The stories we make up about ourselves will either support us or derail us. And most of us are masters of enabling our Cranky Critic—you know, the one who lives inside our head and stomps on our dreams. Our Cranky Critic always sounds as if it has woken up on the wrong side of bed, murmuring sweet nothings, such as:
“I’m not smart enough.”
“I’m not slim enough.”
“I can’t cope anymore.”
“I’ll never be good at ________.”
“I’ll never make enough money.”
“I can’t pursue my dreams because ________.”
“Life is not meant to give us pleasure.”
“My duties prevent me from ________.”
The list is infinite. And the important mantra here is to keep reminding yourself that, indeed, these offerings are “sweet NOTHINGS!” Remember, too, that none of these complaints, excuses, facts hold any weight when we decide that this negative self-talk serves no one—least of all ourselves. Yes, I said decide.
For the attitudes we hold are choices. They may not always feel like choices because some of them have been ingrained since early childhood, and so we think we were born feeling this way. Some have been adopted as we rub up against the world and see that we fall short when compared to those whose life seems easy. But know that how we see the world, how we interact with others, how we cope with what life throws our way are all in our control. And that control is to be found in the stories that we circulate in our head and in our heart.
The stories that we tell ourselves—both positive and negative—will seep out in our interactions with others. And this applies whether we are speaking to one, to several, or to a room full of people. To illustrate my point, consider this:
Have you ever met someone, even briefly, and felt an ease, a genuine connection with that person for no reason at all? And conversely, have you ever met someone and been immediately turned off by their presence? In either case, your reaction may not have anything to do with what the person said but rather with how that person felt to you. The feeling within is what gets projected without—usually inadvertently. So, if you left that interaction not feeling good around that person, chances are that person did not feel good about himself.
A fable from the East tells of an emperor and a zen monk who came face to face for the first time. The emperor ruled over a kingdom that practiced Buddhism and the monk was eager to meet with him, looking forward to sharing tales of enlightenment.
But when they met, the emperor decided to test the monk by saying to him: “When you look at me, what do you see?”
“I see a Buddha,” answered the monk. And what do you see when you look at me?”
“I see a pig!” countered the emperor. Waiting to see the monk’s reaction, he said no more.
The monk pondered for a moment, then said:
“A Buddha sees a Buddha; a pig sees a pig!”
In the West, we speak of projection. We blame others for what is not right within ourselves. We complain about outer conditions when it is really the inner state that pains us. This is especially true when we contemplate any form of speaking in public. We are certain we will look foolish; forget what we want to say; reveal our inadequacies; the audience will see through us; they will be bored. And on, and on, and on . . . . This is the home turf of our Cranky Critic!
The fact is: NO audience shows up wishing to be bored. No one is out to get us. No one wishes us to fail and embarrass ourselves. They dread our worst nightmares as much as we do. They show up wanting to be engaged; wanting to be entertained; wanting to like us; wanting to be inspired.
What is required of us as speakers is not necessarily to be brilliant, articulate, and commanding: what is required of us is to be real, authentic, genuine. It is our humanity that connects us to those listening, not our brilliance. It is our joy and our passion that persuade, not our erudition. It is when we are having a good time that our audience has a good time, too. This seems so obvious when stated explicitly.
Why then do we have such a hard time believing it? (The Cranky Critic strikes again!)
The Cranky Critic perched on our shoulder, nay saying our dreams, creates a groove: and as this groove gets deeper, it becomes a bad habit—for some, an addiction. Bad habits keep us focused on our shortcomings and not our strengths. We are used to thinking negatively. It becomes our default position. And so I say to you: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got!”
Allow yourself to shuffle your thoughts around. Think instead of what excites you, what you love, what gets your juices flowing. Share that with your audience. Make your topic something you love, think of your audience as someone you love. Then it is inevitable: they will love you back. For you always get back what you put out.
In sum, passion conquers all: it will squelch the cranky critic, choking him off before he can open his mouth. Passion will stifle him just as he has stifled your dreams. When you allow your passion to speak, you produce such positive energy in yourself that those around you cannot help but be affected. Joy is contagious. So too, negativity. Think of your internal self-talk as a virus: you can infect others with your passion or your doubts.
The choice really is yours. Your own decision to pursue your passion is step one. But then follows the work (or should I say play). Being passionate about your message is mandatory, but so is a theme, and a point. Passion has a tendency to ramble; a talk needs to be designed. It needs to feel comfortable to the ear—not the eye. The good news is that once you have tapped into your passion, the rest falls into place naturally. I have seen this over and over again in my clients.
So the best advice I can offer you is to bury your own Cranky Critic. Whenever you hear those old, familiar tapes start to play, say to him: “Thank you for sharing. But I have other things to do right now.” Your critic will not enjoy being brushed aside and perhaps will clamor for more attention. But as with any stubborn child, stick to your position—even if Cranky Critic throws a temper tantrum. You will substitute a new habit for the old. The groove will be filled by joy, not fear. The joy will propel you forward, faster and faster, and before long, Cranky Critic will be left in the dust with no place to live.