What if?

I don’t like public speaking. I despise it, hate, abhor it, one might say even terrified, mortified, petrified by it[1]. Every time I need to speak publicly (and cannot avoid it), the same train-wreck pattern of a thought is coming to my mind – What if?

What if I forget everything?

What if I will start stuttering and talk nonsense?

What if I will be ridiculed by my co workers because of it?

What if I will get fired because of it?

And I can dive deeper, the longer I think and ‘what-if’ about it, the more stressed I get, and the more stressed I get the worse the what-if become. This with all the physical symptoms of stress makes public speaking not fun for me.

This always remind me from a quote from The Time Machine:

You’re a man haunted by those two most terrible words: What if?

I recently read another blog post which has a different perspective, a positive one regarding ‘what-if’ – what if I try and succeed, as a way to push yourself and take that risk. My what-ifs limit me and scare me, his what-ifs give him a push to go further. I wonder if I can change my perspective.

[1] As paraphrased from the movie “A Beautiful Mind

In the Space Between Stimulus and the Response

In the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“, Stephen Covey talks about the space that exists between the stimulus and the response [1]:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

This reminds me a lot about mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches us to see events such as thoughts and emotions as a stream that we are looking on from the side, instead of being inside of it, pulled by the current. Being pulled by the current is simple reaction, without choosing – the same reaction my cat has when I open his bag of treats. Having the ability to choose in that space between stimulus and response is as if looking at the stream, acknowledging the event, and deciding the response.

As mentioned in my first blog post, this is the description of mindfulness I find most accurate (at least according to my current understanding of it):

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations – The good ones and the bad ones, happiness and anxiety. I have to admit that currently I find it making more sense only regarding the bad events – why not embrace the good ones and let be carried away with them? I hope I’ll find a good answer as I continue to practice.

Regarding the bad events that we wish to accept, I have found this other quote regarding mindfulness that I like:

Mindfulness is not the absence of discomfort – it’s our reaction towards this discomfort. We cannot avoid these emotions, and there is nothing wrong with them. What creates suffering is never a feeling, but our reaction towards it.[2]

Doesn’t it sound very familiar? Mindfulness is our reaction towards discomfort – reaction, our choice in how to react.

Mindfulness is how we choose to respond, in that space between stimulus and response.

[1] Covey mentions this as a fundamental principle introduced by Viktor Frankel.
[2] Description taken from this blog post.