Friday, November 27, 2015

Nerves, anxiety and controlling your “What If?” thoughts

This blog post in just one line: Get control of your mood, mind-set and mental performance by learning to focus on “What IS?” instead of “What IF?”

Remember: nervous symptoms are natural

When you’re nervous, you experience a range of challenging symptoms: physical, mental, psychological and emotional. These symptoms are natural and predictable, even if they do feel far from normal when you’re going through them. That said, they’re usually temporary and they CAN be managed quite quickly if you learn how (check out my “RUM” post for help).

But what if you don’t, or can’t manage these symptoms early on? As I always say: left unmanaged, nerves will ALWAYS get between you and your goal.

The tipping point between nerves and anxiety

If it’s something you’re REALLY nervous about, then these symptoms can combine into a kind of perfect storm that brutally grabs you from your place of uncomfortable (but manageable) nervousness and throws you into a darker place of anxious distress. A place where you can feel pretty powerless and out of control of your thoughts.

This tipping point is different for everyone, but when you reach a state of anxiety, it’s much harder to shake off than regular nervousness. Instead of a temporary flush of adrenaline, it sticks around for quite a while and your sleeping is affected, you might lose your appetite, you can’t think straight and your mood is probably subdued and unpredictable.

So, what’s happening?

Put simply, your brain has been hijacked. Your rational thoughts are no longer in control and your inner soundtrack becomes scared, negative and critical. Worrying questions have started to creep in and you begin to fixate on all the worst possible outcomes of whatever event you feel is “looming over you”. This is no longer a case of normal nervousness – you’re in a state of distress.

It kind of makes sense why our brain does this, though. Think about it: something (like your fear of public speaking) has presented an imagined threat. It’s your brain’s job to keep you safe, so it acts as though the threat is real and orders the release of adrenaline to prepare your body for survival. Sounds fair enough to me! And usually, when the threat passes or subsides, so does the adrenaline and you return to your normal state. 

But your brain is just an organ. Flesh and blood and electric impulses and so on. As humans, it’s our mind, i.e. our thoughts, that causes us the problem. If your MIND continues to transmit danger signals (like the robot from Lost in Space: if you remember this, you’re getting old!), then your BRAIN will keep triggering the adrenal response, just like it’s supposed to.

So, you’re basically thinking yourself into a state of anxiety. 

The anxious mind only knows one phrase: “What if?”

If there was one phrase I’d use to capture the anxious mind, it’s “What If?”

If you’re in an anxious state, you’re continually imagining what could go wrong, no matter how far-fetched it might seem to others:
  • What if … I forget my lines?
  • What if … I trip and fall on the way up?
  • What if … my mouth goes too dry?
  • What if … my brain goes completely blank?
  • What if … no one laughs when they’re supposed to?
  • What if … they DO laugh when they’re NOT supposed to?!

And, yes, I kind of understand this response too: thinking like this keeps us safe. It stops us taking risks. Keeps us focused on the small and the familiar. No danger there! Mission accomplished!

But thinking like that won’t help you to grow. Or to do a great job of your speech, presentation, or interview. Or whatever else is important to you, but at the same time a bit challenging.

As predicted, the unmanaged nerves have now planted themselves firmly between you and your goal.

The solution?

Well, even though your mind is what got you into this trouble, it’s your mind that will get you out of it. See, our thoughts are one of the very few things that are 100% within OUR control. We can decide what to think. It takes practice, but it’s totally true.

If you’re feeling anxious and you’re fixated on the many “What If?” scenarios, then remember:

"What IS?" beats "What IF?" every time.

Just like rock beats scissors or Dublin footballers beat everyone else (couldn’t resist!), it’s impossible to stay fixated on what might be when you fully pay attention to what really is.

