The last two months, I was preparing for a presentation that I recently gave at the Colorado Association of Addiction Professionals Conference. http://www.caap.us/
The presentation was entitled “Eating Disorders, A Hidden Addiction”. When I was presented with the opportunity to co-present, I immediately jumped at it! It is one of my professional goals to speak at conferences, and this was the perfect chance to get my feet wet. I knew I would be nervous, but I thought I would be able to handle it since I’ve presented at and spoken in front of many high school and college classes.
As the weeks went by and the date became closer, that familiar “friend” known as fear became ever more present in my thoughts. Any time I thought about the presentation, I thought about all the ways I could and would FAIL. I pictured myself at the front of the room tripping and falling my face. I pictured myself slurring my words and people throwing tomatoes at me to get off the stage. I pictured someone asking me a question that I would not be able to answer, and all the professionals in the audience would scorn and frown at me thinking how big of an idiot I was. Yes I thought ALL of these things on a daily basis. And yes, I am a therapist and I help other people learn to deal with their uncomfortable and intrusive thoughts. Just because I help others, does not mean I do not have some of my own thoughts that I’d rather not have.
In the past, prior to learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy http://contextualscience.org/act, I always tried to run from my thoughts. Whenever I had an intrusive thought I would try to replace it with positive self talk. For example, while thinking about my presentation and having all the aforementioned thoughts about falling on my face I would instead say to myself “You’ll be fine! None of these things will happen to you. You are smart and everyone will be able to see that during your talk.” This would usually work for a minute or two, but any time I became less conscious of controlling my thoughts, the other, more intrusive thoughts would come back. No matter how many times I tried to make these thoughts go away, they would always come back. It was maddening!
For this presentation, I used all of the techniques on myself that I use with my clients. My mantra for this presentation was “Feel the Fear, Do It Anyway”. Every day, especially the week leading up to the presentation the thoughts became more and more intrusive. They were not only present during the day, but they also came out to play at night while I was trying to sleep! When I had these thoughts, instead of trying to fight them, or change them, I accepted them. I accepted that I was having them even though I didn’t like them. I literally spoke to these thoughts and said “I hear you loud and clear. There you are my old friend fear of failure. You can hang out for a while if you want, while I continue to move forward in the preparation for my presentation”. Also, I reminded myself that I was not yet giving the presentation, so in my present state there was nothing I could about the possibility of tripping in front of everyone. Reminding myself of this helped to bring me back to the present and reduced my anxiety.
When the day of the presentation came I kept repeating, “Feel the Fear, Do It Anyway”. If I could show myself that I could feel scared, but yet ACT in the service of my values, then I am living the life I want to live. Was I nervous during the presentation? YES! Did I still do it? YES!
The things we really want in life don’t always feel good in the moment. My clients often come to me because they feel anxious, depressed, lonely, scared, or afraid, and they want to change how they feel. Usually we think that if we feel differently, we will be able to act differently. However, it is usually the opposite. Once we act differently, we have proven to ourselves and showed our brains that we can do something different, and only then do we feel different.