Most people, when they decide to change something in their life, start reading promising self-help books, participating in online discussion boards, and connecting to those who have similar challenges.
This is good; however, even though the books you read and conversations you have may fire up your enthusiasm and help you gain deeper understanding, your deeply rooted, well-conditioned responses often remain the same.
To bring real and lasting changes to your life, you have to do something. If people could change just from reading books, we all would be slim and wrinkle-free, with fat bank accounts. However, those who choose the road of doing may discover that this road has many very hard bumps and is not so easy to follow.
When you decide to start doing something to get yourself unstuck, there are a few things to consider. First, whatever you were doing until then was your strategy that worked. Yes, it caused you pain, but you were getting by. You survived your childhood, you progressed through your adult years and you built some relationships.
Whatever new behavior you want to develop will be terra incognita. You have no experience doing it. You have no maps in your mind for this way of thinking. And you may expect to bump into many sharp corners as you wander in the dark.
Your friends and family, even though they wish you well, may be overprotective and try to talk you out of investing your effort in something that may not work. They may comment on peculiarities of your new behavior. They may make jokes without realizing that they hurt. And they may unconsciously create an environment in which your old behavior will flourish. Be ready.
Since old habits usually die hard and new habits may take time to master, you may expect to fall on your face. A lot. And no matter how many times you may tell yourself that you are ready for this, it hurts. A lot. Learning to fly while battling family inertia and suffering from a bruised ego may be too much for one individual. This is why it is vitally important to find your big pile of hay.
If after you decide to face your fear you fall on your face and discover that it hurts, then it’s time to start searching for a soft landing place. Whether you stutter or not, if you are serious about letting go of struggle and unblocking your speech, I suggest joining Toastmasters.
There are many reasons why Toastmasters clubs are so helpful when you start building new speaking habits. First of all, Toastmasters are not your family and they do not have deeply ingrained beliefs about you. You, on the other hand, do not exhibit habitual behaviors around them. Toastmasters, as a rule, are friendly and forgiving people. They love to watch a new member blossom, and for many seasoned Toastmasters, listening to the speech of a shaky and trembling beginner is much more rewarding than witnessing that of a polished professional.
As you may already know, it is impossible to talk yourself out of fear of speaking. You can’t just say, “Don’t be silly, there is nothing to be afraid of.” However, if you keep reminding yourself that your Toastmasters club is a big pile of hay, not Carnegie Hall, you will find it easier to immerse yourself in speaking experiences, take risks, and challenge yourself.
The key is to remember that nothing really bad can happen: You won’t die. You won’t be fired. And there is a good chance that whatever mistakes you make, in two or three weeks no one will even remember them.
What is important to remember is that when you are battling deeply ingrained, strong-rooted habits, consistency is the key. In a club like Toastmasters, you must commit to attending meetings every week, and you must take speaking roles every meeting. You must give a speech every four to five weeks. Above all, you have to make sure that every time you speak, you stretch yourself by stepping out of your comfort zone. If your only concern is to look good, you won’t take risks and you won’t practice new ways of speaking. As a result you will keep practicing your old ways, reinforcing old habits.
When I was young, I loved reading Dumas. In one of my favorite books, The Forty-Five Guardsmen, there was a king who was afraid of combat. Finally, one of his advisers suggested that he should go into a battle while being afraid. And the more terror he felt inside, the more daring courage he should show on the outside.
Cursed body,’ murmured Henri, ‘ah! you fear, you tremble; wait till you have something to tremble for.’ And striking his spurs into his horse, he rushed onward before cavalry, infantry, and artillery and arrived at a hundred feet from the place, red with the fire of the batteries which thundered from above.
This cowardly king was the King of Navarre, who later became the legendary King Henry IV of France, known for his bravery and strong spirit.
If you want to succeed in Toastmasters, approach it like King Henry IV.
One of my favorite speakers, Patricia Fripp, said, “Habits are like train tracks. They take a while to get into place. Then they will take you wherever you want to go.” I add to it that unhelpful habits are also like train tracks. If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you are just reinforcing your old train tracks.
All the books in the world won’t be able to remove your fear or unblock your speech, unless you start doing something to establish a new pattern. There is a difference between wanting your toy train to go in a different direction and actually reassembling the tracks.
Remember, getting out of your comfort zone means it should hurt a little. If you are fully comfortable, stretch yourself more. If you fail, make sure you fail gloriously and with a loud bang!
When you start recognizing failures and setbacks as learning opportunities you’ll find Toastmasters or a similarly supportive public speaking club a perfect springboard for your daring leap into your new life filled with exciting opportunities for growth and enjoyment.