Good Things Take Time; Never Give Up!

On a daily basis, the two things I consistently do are play the piano and run for my 365-one-mile-per-day challenge. Every so often, I have a breakthrough or two that keeps me motivated. Today was one of those days!

Breakthrough No. 1: Push yourself slightly more than normal

On 23 June 2018, I challenged myself to run two miles every day for 30 days, as opposed to one mile per day. Everything was going well until the July 4th 5k race. I felt great during the race; however, the next day, my legs felt like lead weights with every step especially when I ran. I started dreading my daily runs because I hurt so much and they were taking much longer because I was sore. Even after the soreness went away, I still didn’t want to run which was making my daily runs seem like a chore.

I knew something had to change. Today, I decided to stop complaining and increased the speed on the treadmill which put me in the 9-minute per mile range. Before I knew it, the run was over. I actually felt better running faster. Surprise! Surprise!

Push yourself just a little more than normal. You might be surprised by the outcome. 

Breakthrough No. 2: Never give up! Keep trying!

For the last six weeks, I have been trying to learn Mozart’s Sonata K545. This is my first Sonata so it is most definitely a challenge. There is a section in the piece that my brain and fingers have not been able to master. I tried for weeks to figure it out and get the timing right throughout the piece to no avail.

Today, I finally managed to play through the challenging section and significantly improved the timing. It was as if my mind finally clicked.

Never give up on a goal. Keep on trying even if your progress seems minimal at first. 

I wish you all the best with your goals and dreams!

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Facing Rejection While Chasing Your Dreams

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On Friday afternoon, Tim Grahl’s newly published book Running Down a Dream arrived. It was still warm from the printing press. It is that new!

I eagerly opened the package, flipped to the first page, and started reading. I finished it three hours later. It was that good!

Tim shares 20 practical tools that helped him while running down his dream. I didn’t think I would need his toolkit quite so soon. Was I ever wrong!

Facing Rejection

Producing and sharing creative content “in the open” via a blog, website, YouTube, Facebook, etc, is an excellent way to connect with readers and/or listeners.

Invariably, you will face rejection or criticism. It may even happen sooner than you think.

This happened to Tim. When he started sharing content on his website, he mentioned that a handful of people pounced on him. He shares a great analogy: “It was like waiting for a baby to take her first couple of steps and then immediately pushing her over. Who does that? […] Even now, thinking back to those times still makes me angry” (page 71).

How I Benefitted From Tim’s Toolkit

Four and a half years ago, I fulfilled a 20-year dream. I purchased a used, upright piano and found a great teacher. I have since upgraded to a grand piano, and continue weekly lessons.

Three months ago, I started a thread in a piano technique Facebook page encouraging members to do a 40-piece piano challenge with me. Within one year, the goal is to play 40 pieces for the purpose of improving your technique and increasing your repertoire. The post has generated hundreds of comments and numerous people are doing the challenge. The group has 20,000 followers so if you post a piece, you are opening yourself up to criticism.

A week ago, I shared my fifth piece. I couldn’t play the piece a year ago so I was excited to share my progress. I am a firm believer in celebrating life’s small wins. Over time, small wins become big wins.

Today, I received a comment I perceived as negative from a piano teacher within the group. With that first comment, I felt deflated, didn’t want to play the piano anymore, and wondered if I should even bother. It’s amazing how one negative comment can make you question your dream. The dialogue is as follows:

Feedback: I think you really need to work on strengthening those fingers as they sound very weak. The performance also has no dynamic variation whatsoever. Do you have a teacher?

My response: Thanks so much for the constructive feedback. Yes, I have a teacher who I see every week. This piece, like everything I am learning, is a work in progress.

Feedback: Did your teacher mention anything about basic technique and dynamics yet?

My response: She did. I posted this piece before she had a chance to hear it.

Reading her comments really stung. I envisioned her sneering behind her computer. I proceeded to analyze everything she wrote. Were my fingers really that weak? Last year, I couldn’t even play this piece. Now I can. Doesn’t that count for something? Did I have dynamics? I did, but sometimes they are hard to hear on a cell phone recording. Of course, I have a teacher! How rude of her to ask! Wait!! Am I that bad that it seems I don’t have a teacher? Why yes! I know about basic technique! I didn’t start lessons yesterday. My face grew red, I started to become angry, and I walked away from the piano.

I needed Tim’s help. I flipped to the toolkit at the back of the book and found two tools to help me through this situation.

Tool 9: Find the Right Kind Of Criticism

Tim advises his readers to, “ignore 99% of criticism that comes your way. My rule: I only accept criticism from people I know care about me. […] Ignore online criticism. Instead, focus on the handful of people who love you and are willing to tell you the truth” (page 198).

I decided that the only person I will accept constructive criticism from is my teacher. When I surprised her with the piece in question, we played the duet and she suggested I play it for an upcoming recital. Maybe it wasn’t so poor after all.

