How Toastmasters Helped Me Overcome My Anxiety to Perform Better at Work

Early one Wednesday morning in 2011, I found myself walking up the stairs of St Andrews church to a Capital Chatterers Toastmasters meeting. I had not long started a very high-touch, customer facing job – one that I had no idea how I landed if I am completely honest! Perhaps driven by a deep rooted fear of failure, combined with stomach churning anxiety, I was led to search for mentoring and training to make at least some of that pressure go away.

I had heard of Toastmasters through the grapevine but assumed it was for highly experienced speakers who could already present well in public and people only went there to show off their skills. I also assumed that it was just for “old people”, whatever that means now!

When Toastmasters was one of Google’s suggested solutions to my problem, I thought it was worth a visit. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Peter Scholtens, one of the most enthusiastic Toastmasters I have ever met! After being made to feel beyond welcome, and after listening to a handful of speeches – some from less experienced Toastmasters than others, I felt like this was something I could do and there was no turning back.

I was surprised to learn that Toastmasters wasn’t all about speaking either. Throughout my time as a member, I have not only sharpened up the way I present, but I have learned how to give and receive constructive feedback, how to run meetings effectively and how to handle public speaking opportunities – unprepared. I have entered speaking contests and facilitated workplace presentation and leadership courses – all under the umbrella of Toastmasters.

I have attended on and off throughout the years since that first meeting, changing clubs that run to different schedules to suit my personal circumstances. Life happens, but the beauty of the programme is that it is self-paced, so I have been able to work through the series of projects in my own time. Finally, after seven years, I completed my first Toastmasters communication qualification – it’s never too late right?!

I now notice the difference within myself when I haven’t attended a meeting in a while, my anxiety before meetings and presentations increases and that all too familiar stomach churning returns. The nerves never really completely go away but they are certainly more manageable when I am practising the skills I get to exercise regularly at Toastmasters meetings.

Have you tried Toastmasters? What did you think?

If you’re interested in visiting a club near you, find a local club that suits your schedule here.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Happiness Experiment

My thighs are too wobbly, and my stomach jiggles. My forehead is too big for the rest of my face. My moles are unsightly and my butt is too flat.

My body is disgusting. Disgusting.

What do you feel when you look in the mirror?

Life will be better and we will all be happy when we are thinner and have less wrinkles, right?

Let’s reminisce about the time I entered a bikini competition.

Who wouldn’t want to look like a fitness model? Imagine how happy I would feel if I had a figure like that girl on Instagram, toned and smiling. Or her, her life looks magnificent and she just makes it look so easy. All it will take is some self-discipline in the kitchen and a few extra sessions at the gym and that could be me.

There I was. You would find me in the gym 5.30 every morning busting out my weights programme. I’d get home and methodically prepare my prescribed oats, blueberries and protein powder for breakfast. At morning tea, I’d inhale a couple of rice crackers with a smear of peanut butter and decline the raspberry buns on offer in the staff room yet again. I’d clock watch until it was lunch time to demolish the chicken, kumara and vegetables I had carefully measured out that morning and so the rest of my day would go until it was time to head back to the gym to complete my prescribed treadmill session.

For 12 weeks, the process consumed me, I became obsessive about calories, macros and my physical appearance. My mindset and attitude was dictated by my body fat percentage and I became socially isolated as I turned down invitation after invitation, too anxious about what I’d be able to eat if I went out.

I was increasingly uncomfortable with what I was slowly learning was required to be stage ready too. It wasn’t just a few nips and tucks on the diet and exercise. Thermogenic supplements used to increase the heat in the body and in turn affect the body’s metabolism were recommended to me without any potential side effect risks being explained. As stage day drew closer I would be required to take a form of laxative and other dehydrators to rid my body of fluid to achieve that ripped look under the lights and for the cameras.

If that was just the beginning, it sounded like a slippery slope to a very dark world in pursuit of the elusive perfect body.

I had overhauled my diet and my exercise regime and I was the leanest I had ever been. I took a few progress photos and I remember feeling deflated. My tummy was starting to show some definition but it needed to be better, I still had fat to drop and muscle to build.

Looking at that image 5 years on, 8 months after having a child, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I want to wind back the clock and shake my 23 year old self and tell her it wasn’t worth it.

It wasn’t worth it because of what I don’t think when I look at this photo.

Despite being lean, it doesn’t ignite memories of contentment and happiness. My relationship with my body was worse off as I scrutinised things I had never considered before. My relationships with the people around me suffered as I became isolated and my career, quite frankly, remained unaffected.

Have you worked out why I was no happier yet?

