When I attended a course in NLP, Neuro Linguistic Programming, 2005 we did an exercise called the phobia cure during the last day of the course. The exercise was about finding our way back to an old traumatic memory and dissolving the trauma through different techniques. At this time, my absolute greatest fear was to speak in public. I despised the thought of it and made sure to avoid it as much as I could. It was quite limiting both at work as well as socially.
As a company manager at work, and also two years as vice president of a company with 50 employees and a turnover of 300 million SEK, there were many occasions where I was expected to speak in front of a group, either to suppliers, customers or internal employees.
My absolute conviction was always that it would be a painful experience. Subconsciously, I made sure it became just that by procrastinating and postponing to the last moment when it came to preparing myself, in the evening or the night before, having sloppy notes, etc. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy where the experience became just as I predicted – stressful and anxious.
The preparations shifted between fight, flight and freeze, where I either fought really hard to try and come up with something good, or fled by pushing it to the side or simply gave up completely hoping it would resolve itself by me improvising and “play it by ear”. The latter can certainly work if one knows the subject well and is calm and relaxed, which I was not. In many contexts, I felt jealousy whenever someone asked a question or made a statement and then thought to myself in amazement – how dare they?
At the NLP course we were 50 participants, and when it was time for the phobia cure, I semi-panicked and tried to come up with various reasons why there was absolutely no reason to challenge my fear of public speaking. But in the end I found enough courage and together with my course companion as a guide I had a fantastic experience.
In the exercise, we traveled back in time and after many ifs and buts, I finally realized what situation in the past had initiated my fear. It was in eighth grade and I was to review a book for my class. My opinion of school at this time was quite distorted. I thought it was all about going there to show what I was capable of, instead of actually coming to school and learning new things. So usually I put a lot of pressure on myself. I also imagined the teacher having great expectations of me delivering something good. I was tired, unprepared and had sloppy notes, because I had started to prepare way too late and had stayed up half the night.
The classroom bathed
in white light
When I, during the phobia cure, first came in contact with the fear it was very difficult. My breathing became very strong where the chest was lifted forcefully and the stomach filled. At the same time, the breathing was rhythmic and the diaphragm worked fully. When I think about it afterwards it was almost like as if the breathing made me dare to remain in my fear.
If we consider what happens to our breathing when we are afraid of something that does not require physical activity, in other words, forcing us to run away or defend ourselves, then we take a quick breath “ohhh” and hold our breath high in the chest. We simply run away from our fear, which often is situated in the gut area, by moving the breath up to the chest.
Anyway, I hung on and remained in my fear while breathing forcefully and big. And suddenly it was like I had cracked the code. It was like a faucet opened up, or rather a large snow cannon. From my chest, a white light gushed from a circle of 15 to 20 centimeters in diameter, filling the entire classroom making it bathe in light. I remember thinking to myself. ” I sincerely hope, my guide is patient and lets me sit here for a long time,” because I did not want it to end.
Huge amounts of energy
was spent to keep my fear at bay
Afterwards we went for lunch. I felt high and at least 10 kilos lighter, almost as if I was floating above ground. When we returned from lunch, the course leader asked if there was anyone who had had an interesting experience. To my surprise, I discovered that my hand was raised and I heard myself saying, “I got rid of my fear of public speaking”.
“Oh, how fun” said the course leader, would you come up and share it with us. As usual, I stiffened up and my heart began to beat like a hammer while the fear was about to take over. The difference this time was that I calmed down as soon as I heard my calm tone of voice saying that I would. I went up on stage and the feeling I got when receiving all the love from my fellow course mates when sharing my great fear and the experience during the exercise was amazing. I almost did not want to leave the stage 🙂
As I went to sit down again, I dreamily imagined of coming back to the same room lecturing with someone else, in front of 100 people, and then lecturing myself for 50 people. The mere thought of this almost made me dizzy and nauseous and it felt completely unattainable, but three years later I held a lecture with the Swedish swimmer and Olympic Gold Medalist, Lars Frölander. There were 101 participants. And another two years later, I held my first instructor course in Conscious Breathing in the same room. There were exactly 50 participants.
The experience says a lot about how much energy is spent keeping our fears ata bay. The more fears we carry around, the less energy is left to live our lives. Imagine how much energy we can free up when we dare challenge our fears and by doing so getting rid of the energy leakage. Personally, today public speaking is a big part of my profession, as I often give lectures. In fact, I am convinced that what scares us the most has the potential to be our very greatest asset.
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