Tool 13: Realize You Are Supposed To Suck

Tim begins this section by saying that, “Anytime you start heaping shame and despair on yourself, step back and remember that you are still learning. Yes, you are not where you want to be, but you are on your way” (page 201).

I took Tim’s advice. Maybe I do suck at playing the piano. Even if I do, so what? I am still learning. The person commenting knows nothing about me or my progress. Besides, I am only 4.5 years into this journey. I am not planning to become a piano teacher. I am not, nor will ever be, a concert pianist. That isn’t my goal. I play for my own enjoyment and I love encouraging other adults to learn. One day, when my teacher says I am ready, I plan to become a music therapy volunteer at our local cancer treatment center.

Even though I am still bitter about the comment, I am thankful for Tim’s toolkit to help me overcome life’s hurdles. I know I will reference the book again.

Don’t let others smash your dreams with rejection or criticism. Keep those you trust close by. Keep moving forward towards your ideal life! You really can do it!

Purchase your copy of Tim’s book here!

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It’s official! I’m going back to Toastmasters…

Next Wednesday, I return to Toastmasters with the goal of finishing the Competent Communicator Manual which consists of 10 different types of presentations. Last night, I filled out the application and corresponded with our local club’s President.

Toastmasters, here I come… again!

2009

Nine years ago, I gave a particularly bad speech. It was really awful! I still cringe thinking about it.

My then boss asked me to give a briefing with two days to prepare. I was new to the topic, had not briefed in years, and was not ready to brief the material.

The night before the presentation, I had something close to a panic attack. I broke down and cried the ugliest of tears. I dreaded that briefing with every fiber of my being. I barely slept. I woke up exhausted. I drove to work in a fog.

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When I walked into the room, 20 people stared at me. Within 30 seconds, I could feel the nervousness growing inside me with every word. My face turned bright red. I started sweating profusely. My mind went blank. Silence.

My boss was sitting in the far right corner quietly watching his employee turn to mush. I asked him if he would like to take over. The visitors shifted in their seats uncomfortably. They glanced at each other wondering what was going on. Much to my dismay, he said no. I had no choice but to struggle through the briefing. I survived. Barely.

The next week, I signed up for Toastmasters. I vowed that I would never humiliate myself and my employer again. I attended a local Toastmaster’s Club every Thursday night for 6 months. Before every meeting, I doubled up on deodorant. I began counting uhs and ummmms, participated in table topics, and gave my first Ice Breaker speech. When the club changed locations, I stopped going since the new facility was too far away. With the club gone, I fell back into my old habit of avoidance. The few briefing skills I had went dormant.

2018

My All Things Great project has inspired me to try again. With a three day public speaking course under my belt as of this week, and a few briefings here and there since 2012, I am more determined than ever to finish the competent communication manual. For details on this manual, see Toastmasters Speech Series: Your Guide to the First 10 Speeches.

Toastmasters, here I come… again!

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Public Speaking Tip No. 1: Calm Your Nerves By Using the Two Second Rule

Calming your nerves before a briefing can be especially challenging if you are not an experienced briefer. A helpful tip I learned at this week’s briefing class is as follows:
  • Walk towards the podium or location where you will brief
  • Turn toward the audience, pause, and smile
  • Make eye contact with one person and internally count, one-one-thousand, two-one thousand
  • Make eye contact with a second person and internally count, one-one-thousand, two-one thousand
  • Make eye contact with a third person and internally count, one-one-thousand, two-one thousand
  • Start your presentation

There were six people in our class. We all thought this nerve-calming technique felt forced and awkward. Yet, as we got used to it, we found that it really helped reduce the effects of nervous energy.

It also forces the audience to focus on you because they are waiting to hear what you have to say.

The 2017 World Toastmaster champion, Manoj Vasudevan, used this exact technique quite effectively. If you watch him, he follows the same formula that I shared above.

If a Toastmaster champion can use this technique, so can we!

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Face Your Public Speaking Fear Head On

On July 1, 2018, I wrote a blog post on facing your fears. See 5 Steps to Overcome Your Fears So You Can Live Your Ideal Life.

Within that post, I explained that one of my fears is public speaking. It hasn’t done me any favors in my adult life. In fact, it has held me back more times than I care to admit. Never again… I have finally decided that public speaking will not paralyze me anymore.

Since I last posted on my blog, I have taken several steps to overcome my fear:

  1. I asked my boss if I could brief a topic I am passionate about at an upcoming meeting. The briefing opportunity did not materialize because my topic was outside the scope of the meeting. I was a little disappointed but, as you can imagine, secretly relieved. After asking though, something fascinated happened. I felt immediately empowered. I felt like I was finally chipping away at my fear.
  2. I also signed up for a three day briefing class which I am taking this week. I finished the second day today. Is it ever brutal! I will write about it in later posts.
  3. Finally, I filled out a Toastmaster application for a local club. I start next week.