Kindness, love, intelligence, passion, creativity and determination, strength and capability, these important happiness attributes are not influenced by the way we look.

When is it that we learn that our bodies are imperfect and need to be fixed? When do we make that connection between our appearance and our self-worth?

It makes no difference to my 8 month old daughter how big my forehead is or how wobbly my tummy is.

From the time we can comprehend our surroundings, advertising preys on self-doubt, encouraging us to perceive a problem with our body size, skin tone or dress sense and then gratifyingly provides the weight loss and muscle toning or anti-aging solution. Malls, department stores, television and social media – they are all insecurity dens.

The thing is, I am no longer that susceptible girl I was. My body is not disgusting. It is an amazing machine that carried and birthed a child, that can race in triathlons and can keep up with the daily demands of life.

I wish more people understood the cost of achieving the physique of a fitness model and I wish that it wasn’t so glamourised. I wish my teenage sisters could scroll through their social pages and be inspired by the capability of women all shapes and sizes. I hope and pray that I manage to model positive behaviours, and raise Everly to have a healthy relationship with her body.

Let’s start the change within in ourselves

Stop thinking that one day, when I’m thin enough, or less wrinkly, I’ll be happy. Don’t wait until you have lost weight to swim with your kids at the beach, to be in photos or to be intimate with your partner.

Choose now to live, choose now to be happy. Choose now to be strong and capable, passionate, creative, loving and determined. Your body deserves love and respect, just the way it is.

A Morning Routine That Works

For a long time I subscribed to what I thought my weekday morning routine “should” be. The idea that I’d wake up in the morning, sip my lemon water, practice yoga and meditate for half an hour before taking a shower and executing an elaborate skincare regime. I’d pull on the coordinated outfit I’d laid out the night before, prepare and mindfully down a kale-acai-chia instagram worthy breakfast smoothie bowl and start my day feeling like Mary Poppins singing a spoon full of sugar, or in this case Stevia.

Yeah, I was kidding myself. Even trying to do half of a strict morning routine like this set me up for failure. One aspect of it would go awry and that would be the end of it. Kind of like when you’re on a diet and you eat one Tim Tam, then three have disappeared, then you think stuff it, I may as well eat the whole packet. Yeah, that’s me too.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been listening to The Thrive Global podcast where Arianna Huffington interviews high profile people such as Jennifer Aniston, Brandon Stanton and Tim Ferriss about their relationships with technology and their morning routines. It got me thinking about mine and how well it’s working for me at the moment, here it is.

As I have mentioned a couple of times in previous posts, I charge my phone in the kitchen overnight so it’s no longer the first thing I turn to when I wake up and I don’t pick it up until the end of my morning routine so I have no distractions. I have reinstated the hideously outdated Transonic digital clock that I’ve had since I was 15. How I still own it I’ll never know but I can tell the time when I’m on mum duty through the night and if I need to set a morning alarm, it does that too. How very functional.

My recurring alarm, that sounds a lot like a tiny human crying, goes off any time from 4.30am but my day officially starts around 7.30am. Everly is normally awake and snuggled beside me in our bed by then.

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I like to take her out by the front window around this time to wave goodbye to Dave as he pulls out the drive and heads to work. If she’s still sleeping soundly, I’ll leave her where she is.

The first thing I do once I’ve put Evie down to play is fill the jug and flick it on. While it’s boiling, I’ll pop into the bedroom and make the bed. There’s something about a made up bedroom that starts my day on a good note. Next up is my least favourite chore, unpacking and reloading the dishwasher. I’m a bit awol about there being dishes on the bench and it actually only takes 5 minutes to do but still. Always happy when that part’s done. Next I’ll give the benches a bit of a wipe down and clean our black glass dining table if the cats have been tap dancing with their dirty paws over it, particularly if it’s been a rainy morning outside.

Once the bed and the dishes are sorted, I might throw a load of washing on just to be one step ahead on that front or I like to include one “odd job” as part of my housekeeping routine in the mornings. You know, those jobs you don’t do every day but need to be done. I might run the vacuum over or wash the floors. I might organise an untidy draw or sort Evie’s clothes and retire those she has grown out of to storage.

All in all, the lame chores are done within an hour and Evie is generally starting to get grouchy and ready for another sleep. I might spend the next half hour or so settling her back down and then I have a “who knows how long” window of time to myself for breakfast, a cup of tea and my gratitude journal.

For breakfast it’ll be bacon, two poached eggs and a piece of rye toast or a banana, berry, chia and greek yoghurt smoothie or Scotch Oats porridge with brown sugar and milk (you need this porridge in your life if you haven’t tried it!). Over breakfast, I do actually try to eat mindfully, it certainly helps not having my phone in hand and if it’s a nice day, the sun streams onto our front porch so I might go and sit out there in the quiet and notice what’s happening “in the moment” (still in my PJs mind you, it only gets awkward when morning walkers or joggers are out in force).

Despite my collection of beautiful china tea cups, I tend to make a cup of Dilmah English Breakfast tea in one of three of my favourite mugs. It wasn’t really intentional but you know how you have your go-to’s. I love these black, gold and white Elle mugs!

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After breakfast, while I finish my cup of tea, I make note of 3 things I am grateful for that day in my migoals journal. I try not to overthink it, one morning sitting on the porch the sun was beaming gently on my face and the breeze was warm and comfortable, so the first thing I was grateful for was the sun and warm breeze. I don’t try to be too creative or original. Sometime’s it’s something nice Dave said to me, or how lucky we are to snuggle Everly. By starting my day with a brief exercise practising a “glass half full” mindset, I find it sets the tone for my attitude tackling the rest of my day.

Once my tea cup is empty and I’ve completed my gratitude journal, I give myself permission to check my phone. Generally Evie is awake by now and needs to be fed so I’ll catch up on and reply to missed messages while I feed her. I guess if I was working instead of being a SAHM, this time slot, albeit earlier, would be the equivalent of my morning commute to work.

For me, this is the end of my regular morning routine. I’ve left out getting dressed, showering and exercising as these things happen in their own sweet time because #mumlife. The change that has had the biggest impact on my productivity and mindfulness is resisting picking up my phone for the hour and a half or so after I wake up. It gives me the headspace to dictate the way my day starts before becoming consumed in what is happening online.

I’m almost through a “30 minutes a day for 30 days” experiment to get my exercise back on track so perhaps I’ll pen a post about that sometime. I also think I’m going to introduce warm lemon water into my routine afterall, for the detoxification benefits and all of that. We’ll see, one thing at a time.

Is there something you have made part of your morning routine that works really well for you? I’d love to start a conversation, leave a comment below.

Featured image by David Mao on Unsplash

Don’t be offended if you don’t hear back from me right away

Since when did immediacy become ingrained in our culture? Those little red circles alerting us to a Facebook like, comment or share, a new email, something new on Snapchat or another thing that needs our attention on Instagram at that moment. We send a message to a friend and can literally see if they have read it and half expect a response. We can even see if our friends are online and if not, when they last were.

It’s all consuming.

I’m advocating we take micro steps to reverse our attitudes and expectations of each other and the impact being constantly connected is having on our happiness. What percentage of the content we consume on a daily basis actually does us any good? 2%,  maybe less? I think the majority of it fosters “compare and despair” as we compare the highlights of someone else’s life to our own reality.

In my last post I talked about how I no longer charge my phone beside the bed and resist picking it up until I have started my day without my mind being hijacked by breaking news or the latest meme tag. I thought I would share a few other ways I am dictating my own screen time and why you should consider making a phone call about the things requiring immediate attention.

Unsubscribe from all email lists I never actually read

Does your personal and/or work email get clogged with emails from the same senders that end up straight in the deleted folder, or just sit unread in your mailbox? Earlier this week I went through my emails and methodically unsubscribed from all senders that fill my inbox with clutter. It’s amazing how quiet my inbox is now, only emails from people I care about and/or that contain information of any importance make it in. Opening my emails is no longer overwhelming.

Manage all that blog content gold elsewhere

Are there blogs that you just can’t live without but so many you can’t seem to keep on top of them? Cool, same for me. Instead of filling your inbox, use a tool designed for managing all that juicy content. For a long time I have been using Feedly to remain knowledgeable about both my personal and professional areas of interest, check it once or twice a day, skim the content headlines, file away the good stuff for future reference and the rest disappears.

Turn off all social notifications

I have turned off all of my notifications on Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Strava (yes, I’m talking to you too), Facebook and Messenger, not just the sound, the whole shebang. Do you know how liberating it is? Imagine opening your phone to zero little red circles peeling your attention away to start that chain reaction where an hour later you still haven’t put your phone down.

If it’s important, they’ll call

Remember how we used to talk to each other? Mobile phones were pretty new when I was a teenager, catching up with a friend was done with an actual conversation on a landline or by turning up on their doorstep. I figure if there is anything important that I need to know immediately, or respond to immediately, my phone will ring.

Others have gone as far as setting up an auto-responder on their emails to let senders know they are not available and to resend their email at a more suitable time as the original email will be automatically deleted then and there. That’s a little extreme according to me, but I think we can all take steps to reduce our expectations on our family, colleagues and friends to respond immediately and regain control of those intrusive notifications.

