Doubt sneaks into our lives slowly and gradually until suddenly we realize that it has consumed us. Doubt can interfere with even the best of marriages, sever the most talented career trajectories, rob the most brilliant creativity and shatter the most dedicated of drives. How is it that the seed of doubt alone can take down so much? Here are four important spheres of your life in which self-doubt can destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to create, and how to beat it.
1. The newlywed
Doubt about marriage is a proven harbinger for unhappy matrimony and divorce. As common as prewedding jitters may be, UCLA psychologists found that newlyweds who reported doubts before their wedding were two-and-a-half times more likely to be divorced four years later. Those doubters still married after four years reported being significantly less satisfied with their marriage than those who didn’t experience doubt. Once the seed of doubt is planted, it is nearly impossible to ignore. No evidence exists that problems stemming from doubt in a marriage ever go away – in fact, such problems have only been shown to escalate over time. As the trust is lost, so is the relationship.
Marital satisfaction varies from culture to culture and is largely dependent on the couple and the associated social support system they marry into. Some cultures help to prevent the risk of doubt by eliminating the opportunity for separation. In cultures where divorce is not a seemingly viable option, the question of “Will this last forever?” is not even a consideration. As a result, doubt is seldom a factor and these couples tend to experience longer-lasting marriages.
What can we learn from these cultures? Remember that you made a decision to spend your life with someone for sound, rational reasons. Your choice was logical, it is only your doubt that is worth questioning. Second-guessing is nearly impossible to prevent, but easy to overcome. The key is awareness. If you are able to recognize that doubt is our mind’s natural tendency to double-check that we are making sound decisions, then you are in the driver’s seat. You can choose to digest the emotion and remember the logic behind your choice. You are in control, not your doubt.
2. The artist
For the creative, self-doubt is enemy number one. A creative needs to express, not impress. If expression can inspire, resonate and uplift, the audience will respond with rewards in many forms, be they remuneration, accolades or applause. The key to fulfilling and purposeful art is to let the beauty and the emotions drive you, not to be distracted by how the work will be interpreted or received. If you allow the audience’s response to distract you, doubt will inevitably creep into the creative process and that will slowly but surely kill the artist in you. You are an artist – that’s all that matters. Trust your intuition and people will respond to your bravery and uniqueness. Let the finished product speak for itself.
3. The entrepreneur
Self-doubt can destroy the entrepreneur, who needs confidence to endure the highs and lows and the hesitation of others. Doubt diverts your attention from the necessary persistence it takes to succeed. Even if your innovation fails you, it is still worth a lot as you gain experience, and that experience serves as the seed for future triumph. As an entrepreneur, you are also setting the tone for all of your employees, whom you are asking to have faith in your guidance and ideas. Trust your talent. Be a solution-oriented thinker. If you foresee an issue in your business, don’t let self-doubt overwhelm you. Instead, develop a solution and move on.
4. The athlete
The marathoner can’t doubt her ability to cross the finish line, the pitcher can’t second-guess his fast ball, the quarterback can’t hesitate before passing the ball for the game-winning touchdown, and the wicket-keeper can’t doubt the techniques he uses to take the fielder’s throw and create that extra fraction of a second needed to run the batsman out. Self-doubt enables failure to become the inevitable. As an athlete, train until you have the confidence to win. Train enough that the doubt is no longer a factor. You have the ability to eliminate doubt by knowing that you’ve worked as hard as you can, that you’ve given it your all. Don’t think about what others are doing or how they will perform. Know yourself, trust your talent and know that you’re giving it all you’ve got.
Learn to doubt your doubt
We doubt so many facets of our lives, often without even realizing it. Sometimes we see dangers that are not there. Oftentimes, it isn’t until we’ve let doubt fail us that we “suddenly” realize what is broken. We fail to notice the gradual nature of doubt, and allow it to consume so much of our routines. Slowly, gradually, and then suddenly, doubt squanders us. Awareness of this habit can help prevent the devastation caused by self-doubt – recognize it and make a diligent effort to combat the uncertainty.
Learn to doubt your doubt. Having confidence in your doubt leads to more distraction and less productivity. Questioning your doubt can lessen its crippling impact and help you to regain focus. It is so easy to stop yourself before you even try. Be mindful of this habit and work diligently to break it. Remember that you have the control to overcome self-doubt. Always, always, doubt your doubt.
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: