In my last lesson on conquering the fear of public speaking I talked about the part of your brain known as the amygdala which is your fight or flight mechanism.
When you are faced with a life-or-death threat you feel overwhelmed and you go into a state of mental paralysis. You can’t think straight! That’s because your amygdala, doing what it’s supposed to do, comes to your rescue and shuts down all functions not necessary to your survival. Things like appetite, digestion, rational thinking, creative thinking and sexual desire all get turned off so that all of your energies can be directed toward either fight or flight.
The downside to your wonderful amygdala is that it will go into this protection mode even in non-life threatening situations. Whenever you are faced with something new or unnerving that overwhelms you such as taking an important test or having to give a speech, the amygdala goes into action and shuts down all functions not necessary to your survival.
The problem is that when you have to do a speech, you need your creative and rational thinking capabilities. You want to take purposeful action but your amygdala is preventing you from doing it because it thinks it has to save you!
What we need to do is tiptoe past the amygdala so that we don’t wake it up. We can’t alert the amygdala to danger. The way we do that is to attack the problem, issue or fear in small steps – very small steps so that overwhelm never comes into play to trigger the amygdala.
This brings us to the centuries-old Chinese technique known as kaizen. Kaizen is the art of taking small steps to accomplish big things. How to use this technique is explained beautifully in a book by Dr. Robert Maurer, Ph.D., One Small Step Can Change Your Life The Kaizen Way.
The following is an example from Dr. Maurer’s book. He tells the story of a woman named Julie, a divorced mother of two under heavy pressure at her job, overweight, out of shape, in poor health and was flirting ultimately with diabetes and heart disease.
Mauer watched Julie’s heart sink when her physician gave her the worn-out advice to go on a diet and exercise. She went into a state of overwhelm. Between the kids, the job and other pressures, diet and exercise were out of the question even though she knew that’s the one thing that would save her! Just when she needed rational thinking, motivation and drive, her amygdala shut it all down.
The physician was a bit more than peeved when Dr. Mauer asked Julie, “How about if you just marched in place in front of the television for one minute each day?” Julie brightened up. She could do that!
Did marching in place for one minute each day turn Julie into the picture of health? Of course not! What was important was that Julie had a breakthrough. If she could do one minute a day, what else was possible? Soon Julie was marching for an entire commercial break during the television show. She then pushed herself to march for the entire show. Julie is now involved in aerobics and is well on her way to dealing with and conquering her health issues.
Julie tiptoed past her amygdala. By starting with just one minute a day there was no overwhelm. Her amygdala was never alerted. Then she added a little more to her routine. Then a little more and all the while, the amygdala remained asleep.
In our next lesson, we’ll apply Kaizen to getting through that speech you’re dreading!