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I was diagnosed with cancer last week

I was diagnosed with cancer last week

I want to tell you about my reaction when I was told I had colon cancer last week and how I have been dealing with the diagnosis ever since.  Not because I think you are particularly interested in details about my health, but because I did something very unusual—yet something anyone can learn to do, something that can eliminate suffering from your life.

Here’s the relevant background

I have been visiting an oncologist (a cancer doctor) regularly for over eight years because of an earlier diagnosis of a type of blood cancer.  That illness was never very serious and had been managed originally by a very healthy diet, alternative procedures like acupuncture, and a bunch of herbs and supplements.  Eventually the condition did get worse and my doctor recommended (and I agreed to) a course of chemotherapy that resulted in total remission.

When I visited my oncologist about three weeks ago for a normal checkup she noticed that all my blood work was back to normal, as she had expected, except for my red cells being abnormally low.  They were so low that I had anemia.  She explained to me that the red cells should have improved along with the other blood markers.  She said she wanted to run some addition blood tests to find out why.

There was an event: I had anemia.  I didn’t give that event any meaning.  In other words, I didn’t know anything for sure as a result of that event.

The new blood tests showed that my iron and certain other related blood markers were very low.  That was another event and I didn’t give it any meaning.

The doctor said the most likely cause of the results was internal bleeding, so she ordered a fecal occult blood test to check for microscopic blood in the stool.  That test was positive.  That was another event and I didn’t give it any meaning.

To find out the source of the bleeding she ordered a colonoscopy. The gastroenterologist who did the colonoscopy told my wife Shelly and me that the biopsy of two masses in the colon indicated colon cancer.  At that point we knew the source of the low red blood count, the iron deficiency, and the blood in my stool.

I also learned that if the cancer had not spread beyond the lining of the colon and it was removed surgically, the problem would be totally solved.  If it had spread to other organs, then the prognosis could be serious.  But all I knew for sure was that I needed a relatively simple surgery to remove the piece of the colon that contained the two malignant masses.  That was another event and I did not give it any meaning.

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And because, as I’ve explained on several occasions, virtually all feelings come from the meaning we give events and not the events themselves, I never got scared or upset in the least as I got each new piece of information about my condition.

But what if you were told your odds of survival were very low?

When I told Shelly I was writing this she warned me that some people might say: “Sure you’re not scared; you know you’ll probably be cured.  What if you discover the cancer has spread and the odds of you surviving were very low?”

I am in the process of arranging to have surgery in the next week or two.  My oncologist said that given all the information she has, the odds that the cancer has not spread and will be removed totally when the section of colon containing the malignant masses is surgically removed is 80%.  But I think that no matter what they find when the cancer is removed and analyzed, I probably will continue to give the pathology report no meaning.

I have gotten to the point where I am no longer attached to things, including my life, and, at the same time, I am incredibly passionate about my family and my work and all that I still intend to do until the day I die.

Create meaning consciously

How can I possibly be passionate if I have stopped giving meaning to events?  One criticism that has been leveled at the idea of living without giving meaning to events is that people without emotions would be robots, automatons.  They would cease to be human, as we understand human.

To begin with, I am not arguing that people should live without emotions.  I am simple stating that it is not necessary to live with the emotions that result from the unconsciously- and automatically-created meaning in our minds.  You can if you want to.  But there is an alternative approach.   It is possible to consciously create meaning when you want to.

Here’s how.  In a game we pretend that something is more important than something else.  If you get a little white ball in a hole hundreds of yards away with less “strokes” than someone else, you “win.”  Getting certain cards “beats” someone with other cards.  Amassing more property with houses and hotels than everyone else in Monopoly enables you to accumulate all the money and “win the game.”

In every game we make up the rules and then pretend that they are the “right” way to play.  And here’s the important part: When we “win” we are excited; when we “lose” we are disappointed.  In “reality” nothing has changed.  Our relationships, our work, our wealth, etc. are all the same.  And yet we can be passionate when playing a game.

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It is possible to play life as a game.  It is possible to give meaning to your family, to your work, to anything you want to give meaning to. On some level you know that you made up the meaning, but while playing the game of life you experience it as real.  And when you do, you can experience joy or sadness.

The difference between consciously creating meaning and thinking the automatically- and unconsciously-created meaning is real is that you can choose to remember you are playing a game at any time.  When you think your meanings are real, you are at the effect of them.  When you know you consciously made them up, you are not.  (For more details about playing life as a game see an earlier post, http://www.mortylefkoe.com/life_is_a_game/.)

You don’t need meaning to act

Another common fallacy is the argument that you need to give meaning to events in order to be motivated to act.  You do not.  If you got fired from your job, you would not have to see it as a disaster to look for a new job.