So, if your inner soundtrack is stuck on the anxious questions above, discipline yourself to focus on real, concrete, positive statements instead:
  •  My speech will be burned into my brain like the lines of my favourite song. Anyway, I’ve been reading since I was a young child, so if it comes to it, I know I can manage to at least read it off the page. Problem sorted. 
  • I’ve walked up about a million steps in my life and I can only remember tripping on 2 of them. The odds are in my favour!
  • My mouth will DEFINITELY go dry, because I’ll be nervous and that’s natural. But I’ll make sure I have a mint and a glass of water to hand. And anyway, once I get through the first 30 seconds, the nerves will mostly disappear.
  • I’ve tested the speech on a friend and I know it’s good. And as long as I’m myself, people will enjoy it.
  • If something “off-script” DOES happen I can roll with it. I’m only human just like everyone else in the room. And feck it, it will at least give us a good story to laugh at one day!

Be ready to repeat them over and over. Whenever you catch your mind hi-jacking your brain, focus it back on the things you know to be true. The things you know you can control.

It also helps A LOT to talk to a friend, or a professional (ahem … perhaps you can even find an expert confidence coach?). And, for some of you, things may have gotten really extreme and you might even benefit from talking to a counsellor or therapist of some sort.

Getting the hang of mindfulness is a good solution too – after all, that’s all about focusing on what “IS” in the present moment, without attaching a dramatic story to it. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn describes it as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”.

The bottom line is you CAN take control and achieve your goal. (That’s a good line - someone really should use it as their tagline!).

Want more?

Watch this 4 ½ minute video of Jon Kabat-Zinn giving his definition of mindfulness. It’s good!
And don’t even get me started on Eckhart Tolle. He’s certainly a little “out there” and intellectual if you’re not familiar with him, and I’m really not a fan of Oprah, but this is still a good video – especially his brilliant answer to the first question!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Use R.U.M. to control your nerves!

Left unmanaged, nerves will always come between you and what you want to achieve. 

In a public speaking scenario, this means that your brain and your body will present big challenges that are difficult to overcome if you haven't learned how.

So, how do I help clients to control these nerves? I use R.U.M.

No, not rum, R.U.M!

When you're feeling nervous, you need to take 3 steps:

Recognise ... what's happening to your thinking, your body and your mood.
Understand ... why this is happening.
Manage ... the symptoms using solutions that work (that's where I come in!).

Step 1: Recognise

When nervous, we all experience a range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms. Unfortunately, many people (especially us men; sorry lads!) don't fully notice or pay attention to these symptoms, let alone question what's causing them.

And if you don't spot that something's wrong, you can't take steps to fix it.

Actions you can take:
When you are about to do something important (speech, interview, presentation, etc.), do a quick check-up by asking yourself these questions and writing down the answers: 
  • What am I noticing about my body?
    (Tension, headache, fast or shallow breathing, heart racing, mouth dry, shaky hands, etc.)
  • What am I noticing about my brain?
    (Can't remember my lines, finding it difficult to solve small problems, being creative is really difficult, etc.)
  • What am I noticing about my thoughts, mood & emotions?
    (Negative, cranky, panicked, depressed, being hard on myself, etc.)
These symptoms are usually worst immediately before the event, but they are often there in the days and weeks running up to the event, so pay attention to your body then too, e.g. is it difficult to sleep? Is your mood or sleep affected?  

Once you've completed this, you can move to Step 2...

Step 2: Understand

Ok, so now you've identified that, for example, your mouth is dry, you have tension in your shoulders and neck and are starting to feel panicky about how you'll perform and what people will think.

At this stage, there's a huge power to knowing WHY you are experiencing these things. The most important turning point for my clients is the moment they uncover the why behind their nerves.

They learn that they're not weirdos. They're not broken.  They haven't gone mad.

What's happening to them is the body's natural response to a threat. And it happens to you and me too. In fact, it's been happening humans for thousands of generations, since ancient times when life was much more dangerous.

When you're in danger, your body releases adrenaline (and a couple of other hormones). Its job is to prepare your body to defend itself (fight!), escape (flight!), or, with a bit of luck, to go un-noticed (freeze!).

The thing is, all the stuff you listed above as negative and unhelpful symptoms are actually VERY helpful - they're just happening to you at the wrong time. 

