psychologyofsuccess

Posts Tagged ‘Success’

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.

Preparation

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.

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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

piano-girl

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.

Yes Man, Socializing and Increased Health

In Networking, Psychology of Success, Success on June 19, 2009 at 11:30 pm

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Recently, I’ve been reading “Yes Man.” It is actually just as good as the movie, “Yes Man,” starring Jim Carrey. It had me laughing from the first few sentences and I was entertained throughout. One difference between the book and the movie though was that the movie was based in the US and the book in the UK. Another was the amount of time the book characters spent in pubs. The main character in the book, Danny, spent a lot of time socializing with friends, girlfriends and people he barely knew in watering holes throughout London.  

As I read, I kept thinking about a short article Daniel Goleman, author of “Social Intelligence,” wrote in 2008 comparing “the mental and physical health” between Americans (U.S.) and the British. Goleman asserted that U.S. citizens have higher rates of diseases such as diabetes and cancer, work longer hours and our wealthier citizens’ health is no better than the least wealthy of British citizens.

Why? 

He cites research that opines one contributing factor is that people in the UK place greater value on spending time in pubs rather than those in the US. In other words, socializing with their “neighbors.” This also leads to a higher number of friends and acquaintances which plays a role in overall mental health.

We all know that social networks mean that others are there if we need them and vice versa. But besides that and fun, how often do people focus on socializing as a tool for overall mental and physical health?

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.