One of the things I am grateful I get to share with students and audiences when I give presentations, is my personal struggle with anxiety. This is a subject that I only recently became comfortable sharing publicly.
For many years, I would sweat profusely in high-level professional situations and had to leave more than a few conferences out of sheer embarrassment. I also had a very real fear of public speaking that would give me cotton mouth to the point of not being able to speak when it was most important.
I still deal with a healthy level of social anxiety and feel that most people do. The important understanding there, is that it is healthy and normal. With practice and focus, our anxiety can be channeled into virtuous actions like asking questions and being interested in others, rather than worrying about what other people think about us (ego driven actions).These more virtuous activities are the ones that will bring us deeper connections with the people we interact with and more confidence in our day to day lives.
One of the most important events/lesson that came about during my struggle with social anxiety, was the discovery of Byron Katie and “The Work.” It is such a simple concept and one that I have found to be universally applicable to the situations where I struggled with self-doubt and non-productive speculation.
In its most basic form, The Work consists of four questions and a turnaround(s). For example, your statement might be “[Name] doesn’t think I am smart.” Find someone in your life about whom you have had that thought. Then take that statement and put it up against the four questions and turnarounds of The Work.
1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
*Turnaround – What is the opposite of the statement you are telling yourself… Is it true? (Can you absolutely know that it’s true?)
If you want to read more about The Work, you can buy Katie’s bestselling book “Loving What Is” where she first introduced The Work.
How It Helped Me:
One of the most common symptoms of social anxiety for me, was constantly evaluating how I was being perceived by my peers. “They think I am stupid for saying that,” “They think my skin is oily.” This type of speculation often led to self doubt and resulted in missed opportunities and me not showing up the way I would have liked in many social situations.
“The Work” was transformative for me because it gave me a systematic process that I could use to evaluate my internal statements/thoughts for what they were…SPECULATION and not reality. By merely forcing myself to acknowledge my thoughts for what they were, I was more capable of identifying their negative impact and choosing a more virtuous internal dialogue with myself.
Another great thing about The Work, is that it a short, simple process that you can use in any situation within seconds. Whether preparing work, giving a presentation or meeting someone at a bar…doing The Work will only take you ten seconds to run through.
So what is a negative statement or thought you have been telling yourself recently? Maybe it is about what someone thinks about your looks, or what one of your friends thinks about your intelligence, maybe is what your boss thinks about the work you are doing.
Pick one of those statements and run it through The Work. I’d be excited to hear what comes of it in the comments.