Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

Public Speaking: When Running is Not an Option

In Psychology, Psychology of Success, Psychology Today, Public Speaking, Self talk, Success, Visualization on September 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

public speaking - scared

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Roger’s palms are dripping, his breath is hurried and his heart feels as if it is thumping in his chest. He feels a sense of danger but doesn’t know what to do. He has a case of the ‘butterflies’ and it has his stomach tied in knots. Roger has heard of the term ‘knees knocking’ but now it has special significance. Running is not an option, neither is fighting, so what will Roger do and how can he lessen these feelings in the future?

These are some of the symptoms that people have to deal with when they have to speak to audiences. I know this because one of the courses I teach is public speaking and students privately and publicly share that they have these experiences all of the time.

Recently, after a class, I had a number of students approach my desk. It was about the usual; tardiness, missed assignments or to confide, inches away, that they had a communicable illness but felt they couldn’t miss any more classes. One student, however, actually wanted to discuss a topic dealing with public speaking. He glanced around sheepishly and then asked, “How do you deal with anxiety about speaking in public?”

It is a question that college students often ask, but the concern is common to all of us. So I would like to share some quick fixes as well mid to long-range solutions to lessening anxiety and improving your ability to speak in front of an audience.

Most Fear Isn’t Visible

Many people are nervous about public speaking because they believe that their body will betray them. They feel that cool and casual demeanor that we all tend to display when we are out and about will not stand up to public scrutiny. Well, a quick tip is that many of the indicators of fear cannot be detected by the naked eye. Shortness of breath, ‘knees knocking,’ increased hear rate, ‘butterflies,’ enlarged pupils and sweaty palms cannot be detected by an audience.

To a large degree the cracking of voices or shaking of hands can’t be seen either. When a student tells me their voice cracked during a speech I immediately ask the class if they heard it. I have never had a class say they have. As far as hands shaking is concerned, I advise people to keep papers out of their hands and rest them on the podium if they begin to shake so others will not be able to see it.


Nothing provides a quicker boost of confidence than being prepared to give a speech. Scouting out your audience in advance, writing your speech well before the delivery date and practicing it numerous times reduces an enormous amount of pre-speech jitters. Why? Because you know you’ve done everything in your power to be ready for the experience.

Positive Self-Talk and Visualization

Although the fear that most people have of public speaking isn’t serious enough for them to visit a psychologist that doesn’t mean that psychological theory can’t be used to reduce anxiety. Psychologists Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck were pioneers of cognitive therapy and both believed that you could talk yourself into a negative or depressive state with irrational logic. And with public speaking many people make themselves nervous through terrible reasoning.

What we say to ourselves matters. So when you know that you have to deliver a speech it is best to go ahead and begin to mentally prepare for your success. Think about times when you have successfully spoken before a group of people or a sizeable audience. Imagine how hard it would be to fail when you have prepared thoroughly. Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen and what could you do to counter it. If you feel that you are going to swallow constantly or develop dry mouth you could bring a bottle of water. If you think you will forget your speech you can reason that it would be hard to do if you have well prepared notes and prompts.

Additionally, visualize a successful and pleasant experience. Think about what would make your experience ideal and prepare and practice so that reality will match your internal visualization.

Systematic Desensitization

This last piece of advice requires a lot more effort but it is worth it for individuals who will have to speak to a lot of audiences in the future. If this is the case, it is best not to just wing it until you get the hang of it. Instead, you should be proactive. Join a class, group or organization that teaches public speaking.

Being involved in a class or group gives you the opportunity to gain repeated exposure to an audience in a positive and constructive environment. It allows you to gradually reduce anxiety and increase your skill set at the same time. In the classes that I teach students get at least 30 opportunities to come before a group and work on almost every aspect of public speaking. Within a few weeks the biological response commonly known as ‘fight or flight’ syndrome becomes manageable and within a few months anxiety and nervousness is not an issue at all.

Public speaking anxiety is real but so are the methods to reduce it.


Nicholas Cage, Predicting the Future and why Problem Solving is not the key to Success

In Psychology, Psychology of Success, Success on July 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Nicholas Cage has starred in two movies, Knowing and Next, where he played characters that could predict future events. In both cases, that ability hurt his characters more than it helped. —- However, the next person I want to discuss has also been privy to the future, but his talent has helped him and others enormously.

John Naisbitt, following his daily routine of buying a New York Times from his newspaper vendor, had an epiphany. As he looked around he noticed a lot of newspapers from other cities. He had a sudden thought. If you understood what was going on locally in all these places, then you would understand what was going on in the world. Not only that, but you could predict the future through trends, patterns and events.

Soon thereafter, he quit his IBM job and used his last check to fund a new company. This was in the 1960s. With the help of hired hands, they would comb through 160 newspapers each day and (along with other methods) they would predict what would happen in certain markets, industries or parts of the globe. His talents were so respected that he would go on to have as clients, U.S. presidents, government officials, industry leaders and CEOs. You may have heard of his book, Megatrends published in 1982, where he predicted our shift to an information economy, the focus on a global economy, the increasing role of technology in our lives and “participative democracy.”

