Feel The Fear, Do It Anyway

The last two months, I was preparing for a presentation that myself and my business partner Corrie recently recorded for the EDPRO annual symposium. Even though the majority of my time is spent in my office in Denver counseling people with eating disorders, it is so much fun and really gets me out of comfort zone to present on various topics.

When I was presented with the opportunity to co-present, I immediately jumped at it! It is one of my professional goals to speak at as many conferences/ symposiums/ classrooms as possible since this is one of my favorite things to do despite the work that goes into it. I knew I would be nervous, but I also knew I would be able to handle it since I’ve presented at and spoken in front of many audiences throughout the last 5 years.

As the weeks went by and the date became closer, that familiar “friend” known as fear became ever more present in my thoughts. Any time I thought about the presentation, I thought about all the ways I could and would FAIL. I pictured myself slurring my words and people thinking that I had no idea what I was talking about. I pictured myself feeling terrible about myself and wondering why I ever thought I could do this in the first place. Yes I thought ALL of these things on a daily basis. And yes, I am a therapist and I help other people learn to deal with their uncomfortable and intrusive thoughts. Just because I help others, does not mean I do not have some of my own thoughts that I’d rather not have.

In the past, prior to learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy http://contextualscience.org/act, I always tried to run from my thoughts. Whenever I had an intrusive thought I would try to replace it with positive self talk. For example, while thinking about my presentation and having all the aforementioned thoughts about falling on my face I would instead say to myself “You’ll be fine! None of these things will happen to you. You are smart and everyone will be able to see that during your talk.” This would usually work for a minute or two, but any time I became less conscious of controlling my thoughts, the other, more intrusive thoughts would come back. No matter how many times I tried to make these thoughts go away, they would always come back. It was maddening!

For this presentation, I used all of the techniques on myself that I use with my clients. My mantra for this presentation was “Feel the Fear, Do It Anyway”. Every day, especially the week leading up to the presentation the thoughts became more and more intrusive. They were not only present during the day, but they also came out to play at night while I was trying to sleep! When I had these thoughts, instead of trying to fight them, or change them, I accepted them. I accepted that I was having them even though I didn’t like them. I literally spoke to these thoughts and said “I hear you loud and clear. There you are my old friend fear of failure. You can hang out for a while if you want, while I continue to move forward in the preparation for my presentation”. Also, I reminded myself that I was not yet giving the presentation, so in my present state there was nothing I could about the possibility of stumbling over my words. Reminding myself of this helped to bring me back to the present and reduced my anxiety. 

When the day of the presentation came I kept repeating, “Feel the Fear, Do It Anyway”. If I could show myself that I could feel scared, but yet ACT in the service of my values, then I am living the life I want to live. Was I nervous during the presentation? YES! Did I still do it? YES!

The things we really want in life don’t always feel good in the moment. My clients often come to me because they feel anxious, depressed, lonely, scared, or afraid, and they want to change how they feel. Usually we think that if we feel differently, we will be able to act differently. However, it is usually the opposite. Once we act differently, we have proven to ourselves and showed our brains that we can do something different, and only then do we feel different.

Melissa PrestonComment