When making a speech, you're not in real danger - unfortunately, your brain just doesn't know the difference between a real threat that's happening in front of you ("Yikes! That bear has spotted me!") and an imagined threat that hasn;t happened at all yet ("I'm going to suck at this speech!").

there's a bit more to it, but for now, suffice to say that adrenaline is actually your friend. You just don't want your friends barging in and taking control of things when you have something important to do. 

Actions you can take:
  • Learn about the effects of adrenaline.
    (Both Google and I can help you here!)
  • Return to your list of symptoms above and try to link the symptom to the explanation: this will help you feel much better.
    (e.g. Feeling tense: my muscles are preparing to fight. Heart is racing: my muscles need more blood and oxygen so they can fight. Dry mouth: my digestive system is temporarily shutting down. And so on...)
So, you know you're normal. Yes, you understand the "why", but truth is, you're still feeling nervous! What can you do? Keep reading, that's what!

Step 3: Manage

At this stage, you've paid attention and labelled what's happening to your body and brain. Thankfully, you now also know why this is happening to you, which is a major step. Now, you need to actually make things better.

In truth, you're probably experiencing several of the symptoms mentioned above. But, luckily, if you focus on a couple of the main ones, the others will quickly subside or disappear when your body realises it's not actually in danger.

To manage the effects of nerves (i.e. adrenaline), I teach clients a range of physical and mental tricks, but to keep this post as brief as possible, these 2 physical solutions alone will work wonders for you:

  1. Lower, and relax your shoulders. I guarantee that, if you're under the influence of adrenaline, you are carrying tension in your shoulders.  By consciously relaxing them and dropping them as far as they go, your body is telling your brain: "Hey, it's cool ... see? I'm relaxed, so you can relax too!". 
  2. Exhale fully. Everyone tells you to take deep breaths, but forget that. Breathing in too fully, (especially the wrong way, i.e. into your chest and not your stomach) makes you more tense. So, don't worry about breathing in - that'll look after itself!  Instead, concentrate on fully emptying your lungs a few times. This also sends a message to your brain that you are in control and that there's nothing to fear. You'll notice that you start to relax and that your heart rate is starting to slow down.
Actions you can take:
  • If possible, practice the above, regularly, well in advance of your speech or event. Every once in a while, check whether your shoulders are raised up in a tense position: putting on the kettle? Check your shoulders. Typing at your computer? Check your shoulders. Go on, check them now ... I bet you can drop them at least a couple of inches!

Closing Thought

This has been just a short introduction to managing your nerves using my R.U.M. method. Although the insights above are a great start and will be enough for most people in most situations, you may need a bit more help.  That's why I designed the NoMoreNerves coaching programme. 

You can learn more about it by clicking here. Like my recent client, Tom, I can help you learn to manage your nerves and perform brilliantly :-)

p.s. If this has been useful for you, please share this post with your friends and spread the word that nerves CAN be fixed!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Tom nails his wedding speech!

I have to share this testimonial, because it shows what kind of turnaround is possible when someone looks for the help they need and is willing to practice a bit to build their confidence.

I saw Tom's speech, and he's not exaggerating, he really did nail it! In fact, he delivered it even better than he had in any of our practice runs.

As Tom says, he completed the standard 5 hour coaching programme, and together, we shaped a winning speech. But when the moment of truth comes round, my clients need to stand on their own 2 feet, and, because Tom did the work, he reaped the rewards and did himself proud.

Nice one Tom!

Here's what he very kindly shared with me in an email yesterday:


Absolute lifesaver!

This program is brilliant! My name is Tom, I'm a 32 year old tradesman (so excuse my amateur writing) and I got married August 2015. 

Before this the only experiences I had with public speaking were horrendous. The first was my Joint 30th birthday where my partner snatched the mic from me midway through because it was going so bad! And the second was my stag: 24 close mates and I still fumbled, couldn't string a sentence together, forgot to thank the best man and ended up just raising a glass and saying "thanks everyone". 

After each attempt I was kicking myself because I thought I prepared enough, but obviously not.

The idea of standing up in front of 130 people was weighing on me, all these people are coming to our day and I wanted to sincerely thank them for it and I want to be able to tell my new wife how much she means to me without sounding like an idiot. I needed help.

This is where Derek comes in, my brother (best man) put me onto him. Derek's programme is so simple but very effective. I had two sessions with him, the first was 2 hours breaking down everything got to do with a speech, like what is nervousness and how to overcome it, what is the formula for a good speech and delivery.

The second was around 3 hours on the actual speech. I had the foundation of one wrote out which Derek helped me tweak and word it in a way that flowed better, he's a genius at this. When we were happy with it we practiced it for an hour and he left. Simple.

When the day came I had prepared as much as I could I was still nervous but ready for it... and I absolutely nailed it if I do say so myself. I was getting compliments all night and I couldn't have felt better about it, all thanks to Derek's coaching.

I highly recommend this programme to anyone, even as a life lesson, it's given me confidence where I had none before and I want to thank Derek again for all his help, hes a lifesaver.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

One More Thing The Military Can Teach Us About Managing Nerves

I’ve spoken before about how we can learn from the military and wage war against stage-fright, but there’s one important aspect of military tactics that I didn’t mention in that post: reconnaissance.

What is “doing a recce”?
“Doing a recce” (pronounced ‘recky’!) is an important part of winning a battle and keeping everyone safe. 

This is where a small number of soldiers are deployed to go into enemy territory (or just to an area of importance) to gather useful, actionable intelligence. They move quickly and quietly, gathering data on things like the terrain, the weather, the enemy forces, their equipment, their strengths and weaknesses, possible dangers, and so on.  This information allows their leaders to make effective decisions on how best to proceed and achieve their mission.

Great! But what does it have to do with public speaking and taking control of your nerves?

Let me start my explanation by asking this question:

Which of the rooms below would make you more nervous?  

Of course, you can see ANYTHING through a negative lens if you don’t choose your thoughts carefully: e.g. even the empty room could give you a sense of foreboding and anxiety: “Will they turn up?” “What will they be like?” “Will they be able to hear me and see me?” “Will they listen!?”

But MOST people would say that the empty room is far less stressful than a room full of people. 

The benefits of doing a recce
The photos above are from a session I did a few weeks ago, with 100 MBA students. That’s a fair few people – all of whom were paying a lot of money to attend a prestigious programme, so it was important that the presentation went as well as possible.

So I made sure to arrive nice and early (that’s when I snapped the first photo). This is one of the most important tips I give to people making a speech or giving a presentation. 

Getting early access to the room has 4 very powerful benefits:
  1. You can check out the physical aspects of the room: size, layout, acoustics, etc.
  2. You can test the technology: sound systems, microphones, lighting, projectors, etc.
  3. You can settle in: After a few moments, your brain becomes more familiar and comfortable with your surroundings – it’s not an unknown threat anymore. So, the “fight or flight” response starts to ease off.
  4. You are there, calm and in control, and ready to greet the audience when they start to arrive. This means you can connect with them in small numbers, and you’ll see just how friendly and interested they (usually!) are – rather than viewing them as one large mass of scary humans.

And if you can’t get this “alone time” before the event?
Sometimes, you can’t be in the room before people arrive and you have to arrive and “perform” in front of an audience that’s already there. If this is the case, you have 3 options:
  1. See if you can suss the room out at some point in advance, e.g. that morning or the day before. This is usually easy if it’s a hotel (e.g. if it’s a wedding, there’s usually a couple of visits to meet with the wedding co-ordinator in advance).
  2. If you can’t manage this, then at least ask lots of questions beforehand – about the room AND the audience. This not only gives you the “actionable intelligence” you need, but has the added bonus of making you look like a professional who is checking on the details.
  3. See if you can be present in the room for a short while beforehand, e.g. from the previous coffee break. This helps not only to familiarise yourself with the setup, but you get to see how responsive the audience is (or not) with the speakers before you!

My 90:10 Rule
Just like the military, I don’t like surprises when I have a job to do. The unknown and the unexpected put big pressure on you to improvise – and it takes a LOT of practice to be good at improvising when it comes to public speaking.