Within the space of 10 days, I clearly identified my fear (if the truth be told, I have known about this fear my whole adult life), wrote a specific goal that I could achieve (e.g. I brief at least 5 people per month for the next 12 months), and have decided to improve.

I am nervous but excited to begin this journey.

I am confident that your ideal life can be achieved if you face your fears.

Wish me luck! 🙂

Claire

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5 Steps to Overcome Your Fears So You Can Live Your Ideal Life

How would you feel if you were living your ideal life? Amazing, right? Take a few minutes to imagine your future life. Sit back. Put your feet up. Ask yourself… Who is near you? What are you doing? Where do you live? Imagine how you might feel. Relaxed? Happy? Stress-free? Loved? Successful?

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Now that you have basked in the glow of your future life, ask yourself the following question:

Why Aren’t I Living My Ideal life?

Deep down, we all probably know what is standing between us and our future life. Quite often, it is the fear of _______________ (fill in the blank). I would argue that, in most cases, we have the power to overcome our fears.

In pursuit of my All Things Great project, I am testing the following five steps to overcome my own worst fear—public speaking.

  1. Identify your fear(s)
  2. Decide to overcome your fear(s) and its associated obstacles
  3. Practice, practice, practice
  4. Cross train
  5. Continue to seek new and challenging opportunities to face your fear

1. Identify Your Fear

Identifying your fear(s) is the most logical first step toward living your ideal life.

In my case, I fear public speaking. I am a complete nightmare to be around when I have an upcoming speaking engagement, especially when my briefing skills are rusty, I am speaking about an unfamiliar topic, or I am not fully prepared. It is not uncommon for my husband to say, “Geeez, I wish they wouldn’t ask you to brief!” to which I usually respond, “Yeah, me too!” The introvert in me despises the incessant butterflies, the shooting pains in my chest, the dull pain that emanates from behind my right ear and gradually swells into a pounding headache, and the constant trips to the bathroom. The struggle is real. This fear will manifest itself for several days leading up to a presentation. After surviving the presentation, I am always surprised. The experience is never as bad as I imagined it. Yet, when the next briefing request surfaces months later, the cycle repeats itself. My fear of public speaking is undoubtedly the main barrier between my ideal life and me.

Exercise: What is your fear? Write it down.

2. Decide to Overcome Your Fear And Its Associated Obstacles

Knowing what you fear, and deciding to overcome your fear, are two different steps. You have to want to overcome your fear. If you tell yourself, “I don’t want to overcome my fear”, you never will. If you tell yourself that you will overcome your fear, you have a better chance of succeeding.

Exercise: Tell yourself that you WILL overcome your fear. Then, write it down. Using a 3×5 card, write down a goal that will help you overcome your fear. It should be written in large letters, in the present tense, and you should keep it where you can see it. Tape the goal to your bathroom mirror, near your desk at work, in your car, on your fridge, in your wallet, or in all of those places. As an example, my newly created goal card is, “I brief at least 5 people every month for the next 12 months.”

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

The only way to get better at anything, including overcoming your fear, is to practice. Ask yourself… What action will allow me to face my fears? If you’re like me and you fear public speaking, you have lots of options. You could sign up for a briefing class at work, if available, or at a community college, join Toastmasters, or ask your boss or coworkers for briefing opportunities. Once you have committed to a speaking opportunity, pick a topic, write a script and start practicing it over, and over, and over again. Find a quiet room in your house or place of employment and practice until you feel more confident with your briefing.

Exercise: Find one opportunity within the next month that will allow you to face your fears. Then, take the necessary steps to start practicing so you are prepared.

4. Cross Train

Athletes improve their overall performance by cross training. Employees cross train to learn new skills. We can use the cross training concept as well. Select a fun activity that will help you overcome your fear indirectly. In the case of public speaking, there are many ways, besides giving a speech, to become comfortable in front of a crowd. You don’t always have to speak in front of someone to work on your skills. In addition to regular presentations, sign up for a dance or drama class, volunteer to read books to kids at a local school, join the PTA, sign up to become an assistant coach for your kids’ sports team, take music lessons and sign up for a recital. The goal is to put yourself in an environment that helps you overcome your fear.

Exercise: Sign up for a fun activity that will indirectly help you overcome your fear.

5. Continue to Seek New and Challenging Opportunities to Face Your Fear

Unfortunately, overcoming a fear does not occur overnight. Continue to seek new opportunities. If you fear public speaking, don’t stop with one briefing to 5 people. Do another one. And another.

Exercise: Find another opportunity.

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As Tim Ferriss said in the last minute of his 2008 TED talk, Smash Fear, Learn Anything, “Fear is your friend. Fear is an indicator. Sometimes, it shows you what you shouldn’t do. More often than not, it shows you exactly what you should do.”

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Was this post helpful to you? If so, I would love to know how it helped.