This weekend I did something completely new…I gave a professional seminar. In therapy, people do something new every day to improve themselves. As therapists, we know how hard doing something new is, but we often haven’t done anything outside our comfort zones too recently. It dawned on me that doing something new is exciting, but scary at the same time and because this is something we talk about in therapy all the time, my new activity was a time to reflect on change and going outside my comfort zone.
I have considered giving professional seminars for a long time (over a year). I talked about doing it, wanting to do it, going to do it someday, etc. I finally put one together, but left it at that for many months. About two months ago I contacted a hotel asking them if I could hold my seminar there and the cost for the room. Oh my, now my seminar was scheduled! I have to do it! I then went into preparation mode – reviewing the presentation, adding to it, finalizing it, figuring out how to market it, figuring out how to get continuing education credit for it, figuring out all the equipment needed. It was a huge undertaking. Then, I slowed down on how much I was preparing for it. I didn’t review my presentation anymore, and only did a bit of work on it here and there. Two weeks before my seminar, I said “AHHHH! 2 weeks!!! I pulled out the presentation and really started working on it. This was definitely not enough time! In the end, it seems I did well on the seminar. Everybody seemed to have positive remarks and there weren’t too many negative remarks. Everybody said they would recommend the seminar to others. I am currently in the process of self-evaluation (reviewing the recording and thinking about what I can do better next time).
Putting on this seminar was a huge deal. It was not a small task and took a lot of courage. I can talk very quickly, especially when nervous or passionate about the topic. I had to put a great deal of effort into making sure my voice was slow and loud enough for everyone to hear. I also talk with my hands. Something else I need to keep under control. Additionally, I did not practice as much as I probably should have, so I had to look down at my notes, but not read from them…a third thing to keep track of. Finally, I’ve talked a great deal about the importance of staying calm…keeping your breathing calm and muscles loose to stay out of fight/flight when anxious. I had to keep track of my body. So, all in all, I had to speak this presentation while keeping track of several aspects of me (voice control, gesture control, eye contact, and staying relaxed). Imagine the effort I had to put into all of this!
Ok, maybe you don’t have to imagine too hard. Many of you struggle with anxiety and completely understand the difficulty in staying calm in situations that are outside your comfort zone. I wanted to share this story because I always practice what I teach and this is a recent example. I cannot possibly expect my clients to practice these skills if I do not myself. I need to know some of the difficulties in using the techniques, some of the barriers, some of the reasons it may not work and how to overcome them. Probably the most important reason to me is I need to be 100% sure that what I teach actually works.
My presentation was on preventing burn-out. In essence helping therapists maintain the passion they came to this field with by taking care of themselves to not be drawn down by client stories and the work environment every day. The skills we as therapists use to maintain passion and the ability to listen to clients and deal with the stressors of the work environment every day are the exact same skills I teach to my clients. Self-regulation and relaxation skills help us and are tools we should be using daily, just like you. Self-regulation skills (breathing techniques, muscle relaxation, etc) can be done in the moment and don’t take you out of your daily routine. During my presentation, I constantly went into myself to make sure my muscles weren’t tightening up and that my breathing was regular. Even doing this constantly, I did not lose track of where I was in my presentation. I was able to continue talking while checking in with myself. When we stay in a calm body, the brain is able to think clearly. As soon as we get worked up, our brains aren’t working at 100% capacity because we are in survival mode. I did not want to be in survival mode during this presentation.
When it comes to going out of your comfort zone and doing something new (going to therapy, working on the techniques taught in therapy, doing a presentation, anything at all) the key to getting through it successfully is keeping yourself out of fight/flight. That is, paying attention to your breathing and body way before you do the new thing, all the way through the new thing, and even after the new thing is complete. Often we can get into fight/flight before doing the new thing as we work ourselves up thinking of all the negative possibilities that may occur. Whenever those thoughts come into mind, stay focused on what you are doing right then. Keep focused and don’t let your mind wander. Just keep bringing it back. And as you do so, keep focused on your body making sure it is staying relaxed and your breathing is staying calm and regular.
Trust me when I say I know this is not an easy feat, but trust me also when I say that it is possible. Not only is it possible, it actually works! I have been practicing self-regulation for years, so it is easier for me to do the skills when needed. If you are just getting started with self-regulation, don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t work very easily or even seems like it doesn’t work at all at first. You have to retrain your brain and body that the world is not completely dangerous and that takes time. When I started using self-regulation, it took a lot of time and a lot of energy and effort to remember to use it. It also took me almost 8 months for it to become easy. We are a species that wants immediate gratification. We want to feel better now; not have to wait 8 months. If you keep in mind that one way or the other, you will be here in 8 months, how do you want to be then? If you start now, you’ll be feeling at least noticeably better by then; maybe not exactly where you want to be, but noticeably better.
Head on over to my “Need to relax? Start here” page for a series of short guided imageries. There is an abundance of information on the internet about breathing and muscle relaxation exercises. Start there. When you are ready, give me a call and I will work with you more specifically on how to get where you want to be. Going out of your comfort zone is scary and we can walk through it together. You do not have to do this process alone! I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-501-9767; 941-462-4807.