Monday, November 5, 2012

Fear and Self-centeredness

Will directed me to a Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) blog where the author was making the case that in order to actually BE great, you have to not CARE about being great.  In other words - get the focus off of yourself and onto whatever it is that you are making your life's work or mission.  

That made me think about my theory of public speaking.

It's pretty widely accepted that public speaking is the average person's greatest fear. Death is reportedly a distant second.  Whether or not this is verifiably true is completely irrelevant to this post, because I want to talk about what's behind this particular fear, and how it may translate to other fears.  

We all have felt this fear in one way or another.  Whether it's before a large audience, small group, or maybe just giving a presentation to 1 or 2 others.  Why is this?  People rarely throw tomatoes anymore.  Maybe your job depends on presenting things effectively before others.  That would be a better, but I think less common, reason for anxiety.  When you have to publicly speak, do you just try to get through it, trying to ignore the anxiety?  What if we acknowledge it?  Will it only grow?  Well, it's a fact anyway, so let's discuss strategies for overcoming it.

I was on my way to a group meeting recently.  I am not the official leader of this group, but I began to think about how I could influence it, help it run better, what I could say, how I would appear, I, me, myself....suddenly I realized my entire focus was on myself, not the group at all.  I felt as though I was being told - get the focus off of you and onto the good of the others.  This was actually a great relief.  When I began to be more intentionally focused on what I could do to further the group, connect with individuals, meet needs, and facilitate interaction - as opposed to how I would appear - I felt released to do what was necessary, rather than what made me look good.

I think this is the same dynamic that operates when publicly speaking.  We are mostly concerned with how we look, sound, how it's being received, what the audience thinks of us, than we are with simply relaying the pertinent information and effectively engaging the audience.  

I think that 1) the degree to which we focus on ourselves, and 2) being comfortable before an audience are inversely proportional.  When self-focus goes up, comfort goes down, and vice-versa.  

Another related topic is irrational fear.  I think this ties in through an anxiety cycle, or self-fulfilling expectations.

These fears don't make logical sense, yet they are real for the person experiencing them.  My wife doesn't like riding on elevators.  It didn't matter how many 'safe' elevator rides she had, or how many times I told her that was irrational - she doesn't like riding on elevators!  I have many people that come into the clinic that are afraid of needles, of getting an IV.  Some have actually passed out!  Is it from pain?  Of course not.  It was an irrational fear that manifested in a psychosomatic way as a result of anxiety.  

What's the connection?

Only the fact that if we have experienced anxiety in a setting before (public speaking), we anticipate experiencing it again the next time it comes up, and then fulfill our expectation of that event, even before it happens.  Actually, much like the IV-phobes, the anticipation can be much worse than the event.

Thus the saying:  There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.

How true.

Some may prefer to ignore anxieties and fears due to discomfort, but I find that addressing them head-on gives some sense of power and control to me.  

Another interesting and related topic would be:  what do we do when our emotions are in complete disagreement with logic and reason?


  1. Good stuff! I would say I think I agree - the more the focus is on myself, the easier it is for me to be anxious. I need to remember that the next time I speak (which is often). It's a constant battle to remember it's not about me - it's about saying what I think God wants us to hear and it's about helping people to see that information and do something with it to change their lives. It's not about getting them to like me more...

    That really hits close to home. I also think it's very hard to separate myself from what I write/speak...just like it's hard for us to separate our identity from our nationality, political ideas, brands, likes/dislikes, etc. We all too easily seek our life and self-worth from those kinds of things, instead of getting everything from Jesus!

    1. It seems obvious that being overly 'self-conscious' would lead to anxieties about self. How about 'public prayer'? Talk about a battle to remember Who your audience is.

      I agree about the separation thing.

      On yet another related note, can we take 'constructive criticism' without becoming self-conscious, or defensive. I read a great article called The Cross and Criticism that talked about healthy ways to deal with criticism. However, some would say that criticism isn't constructive.