In his most recent book Mindset, he provides a nuanced discussion on how he was able to be so successful in determining the ‘future’ without having a shred of psychic ability. 

“Future Embedded in the Present”

I won’t share his entire argument, but I will share some important points. Naisbitt constantly stated that the “future is embedded in the present” and “the seeds (of that future) are all around us.” He elaborated by saying that patterns, trends an present directions are being forecast all the time. But, you have to start developing the habit of looking at the big picture by focusing on many smaller pictures. A similar approach would be the way his organization studied 160 city and international newspapers each day to understand what new developments were just around the bend.

Knowing the Score

Naisbitt also asserted that many people keep up with all the happenings of issues but don’t really know the “score.” He used sports as an analogy to emphasize that in games we play, we keep clear records. If we see the results of a tennis match we can say with absolute “surety” what player won how many games in a set and sets in a match. However, if we try to understand an issue outside the realm of sports, many things become fuzzy. People say they win when they have lost and vice versa. Naisbitt discusses a term used by economists called “revealed preferences” where consumers tell you one thing, but behave differently when you observe their spending habits and purchases. Developing the ability to know the “score” is a talent that can help you measure real progress and can help in a number of ways. 

But what good is obtaining this type of information if you can’t do anything about it?

Well, one of Naisbitt’s final points is that “you don’t get results by solving problems, but by exploiting opportunities.” No, Naisbitt is not saying that we should ignore real issues that have to be addressed, he is stating that if you have a strong grasp on where something is headed you can capitalize by ‘setting up shop’ before everyone else. One of his quotes is, “Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction they are going.” 

In Mindset, he points out that some things do change but most remain the same and that “almost all change is evolutionary, not revolutionary.” By understanding what is “constant” and what is capable of being changed (and at what pace) we may be  better able to take advantage of opportunities that could lead to massive success.

Who is Martin Seligman and what does he have to do with your Happiness?

In Psychology, Psychology of Success, Success on July 24, 2009 at 7:25 am

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Martin Seligman claims that when he used to fly on airplanes and a seat mate would ask what he did for a living, they would lean away when they found out he was a psychologist. That was over two decades ago. Now, Seligman says, when he tells people what his profession is they “lean forward.” 

What’s the reason behind the dramatic change?

Well, the history of psychology has been one that focused heavily on depression, neurosis and psychotic behavior. For a very long time Freudian psychoanalysis, based largely on unconscious sexual issues, the focus on schizophrenia, concerns on animal experimentation, etc., has affected the general public’s perception of psychology.

Besides, who wouldn’t be a little leery of someone they think could put them in a strait-jacket?

Seligman, who specialized in abnormal psychology, reversed course in the early 90s and decided to use his expertise in a different way. What if psychology could be used to improve the lives of the average person? Average being people whose daily lives aren’t crippled or constantly disrupted by their own neurotic or psychotic behavior. 

Seligman is credited with creating positive psychology. Which according to Lynda Warwick, Ph.D., focuses on human behavior that encompasses “well-being,” “happiness” and “being a functional member of society.” His book, “Authentic Happiness,” which discusses these concepts in detail, is what truly propelled him to fame. Seligman discovered that those who were tested as the happiest among us, the “very happy” as author Tom Butler-Bowdon describes it, socialize more than those who score in the average range for happiness or those considered depressed. 

Money, power, status and many of the things people believe the more they have, the happier they would be, are just not good predictors of how happy people are. The predictors of high levels of happiness in Seligman’s research were involvement with many groups and high levels of interaction with other people. Married couples report higher levels of happiness than those who are divorced or separated. Single people who have lots of social activity are happier than singles who are not very socially active, etc.

Disclaimer: Seligman, in a speech at the TED Conference notes that very high levels of happiness and high levels of social activity are “correlated” (positively) but social activity is not necessarily the cause of happiness.

That aside, I would say cultivating social relationships to increase (or maintain) happiness is worth a shot. There is no use having success if you can’t enjoy it.

Beat the Competition: Practice when you Sleep!

In Brain, Goal Setting, Neurons, Psychology, Psychology of Success, Sports Psychology, Success on July 12, 2009 at 6:48 pm


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Let’s say there are two piano players, Jim and Bob. In their individual lessons their instructor, Leslie, tells them a position is opening up in their city’s orchestra. Who gets it will be based on 5 songs they must play before judges. She gives them the sheet music for the competition and sends them on their way.

At this moment they are equal in skill and ability and neither Jim nor Bob has ever practiced the songs they are given. They dive with equal fervor into their preparation. Unknowingly, both adopt the same training regimen and practice an equal amount of time. However, this is where their similarities end. Jim and Bob are two very different people in one key area. Jim has always been very disciplined about going to bed early and insuring that he gets 8 hrs of sleep. Bob is a night owl and stays up late watching TV and reading books.  He usually gets 5 hrs of sleep each night.

