Last week was a “high” for me, as I got to speak at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation’s annual fund-raising wine dinner. Seated at a table with the Brittany Thelemann, the new Miss Minnesota, I learned about how to taste (swirl, sniff, chew, etc.) wine. Unfortunately, all of the eating (and drinking) was to precede my talk, so I had to be very careful about my selections, for fear of making a fool of myself when I finally stood up to speak!
Polls show that public speaking is the #1 stressful event for most people, and while I am experienced, and love being on a stage, there’s no doubt that I have a few qualms before doing my bit.
On this occasion, a friend who was managing the event remarked that last year the crowd – possibly influenced by all the wine – got more than a little noisy and conversational during the speaking, I began to wonder what to expect.
She mentioned several times her concern for the possibility of disruption during the speeches, saying that this year she would come to the podium and hush them, if necessary.
Thus began a train of thoughts that I have been having since then, causing me to ask the following question:
What’s The Difference Between “Being Prepared” and “Worrying”?
Suppose you’re concerned about fire and the possibility that it will wipe out your home and all its contents. You clear out hazardous clutter, take out fire insurance, and make sure you turn off heat-generating appliances when you leave the house.
Then you go live your life without being obsessively preoccupied with the matter.
If you still walk around thinking constantly of the threat of fire, you’re obsessing and you’re in constant low-level stress.
Remember, your mind cannot tell the difference between a deeply-imagined event and a real one. It flashes the “danger” signal, and your body responds with the fight-or-flight response. One stressful thought can easily become many stressful imaginary “events’, repeatedly triggering the physical reaction that leaves you fatigued, with higher blood pressure and a lowered immune system response, among other things.
How to change “worrying” to “problem-solving””
Take out “insurance”: If you are concerned about a negative outcome to a situation, think of what is within your power to do to prevent that outcome. Do it; then let go of those worrisome thoughts.
My friend had a responsibility to oversee the event and make sure it ran smoothly.
She made a decision about what she would do if the worst occurred; then she had to let go of that thought. Because worry clamors for our attention, obsessing might have resulted in her overlooking some other detail for which she was responsible.
If you frequently have difficulty letting go of worrisome thoughts:
Keep a record of your predictions:
Often we predict alarming things and then forget that we were wrong. Then, if you are a really good constant worrier, you just go on to worrying about something else without pausing to critique your last prediction.
Keep a record of your alarming predictions: write them down. Later on, after the event, write down what the actual outcome was. You may be surprised to note how seldom what you predicted really does come true.
Think of alternate scenarios: is this the only way this experience could play out?
Getting locked into one thought pattern keeps you from imagining other possible outcomes, leaving you unprepared.
For example, many things could happen to your home: It could be burglarized or swept away by a tornado during your absence. But the highest probability is that your house will be safe.
What is the probability the alarming scenario will occur?
You may not have a mathematically precise idea, but ask yourself this:
Are you behaving as if there is a 100% probability? 50%? 20%?
The amount of time you devote to thinking about the challenge should be roughly proportional to the likelihood it will occur.
The outcome of the event at which I spoke? I had mentally prepared for the possibility that they would be rowdy, forcing me to eliminate some of my material.
Luckily, I also had prepared a talk for a more typical audience – the talk which I delivered.
Because, in fact, the audience was attentive and very polite.