and moving in the right direction?
2. Am I who I want to be?
When you were six years old, you had dreams of who you wanted to be. Are you that person? You may not be in the exact career, but are you the type of person you wished for? The happiest people live to please their inner child—that person you used to be before everyone taught you about “real” life.
3. Have I lost/gained weight since last year?
What does your body look like compared to last year? If you wanted to lose or gain weight, did you? Did you bulk up like you wanted, or are you the same or worse? There’s no better time than now to strengthen your resolve to get into shape.
4. Did I accomplish my goals for this year?
It’s not just for the new year; everyone makes goals and resolutions throughout the year. Did you accomplish your goals for last year? What did you wish for when you blew out your candle? What did you do to make it happen?
5. Why do I have to age?
Much like pooping, everyone ages. I have no more of an answer than anyone else. Just enjoy the life you have and try to find your smile. It’s the only way to truly live.
6. Do I need to change any routines?
At certain ages, you become susceptible to different ailments, depending on your lifestyle, gender, social position, etc. If you need to quit smoking or get serious about a project, now’s the time.
7. What do I have to be grateful for?
You have a roof over your head, shoes on your feet, and clothes on your back (and hopefully everywhere else, because otherwise you’re a naked superhero and likely in the back of a squad car). If you’re breathing and awake, you have something to be grateful for. Show your gratitude to the world.
8. What good can I do next year?
Now that you have a firm grasp on who you’ve been, it’s time to decide who you’re going to be. You may want to be an entrepreneur or an adventurer or just get promoted to management at your current job. Whether you want to have a child or be one, make plans, because time doesn’t stop for anyone.
9. Who have I let in my life?
Look around at your friends and family—you’re stuck with some of these people, but others can be exchanged (or, at the very least, you can spend less time with them). Only allow people into your life who bring positive energy and influence. Politely phase the rest out at your leisure.
10. What do I need?
Start prioritizing your life. We all have so many goals that it’s impossible to keep up with them all. Taking stock of what you have and what you feel you need keeps you financially and mentally organized. You need a ball to keep your eye on it.
11. How do I feel?
How do you honestly feel about yourself? You can lie to whoever you choose, but be honest with yourself. If you’re unhappy with a situation, make the necessary changes to make it better. Sometimes this means quitting a job or packing up and moving. Even if you’re wrong, you’ll survive, and at least you’ll know for next time.
12. What’s my motivation?
Actors ask this all the time, and there’s a reason—you need to know what’s motivating you to get up every morning to keep living. Times will get hard, no matter what path you’re on, so figure out what drives you, and focus on that.
13. Am I aging gracefully?
Sometimes you have to maintain your youth, and sometimes you need to let go. How you decide to live is up to you, but make sure you’re at least doing it with grace and compassion. Nobody likes a Debbie or Donald Downer.
14. Who are these people?
Do you have any heroes? If so, what were they doing at your age? One of my childhood heroes was Tupac Shakur, and at my age, he had been dead for six years. That’s a sobering thought that keeps me pushing toward greatness with humbleness.
15. Was it worth it?
At the end of the day, was everything you’ve done worth it? Even if you lose, if you enjoyed or appreciated the experience of trying, then you’ve won. If you lost more than you wanted, it may be time to make a change in your life.
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: