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How to Live Gracefully

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How to Live Gracefully

When “grace” comes to mind, we generally tend to think of flawlessness, Monaco, and all things inbetween. The idea of having grace or being graceful is an incredibly tightly-construed concept developed and it’s something that’s so incredibly far away from its original concept and origin.

“Grace” comes from the Latin word “gratia”, which means “God’s favour”, and so rather than “graceful” meaning “impossibly flawless”, it actually means to have a little je ne sais quoi. That indefinable quality which, rather than being something granted by divine inspiration, is something inside us and which we can easily bring out.

It isn’t unattainable, however—far from it. Living gracefully is pretty simple and definable, and fortunately for people like me, it has nothing to do with being physically graceful. I literally have no balance or graceful skills and am possibly the clumsiest person I know, but in cultivating a sense of gracefulness, I’ve at least learned how to take it on the chin when I do trip over my own feet.

Being graceful is a state of mind, rather than a state of physical perfection, and by utilising three simple and fundamental rules, it’s easy to start cultivating and bringing some grace into your lives.

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Rule no. 1: Be Good (to Yourself)

This first rule is both the easiest to implement and perhaps the hardest I’ve tried, and that people I know have tried as well: accept yourself. This is pretty hard when it gets boiled down to it because, let’s face it, we’re living in a society where our media is generally adept at making us aspire to visions of a perfect life; a nearly-unattainable standard of living that, while it makes us want to achieve it, also makes us feel bad that we aren’t there yet. Which, you know, is pretty mean.

So, one of the things I want you to start doing is just accepting yourself. It doesn’t have to be an overnight revelation; it can take days or weeks or months or years of slowly but surely understanding those big flaws you hate about yourself. They’re not flaws, or at least they are, but because they’re yours, you should never have to feel ashamed about them. Even if you wake up one morning and look in the mirror and decide that that one flaw you’ve always hated about yourself, that one attribute, isn’t that important.

The purpose of this rule? Well, besides everyone loving themselves a bit more (which is awesome and should be promoted all the time), being good to yourself makes you want to help other people more. On those days when your hair is great and you’re feeling awesome and that cute barista winks at you, you’re so much more likely to give someone else a helping hand or give someone who needs it a compliment. It’s kind of like that “random act of kindness” thing—you do something good for someone, they feel great and then they do something good for someone else, and so it snowballs on, having a positive chain reaction.

Being good to yourself and accepting yourself is in no way shape or form arrogance or narcissism: you’re not in love with yourself, you just LOVE yourself, and being a graceful person is all about accepting yourself for who you are and choosing who and what you choose to be. There’s a lot of talk about inner beauty and how everyone is beautiful, but you don’t HAVE to be beautiful at all, inside or out, if you don’t choose to be so. Start to treat yourself with kindness and compassion and you’ll see a massive change.

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Rule no. 2: Slow Down

Slow down, folks, slow down. Most people, including myself, have a problem with this one, particularly if you’re in a job where you’re pretty juggling seven tasks, a shopping list, social commitments and laundry all while trying to keep fit and you know, have actual human contact if you have a spare five minutes. It is exhausting, and slowing down will not remove your workload—if it could do that, I’d be marketing it as magic—but it will make it more manageable and more easy to handle when something inevitably does fly off the handle.

Slowing down doesn’t have to be a big thing: I started off by simply spending thirty seconds before work just preparing myself (tucking away iPod headphones, straightening my shirt, all that jazz) so that when I walked in, I didn’t look like a total klutz who had just nearly spilt a hot drink down himself while trying to get said headphones untangled. After a while, though, taking a minute or two out for composure started to be pretty good; I got to relax for a bit before work started, even finish a song on my iPod and think about the day ahead. I was more prepared, calmer and more at ease with everything that was going on.

Just try it if you don’t believe me: next time you’re at work or stuck in traffic or at home, just consciously decide to go a bit more slowly. Even if it means you’re an extra five minutes in the shower or in the supermarket, slowing down forces you to become more conscious of what you’re doing. We’ve all been there where we’re rushing around and we end up with the wrong orders, doing the wrong thing—you get what I mean. Take things a bit slower on the other hand and you’re much less likely to burn your hand on the toaster or pick up regular milk for your lactose-intolerant buddy.

I’m not even saying you have to do it all the time. It’s unrealistic and unreasonable—we’re not all living in zones of serenity and zen twenty-four hours a day—but even if you do it for an hour, or even thirty minutes, chances are those thirty minutes will be a haven of peace and calm for you; a time when you’ll feel like you can take on the world without breaking stride or even sweating.

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Rule no. 3 – Be Grateful and Gracious

The final, and perhaps most important rule of the whole thing, is this: be grateful. It might seem a strange thing to do but believe me when I say that being grateful for everyone you have in your life and then reflecting that outwards will be not only a fantastic step for all those around you, it’ll make you graceful.

Not that I’m saying you’re not an awesome, considerate person—you probably are—but when your inner monologue is running around at full speed, full of caffeine-fuelled panic and anger, it’s so easy to lose track of the big picture when someone cuts in front of you at the coffee shop or you get soaked by a driver while walking past a puddle. Things that annoy the hell out of you and ruin your day.

The instant reaction? Fury. Annoyance. Frustration. Sadness. Resentment. And a lot of time it is truly, truly justified: if someone does something truly terrible to you, then go ahead and call them out on doing that thing. Loudly. Angrily. But when its the little annoyances, the ones that, while not affecting your body, mind or spirit, just make your day a little less bright and awesome, it might be worth dealing with them by accepting that things could, simply, be worse.

Being grateful isn’t just looking on the bright side of life—it’s knowing that right now in the moment, you are exactly where you’re meant to be and accepting that while things right now might not be fantastic, you’re gonna be fine. The most graceful people in the world are the ones who are centred in the moment and able to be grateful for what is going on in your life.

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Think of how Audrey Hepburn acted during her tumultuous personal years: she had bad marriages, a miscarriage, and other personal problems, but always managed to be graceful by being aware of all the good things she had in her life: her children and her friends and her talent.

 

In the end, being graceful is more than just being kind or chilled out or happy or all the time. Being graceful, or adopting a graceful attitude, is about both dealing with anything life can and will throw at you, and dealing with it with the best tools available to you: kindness to yourself and to others, taking time to be conscious and in the moment, being aware of the good in your life, and choosing to act with that in mind.

Practising these rules on a daily basis is tricky. Some days I’m angry and unfocused and some days I don’t want to be graceful, but I want to keep on trying to be a better person, for myself and my friends and my family, and if practising gracefulness in its truest form helps me do that, I’m more than happy to try.

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More by this author

Chris Haigh

Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".

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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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