However, if Jim and Bob’s training methods and length of training are exactly the same why is it more likely that Jim would perform better at the competition than Bob?

According to, “Your Brain: The Missing Manual,” Bob is missing out on a precious benefit gained during sleep that would boost his piano playing ability.  That precious gift is the brain reviewing the previous day’s activities and increasing the ability for Bob to perform those actions better the next time he tries them.

As we practice any activity neural pathways are created that help the brain to remember how to perform the action at a later date. Each time we perform a particular task the pathways become a stronger series of networks that can help us get the job done.  This apparently happens even when we’re sleeping.

So by sleeping three more hours Bob would perform just as well as Jim?

Most likely.

But there’s a catch to improving performance by sleeping. It has to occur during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. That is one of four stages of sleep we cycle through throughout the night. It is also the deepest level of sleep. If Bob does not cycle through the REM stages then he can’t reap the benefits.

The author of “Your Brain,’ Matthew MacDonald, cites two studies, one involving rats and the other humans that demonstrate the effectiveness of REM sleep in improving our ability to conduct tasks we perform during the day. In a study (2001), rats who had “electrodes implanted” in their brains were sent through a series of mazes. Their neuronal activity was “recorded.” When the rats later fell into REM sleep those same neurons fired in the same way as if they were running the mazes.

Another experiment, conducted by Robert Strickgold (Harvard Medical School) in 2000, was where human subjects were asked to play Tetris for 7 hours a day. Participants were observed while sleeping and awakened during their REM cycles. Many of the test subjects were indeed dreaming of playing Tetris (17 of 27). MacDonald goes on to say that in these types of studies, subjects who are prevented from going into REM sleep do not perform as well as others who are allowed REM sleep when learning “new tasks.”

Sometimes succeeding in something boils down to small advantages. We can only practice for so long or in so many ways. If I can gain an edge through a relaxing deep sleep, someone please, hand me a pillow.

Find out 101 more ways you can ‘beat the competition’ 🙂 in Dr. Akil’s groundbreaking new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.

Rewire your Brain

In Brain, Neurons, Psychology of Success, Success, Uncategorized on June 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. 


Understanding the brain can provide another approach to how we can achieve success. In the book, “Brain Rules,” John Medina, a molecular biologist, provides fascinating explanations detailing how our brains work. He discusses the way we learn, how what we learn is processed and how that process leads to us becoming very unique individuals.


According to Medina, when we perform an activity we have neurons in our brain that pass along information through synaptic clefts (imagine a waterway) to other neurons. As we continue to do the same type of activities these connections become stronger. These neurons split at the ends and form new connections and each time you repeat an activity it becomes easier the next time you try. The brain creates neural pathways to assist you in your tasks.


Whether it is a motor skill or memory recall, repetition is the key. It leads to a more complete and thorough brain wiring. Therefore, if we want to be excellent at something, we have to do a few key things for our brains to cooperate. Those things are:


Perform the action properly

Perform it many times; and

Perform the action regularly


We can literally wire our brains for success. When looking at achievement in this way, excelling becomes a matter of learning something right the first time, practicing religiously and keeping it up after a level of excellence is achieved. 


Need a playbook for success, a game changer? Then purchase Dr. Akil’s new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.

The Power of Asking

In Psychology of Success, Success, The Power of Yes or No on June 18, 2009 at 12:04 am


Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

“Excuse me. May I have your seat?” 

In 1975, this is the question the late psychologist Stanley Milgram instructed his graduate students to ask when they ventured into New York subways. Wanting to explore the “hidden rules” that undergird our public interactions, Milgram had his students ask strangers to give up their seats. They were told not to provide an explanation or any other information. 

Some of you may know the story. But for those who don’t an astounding 68% of the people said yes. They either got up or scooted over. Either way they vacated their seats. The New York Times conducted a similar, but unscientific and quite smaller study in 2004. Their reporters claimed 13 of 15 people gave up their seats when asked. Not bad numbers at all!

This brings me to my point. We never quite know what answer we will receive until we ask. There is no use belaboring over what someone will say or what will they do, because often we just don’t know. 

Now of course tens of thousands of people who’ve taken a psychology course in the last 30 years may say this is nothing new. However, consider the shock it caused among those who found out in 1975. In big, bad New York City, subway riders of all types would give up their seats if asked politely.

Sure, who knows why they did it. They could have thought the person asking was a little ‘disturbed’ or sick. Or they could have done so as an act of kindness. And to be fair the graduate students and even Milgram stated, and I’m paraphrasing here, that they were very uneasy before and after people said yes. (The fact that they had no real reason to ask other than the application of a psychology experiment most likely triggered those feelings.)

Regardless, this study demonstrates that people may be open to giving you what you want. You just have to ask first.

Bakari Akil has a question for you. Will you buy his book? 🙂 Dr. Akil never runs out of ideas in his riveting new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize yout Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.