I went to my first Toastmasters last month. It was a significant event for me. Sitting around a table listening to people practice public speaking might not sound all that exciting, but I was pumped. Attending Toastmasters has been a lingering task on my to-do list for longer than I’d like to admit. Similar to other duties, once I got busy, I felt okay putting it off. “Maybe next year,” I would tell myself.
My lack of follow-through has been one of the reasons I gave up making resolutions. I got tired of the regret and frustration when I inevitably failed my well-crafted habits. After some reflection, I decided to spend the entire year shifting my mindset on one aspect of my life. A whole year to change one habit? Yeah, it might seem like I'm underachieving. But I'm okay with that.
Through personal coaching, I began to see the power of perspective. There are a lot of benefits to stepping back and re-examining my own thoughts. And changing my thinking can create a chain reaction that makes self-improvement easier. My goals would simply be a by-product of my renewed thinking.
Where I made mistakes in the past was focusing too much on changing my actions. Exercise more, drink more water, hit (this target) by (insert date here). I would see a problem and immediately try chipping away at it. If there was an obstacle, I would spend all my energy trying to remove it. When unsuccessful, I felt defeated and tired. I would say some negative things about myself - how lazy and undisciplined I was — and then psych myself up to try again. Year after year, problem after problem, I would attempt to discipline my way through. Sometimes it stuck, often it didn’t. And I was always left feeling like a failure despite my progress.
I didn’t want to make this year a repeat of that so I’m spending all my time attacking the source of the problem instead of the symptoms. The paradigm shift for this year — falling in love with practice. I had forgotten that success is all about repetition and every interaction is a chance to put in another rep.
Simple, right? Something that I thought I believed. In looking at my actions, I'm not sure that I did. If I believed how crucial practice was, I would be doing more of it. But here I was avoiding new opportunities and challenges for fear of looking inexperienced. What I really believed was that practice has its own time, but never in public and never if it makes me look bad.
This year, I’m reclaiming my desire for practice. I’m reminding myself of how silly I looked when I decided to start dancing at the age of eighteen; how many mistakes I made picking up steps and techniques; and how I now teach, judge and travel because I was willing to look foolish for a short time. That’s the process of learning and somewhere along the way, I forgot that.
And now I find myself in front of a group of strangers doing an impromptu speech challenge. I’m using a disturbing amount of filler ‘um’s and ah’s, stumbling over my words, and counting the seconds until I get the cue to stop. I sit back down and I’m embarrassed by my performance. All the things I could have done to make it better hit me as I play it back in my head. I breathe deeply and laugh to myself. That was really painful....but it’s only the first rep. And I've got plenty more to go.