There’s no such thing as a perfect speech, or even perfect planning, but I do have a strict rule for myself where I try to move as many things from the “unknown” list to the “known” list as possible – ideally aiming for 90% that is at least somewhat under my control.

And the remaining, unknown 10%?

Well, that actually becomes an exciting challenge, rather than a huge problem. When your brain has to work that extra little bit, it gives you more energy and alertness – and this comes through in your speech.

Use the tips above and you’ll have the confidence of the 90% to handle the 10%.  Your audience will be glad you did!

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Friday, September 25, 2015

5 Dangerous Phrases when you're preparing for a wedding speech

 Click to download the PDF
I can't count how many times I've heard these phrases!

I'll be at a wedding fair, or just chatting to someone I've met and, when they hear about NoMoreNerves, they turn and say to their friend, husband, father, etc. .."Oh, we've got that wedding coming up ... YOU should talk to Derek!"

And then, in AT LEAST 50% of cases, they'll come back with one of these phrases, and I'll be honest - it makes me REALLY worried!

It's not that I think EVERYONE is going to be nervous and needs my coaching. Of course not, but in my experience these phrases are usually a sign that the soon-to-be-speaker is not as prepared as they could be.

So, whether you're nervous or not, here's a freebie that will hopefully help you or your loved ones to be as prepared as possible for the big event.

(And don't forget to share it with someone who needs it! Thanks!)

Friday, April 11, 2014

3 Types of People

I confess that I stole this quote from Benjamin Franklin (I'm sure he wouldn't mind). I use it a lot because it's so relevant to the world of coaching.

3 Types of People -
"All mankind is divided into three classes: 
- those who are immovable; 
- those who are movable; and 
- those who move." 
Benjamin Franklin

For me, it's all about making a decision. Deciding to be open to new ideas, beliefs and experiences. Once that decision is made, a huge power and energy is unleashed which fuels you on the journey towards your goals.

When this happens my clients, it's like a switch that gets flicked and the results are amazing to see :-)

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Brenda Hired Some Help To Help Her Get Hired!

I received this testimonial today from a very recent client, so I'm going to shamelessly post it here to make me look good (hey, if I can't do it on my own blog, where can I do it!?). 

I enjoyed helping Brenda, because she was enthusiastic and hard working - she made sure to do the preparation and run-throughs beforehand, so she could let her personality shine through and focus on making a connection during the interview itself. After all, employers want to get a sense of WHO they might be working with, not just whether the candidate can do the job. 

I love working with people who are pushing themselves out of their comfort zone.  Over to you, Brenda!

"I got called for a job interview last month and, because it had been 10 years since my last interview, I was feeling extremely nervous. A friend recommended the company No More Nerves and when I called I spoke with Derek Carter.

As it was such a long time since my last interview I didn't know where to start in preparation for it. Derek told me to speak to the HR department, ask them what type of interview it was going to be and who would be interviewing me.   When I found out the type of interview I began my preparations.

I spoke to Derek about the job I was currently doing so when it came to practising examples of each of the competencies Derek was able to remind me about my daily duties and how to incorporate them into my answers. I felt extremely confident after meeting with him.

I spoke with him the night before the interview and he reminded of the key words to use when giving examples. He gave me great advice on how to present myself without being too over the top. The interview was a success and I felt it went really well. I couldn't believe how confident I felt when it was over.

I was asked back for a second interview and again I got in contact with Derek, he explained it would be a more detailed interview and sure enough it was a difficult interview but I managed to get through it and answered all the questions that were fired at me. I kept my composure and remembered Derek's advice that the interviewers were not there to catch me out.

In the end I didn't get the job, it was offered to someone who had more experience but I now feel I would be able to conduct an interview without the fear of messing it up.

I would highly recommend Derek & No More Nerves to anyone who has an interview coming up. My confidence has definitely grown and he made the process stress free. Thanks again Derek."

Well done Brenda - it didn't happen this time, but I'm glad you're ready to rock next time! I know you'll go from strength to strength :-)