Self-Conscious And Loving It!

Finding Yourself Out the Front of Your Life

Recently I asked a friend for feedback on an aspect of my behaviour. I badgered her. She deflected. I badgered again. She gave in and chose her words with care. And horror of horrors I did not like what I heard. I reckon I did a pretty good job of appearing nonchalant. On the inside however I was reeling. Rapidly re-evaluating my entire life from this new perspective, I shifted from disbelief, anger, denial and sadness in 30 seconds. Then I stuffed myself with cheese and crackers.

What I noticed over the next few weeks was how self-conscious I felt. I wondered if everyone I’d ever met saw this flaw and judged me accordingly. Ha! I thought. This explains a lot. I suspected I had a problem. Here is the proof!

The problem gained epic proportion while I shrunk and fell through a hole in the floor.

Not So Special

Feeling self-conscious is being aware of yourself, as yourself. It’s a good thing. Means you are alive and you have the conscious awareness to know it! Self-consciousness allows you to perceive your similarity and difference to everyone else.

So yes, you are special and no, you are not so special. We all have an inner tension between wanting to fit in and wanting to stand out from the crowd. You see this tension played out on social media. And sometimes you feel it first hand when you are up there speaking in public. You up there, them down there.

I’ve briefly defined self-consciousness. But what about how it feels? The pain, the loneliness, the rejection? The dredging of all that old stuff you thought you’d successfully buried? And bugger it but there it all is, back on public display, reflected in the pitying eyes of your listeners.

But is it pity? Or is it relief that it’s you, not them, up there? Could it be admiration, that you are doing something they could not? Or, might they be thinking about dinner, and not you at all?

Safety Versus Risk

When you speak in front of others you do stand out from the crowd. And there is risk in being rejected for standing out. Finding your peace and place within this balance is the mysterious realm in which I work with my clients.

When you speak to a group, you visibly and energetically set yourself apart from the herd. Speaking up requires courage. The courage to show yourself to others. When people listen to you speak, they want to hear, you. Not a perfect cardboard cut-out. Not a series of excuses. You.

Embrace Wabi-Sabi

I love the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. It means “beauty is in the imperfection.” Doncha reckon there’s our Permission Card right there? Flaws are beautiful! Ergo, we are all beautiful! There is nothing more boring than perfection.

People relate to flaws, not to perfection. We love to witness transformation; it gives us the courage to pursue our own. We watch people take risks, stick their heads above the parapet and wait with baited breath – will they rise to the challenge? And what can we learn from their mistakes and successes?

Self-consciousness is our opportunity to mature, learn, expand. It’s OK to be fearful, but not OK to stay stuck forever, clinging to an outdated notion of how you wanted things to be.

The Spotlight Effect

Positive Psychology describes the Spotlight Effect as the belief that others are always looking and judging us. As if we are the centre of their universe… because we are the centre of ours. Feeling self-conscious blossoms with such fertile imaginings. You can read more in my related Blog article “The Spotlight Effect is On You.” The Spotlight Effect clues us in as to how to love the opportunity of feeling self-conscious by learning from it, rather than shrink with fear and shame.

The Self-Conscious Seagull Flies Again

When I crawled off to lick my wounds, I really invested in feeling sorry for myself. I could be my own 10-part mini-series. Pride. Drama. Pain. And finally, seeing myself on A Hero’s Journey, triumphing over the perils of self-consciousness to emerge an older, wiser and infinitely more attractive human.

This could go on and on or we could cut to the chase with a story that doesn’t involve so much gut wrenching drama. Or copious cheese and crackers.

I emerged from my hole after a few weeks and realised:

  • Much of what my friend said is true. I needed a hefty dollop of self-acceptance for my quirky behaviours. They can’t really be changed. And they make me unique. I like unique.
  • If you ask for feedback, you have to be prepared to hear it. Suck it up princess!
  • Good old Gratitude… works every time to appreciate what I’ve got, rather than what I haven’t.

A Work In Progress

Am I going to divulge my friend’s feedback to you since you’ve so patiently read to the end of this article?

No way!

Just because you share a personal story doesn’t mean you have to strip your soul bare. You don’t have to expose everything. Just the bits you are ready to.

When it’s your turn to be out the front, whether for 5 minutes or for 5 days, breathe in and connect to your purpose in making a difference when you speak. We really are Works in Progress. And I know I’m not alone in wanting to hear and see the real you. To admire your unique beauty, imperfections, quirks and all.

(c) 2018, Geraldine Barkworth, All Rights Reserved.

Stop Freezing Like A Rabbit When You Speak

So many clients ask me what to do when they “freeze and go blank” when speaking or introducing themselves to a group. These are symptoms of performance anxiety. It mostly occurs in more “formal situations” where we believe there is a high likelihood of judgement  – “I might fail” or “I might be disliked or rejected”.

For some people, a “formal” situation like an interview or a meeting, induces a near state of panic with emotions and negative thoughts tumbling out of control, overriding rational sense. Have you ever tried to comfort a “nervous public speaker” by telling them to “just relax and be themselves”? It’s just not going to cut it. They cannot hear you when gripped by mental, emotional and physical paralysis and are likely to keep on doing the same thing, over and over and not moving forward. Just like a rabbit in the headlights.

Here’s a 3 minute video I made about flowing not freezing with my husband’s pet rabbits as props (just go with it):


It Feels Worse Than It Looks
Freezing when public speaking generally feels much worse to the speaker, than it looks to the listener. A 30 second blank, can look like a pause. Taking time to gather your thoughts is appreciated by listeners because it means you are thinking about what you say in the present moment, not repeating mechanised rote. When I film clients for the first time giving a talk, they are amazed that their occasional blank moments come across as natural pauses. What is important is how they deal with it then and there. Running away or giving up just makes it worse the next time.

Train Your Inner Bunny To Survive
Here’s a great story I heard once to explain how to break the freeze and blank pattern:

“To ensure your survival in a burning building like a hotel – when you check in, take the time to read the evacuation procedures and map. Then physically open your door and walk down the hall, counting the number of doors between you and the exit. Ideally, go through the fire door, down the stairs (stay below floor 6!) and out the building. Should an evacuation be necessary, you are much more likely to find the exit because your mind/body remembers everything and you’ve already practised. When you panic, you freeze and stop thinking rationally. So many people die because they freeze and don’t know how to respond to the situation. Instead, just let  your body remember to take over and help you.”

How To Stay Connected To Your Flow

  • Prepare head and practise. I don’t mean in your mind. I mean with your whole body. Stand up and walk over. Read the thing or say it outlaid. Practise pausing and making eye contact. Wait for responses. Imagine question and answer. Then, practise finishing. Consistently we underestimate or overestimate our capacity depending on our level of self esteem on the day. Practising gives you a reality check and confidence in your ability to handle the situation.
  • Don’t whine, beg for rescue or run screaming from the room. Own it. Take a breath, feel your feet, wait for the tears to stop, say “Gee I’ve gone blank – bear with me…” and start from where you left off. Admitting your vulnerability is a bridge builder. People admire seeing triumph over adversity. It’s inspiring, energising and opens conversations and hearts.
  • Plan to use less words and express your message with your whole body. This is also a great technique if you feel blank around potential cuties. Simply: face your listeners with your whole body, face and make sustained eye contact – this indicates your interest in being with them. Use your hands and facial expressions. Use props to help you remember your points or to make your point for you. For instance, if you are talking about a book, bring that book with you, show a slide or refer to a handout. It is so much easier to talk about a THING if you have that THING in your hands.

I once warbled my way through a 10 minute speech by singing parts of seven 1930’s show tunes with a few words strung between. Once I realised how well that worked, the tyranny of writing and remembering a clever speech went out the door. You really can do ANYTHING to get your message across once you take the pressure off yourself believing there is only one right way to speak. The key is to find the way that’s right for you. And then you will have found your very own source of flow.

© 2012, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.

Be Cool Calm Connected When You Speak

Natural Grace Radiant Authenticity

People frequently associate “public speaking” with delivering a formal speech. But I define it as the ability to have an easy conversation with anyone other than yourself. “ Cool Calm Connected ” means having the self-awareness, self-confidence and self-assurance to present who you are and what you do with natural grace and radiant authenticity. Who doesn’t want some of that? Let’s look at a common scenario:

You have been invited to speak.
In public.
In front of people you don’t know.
And in front of people you do know.

You can’t decide which is worse. Your heart pounds. You feel sick, in fact, you are definitely going to be too sick to speak on the day, even though it’s two months away.

You know this for a fact. Because it’s happened to you before.

So, you decide that it’s better for everyone concerned that you email an apology, stay in your office that day and work on new marketing strategies that allow you to avoid speaking in public. You cleverly decide that this is what they mean by, “work smarter, not harder.”

You Aren’t Alone

Never fear, you aren’t alone in your avoidance of presenting yourself in public. Self-consciousness is rampant in western society. It’s a feeling of acute separation of yourself from everyone else. Most people suffer it by varying degrees at some point in their lives.

Self consciousness can show up at:

  • parties,
  • speaking to the Board,
  • delivering a paper at a conference,
  • meeting a client unexpectedly in the street,
  • introducing yourself at breakfast networking,
  • standing your ground and stating your full fee.

And it looks like:

  • Sweating, pounding heart, blank mind   (“I’m going to die up there”)
  • Talking too fast to fill in any spaces        (“I’ll give them no space to think”)
  • Memorising, sticking rigidly to notes     (“I must be perfect”)
  • Polished, inauthentic performance         (Looks good but feels hollow)
  • Giving way too much information          (I’ll impress them with my knowledge”)
  • Stiff, inarticulate and formulaic              (“I don’t want people to see who I am”)
  • Giggling, twitching, umming                  (“Gee I hope someone rescues me soon”)
  • Thinking: “I’ve nothing of value to offer”    (“This just confirms I’m boring”)
  • Rambling incoherence                              (“I’ve got no idea where I’m going”)
  • Believing you must be an expert             (“I’ll put it off til next year when I ready”)

Softly Softly Technique

Whatever the source of your beliefs, discomfort or fear around presenting yourself in public, there is a  “softly, softly” technique that allows you to emerge as the cool calm connected professional woman you truly are. It starts with taking a breath and slowing down.

It’s Not All About You

Whenever you speak to a group, it’s because you want to educate, promote or inspire an idea, product or service. First though, you need to build trust, rapport and relevance. As an audience member, would you listen to and buy from, a speaker you couldn’t relate to and didn’t trust?

Thinking that it’s all about you in the spotlight as the speaker, makes you feel self-conscious. If you start with the WIFM (‘what’s in it for me”) by establishing your credibility and the benefits they’ll gain by listening to you, speaking becomes about the audience, not you.

Cool Calm Connected

Your job is to focus on connecting with them, one human being to another. When you “drop the mask” and invite people in, generally, they will do the same. And what you create, is authentic connection, an understanding of who you are on a much deeper level simply by choosing to be cool calm connected.

Communicating from the heart, fully present with others, brings acceptance and understanding. There is a sense of “oneness” which is healing for all – speakers and listeners. The ability to connect with others is radiantly attractive to all people. It is the defining characteristic of great leaders and speakers …and human beings.

© 2011, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic speaking coach. This article is the opinion of the author only.