In fact, by not giving meaning to events—thereby eliminating the possibility of stress and upset—you are able to think more clearly about the best possible action to take to deal with the events.  Moreover, I and many others whom I’ve trained to dissolve meaning automatically have found that when we dissolve the meaning we have given to events we see more possibilities for action than we had seen before.

If I discover that my cancer has spread and that I only have a 5% chance of survival past five years, even getting that information would have no meaning.  And yet I would research every possible allopathic and alternative treatment that might help me survive.  I would intend to be one of the surviving 5%.

(In the past couple of days since writing this we discovered that the cancer in my colon has metastasized and spread to my liver.  I now have fourth stage colon cancer.  As a result the surgery was cancelled and I will be starting chemotherapy in a couple of days. I am still not giving meaning to my condition.)

How to deal with a doctor’s diagnosis

I remember reading 28 years ago in Dr. Bernie Siegel’s book, Love, Medicine and Miracles: “Accept your doctor’s diagnosis; ignore the prognosis.”  In other words, if a doctor’s expert opinion is that you have a specific illness, you probably do (but not necessarily).  But doctors can never predict for certain what will happen to you as a result of the diagnosis.  I realized many years later that a diagnosis is the event; the prognosis is meaning.

I read Dr. Siegel’s comment long before I became able to automatically dissolve the meaning I unconsciously and automatically gave events all day long.

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You can do it too

My purpose of describing how I’ve reacted to the recent changes in my health is not to brag or to imply I am enlightened or better than anyone else.  I would not reacted for most of my life the way I have recently.  For most of my life I gave meaning to events 20 to 50 times a day like almost everyone else does and I was upset and anxious much of the time.  I am telling this story because I learned how to stop giving meaning to events so consistently that I don’t give even a cancer diagnosis any meaning.  And, as a result, I have felt no upset or anxiety since my oncologist’s initial concern about my low red blood cell count.

There is nothing I am able to do now that you can’t learn how to do too.

Courage is highly overrated

Several friends who I told about the events I’ve just described said that I was displaying incredible courage.  Actually I’m not showing any courage at all.  Courage is acting in the face of fear; acting in spite of fear; not letting fear stop you.  I am not experiencing fear, so my ability to calmly think about what to do next and move forward is not a display of courage.

My friends’ comments made me think: If you are going to feel fear, it’s good to have courage so your fear doesn’t stop you. We look up to and want to emulate heroes, people who act with courage.

But there is an alternative that’s even better than courage: Eliminate the meaning that causes the fear so that you don’t have to act despite experiencing it.  If you put people who show courage on a pedestal as people to emulate, then you are saying, implicitly, that if you want to be a hero it is important to have fear that you can overcome.  If you don’t feel fear, you can’t act in spite of it and show courage.

Praising courage is part of a bigger cultural issue that assumes life is going to be difficult and praises people who learn from their “inevitable” unhappiness, their pain, and their sorrow.  If your life is miserable, you might as well learn from it, but actually, none of those unpleasant feelings are inevitable.

“You must be in denial”

Not too long ago I asked a friend for advice after telling him about a business setback I had experienced.  He assumed I was very upset and when I told him I wasn’t, he replied: “If you aren’t upset in this situation, you are in severe denial.”

Most people are convinced that it is impossible to live without at least some suffering.  Everyone knows that certain situations, like having a severe business setback or a cancer diagnosis, have to result in upsetting emotions.  The best we can do is show courage.

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During the last year or so I have rarely experienced negative feelings of any kind; as a result I feel virtually no stress and no suffering.

My purpose of writing this post is to say the common assumption that suffering is necessary is wrong.  A cancer diagnosis or any other “undesirable” situation doesn’t have to be scary.  Events cannot cause stress; only your meaning can.  In fact, although you can’t always control the events in your life, you can totally control your experience of life.

I’ve written extensively on how to use the Lefkoe Freedom Process to dissolve occurrings.  See especially http://www.mortylefkoe.com/important-improve-life/ and http://www.mortylefkoe.com/what-they-seem-2/.  You can also view my TEDx talk, “How to Stop Suffering,” where I walk the viewer through the process for dissolving meaning: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMdVM-t5kFs.

 

Thanks for reading my blog.  Please post your questions or comments on how a cancer diagnosis does not have to result in anxiety and how we can control our experience of life.  Disagreement is as welcome as agreement. Your comments add value for thousands of readers.  I love to read them all and I will respond to as many as I can.

If you want to help your friends who want to understand how to stop suffering by learning how to stop giving meaning to events, please share this blog post with them by using the buttons located below.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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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