What are your thoughts on changing the ever connected, immediacy expectations of our modern culture? What do you do to disconnect?  I’d love to hear.

Photo by Charlz Gutiérrez De Piñeres on Unsplash

 

My new standard of success

Timing and coincidence are funny things. I wonder if I had taken an alternative summer school paper, or left that book behind at the library, how my mindset going into 2018 would be different.

The teamwork and leadership paper I recently completed explores this idea of “critical reflexivity”, the action of reflecting on and coming to an understanding of your reflex responses to situations. I liken it to a small child, full of curiosity and wonder, asking “why, why, why” until finally you reach the root answer.

For me, this experience led to understanding my dependence on external recognition to validate my self-worth (I know, deep). Therefore, my self-confidence is shaken in absence of praise or a pat on the back. Worse still, I actively avoid criticism with what can be perceived as perfectionist tendencies.

The answers I needed were found in Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive”. I picked this up last minute when perusing the library for Ivanka Trump’s “Women who Work”. I had heard of Arianna Huffington as a successful business woman, the founder of Huffington Post, and thought it would be interesting to skim through over the holiday break.

Arianna is wealthy, and powerful, the two metrics that our modern culture define success by. In her book Arianna discusses, through her experiences, the third metric of success critical to happiness, the things less recognised by the success scrutineers.

She talks about the power of well-being, our physical and mental health. She talks about wisdom and wonder, the creativity and gratitude inspired by marvelling at art, nature and the activity going on around us. She talks about giving, not just money, but time, and how deeply satisfying it is to do something for someone else by simply being kind, generous with our time and reserving judgement.

I recorded a quote from the book that struck a chord with me.

“If we are unduly absorbed in improving our lives, we may forget altogether to live them”.

For so long, I have been chasing the next thing, when we were engaged, it was marriage. When we were married, it was a child. Bigger fitness challenges and levelling up in my career.

Arianna’s words and the self-discovery process of practising critical reflexivity were a timely reminder to disconnect from the things that no longer serve my soul.

I was inspired to create a vision board for 2018. A significant theme on this is unplugging, taking time to notice more and being OK with not being on the go all the time. To give up the title of “active relaxer” that I have worn as a badge of honour since the time Dad pointed out I was never able to sit still!

As a start, for the last week I have resisted sleeping with my phone by the bed and made a commitment to only check it in the morning after I have completed the morning home maker routine, settled Everly, had my breakfast followed by a cup of tea and spent some time recording 3 things I am grateful for.

I have experienced a sense of calm and clarity in this process, my day doesn’t begin with reacting to whatever I read on Facebook or responding to messages received late at night. My brain switches off more easily between tending to Everly overnight as my mind isn’t hijacked by social media apps.

I am redefining success by my own standards and it feels bloody good.

Want to learn more about the Third Metric of Success? Check out www.thriveglobal.com or have a listen to the Thrive Global podcast. I most recently enjoyed Arianna’s interview with Brandon Stanton, the guy who could be any one of us behind the deeply moving sensation that is Humans of New York.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Tackling your ‘uncomfort’ zone

say-yes-kotilo_johanna-horkkoAbout six years ago I pulled myself out of a slump by deciding that I wanted to be more interesting. I wanted a better answer than “nothing much” or “same old” to “what have you been up to lately?” It sounds stupid actually writing that but it’s exactly how the scenario played out in my head.

Where did I start? 

The beginning of my ‘be more interesting’ mission started by acknowledging the things that I sucked at or the things that scared the shit out of me. Things that fell into my ‘uncomfort’ zone included public speaking, golf and performing arts.

What did I do next?

Without thinking about the ifs, buts or maybes, I signed up for Toastmasters, golf lessons and Burlesque classes – and I went to every single one. Terrifying? Yes! Exhilarating? Even more so!

Within a year I became a self-proclaimed ‘casual golfer’, ended up co-running a few public speaking courses and competed in a speaking competition to earn myself a rad participation certificate! I also learned that I am better off sticking to sporting activities – corsets and fishnets were fun for a term but Burlesque wasn’t something I pursued beyond ‘tassels and twirls 101’.

Then what happened?

After a couple of years, I re-evaluated. I had met a boy, agreed to marry him and we bought a house in an area where I knew nobody. After lugging a brand new glittering box of china teacups back to our new home from a trip to Melbourne I decided that the best way to meet some people was to start an afternoon tea club. This was the beginning of the High Tea Honeys. I think back to how impulsive that decision was. In all of one evening I dreamt up the name, registered the meetup group, designed a logo that would suffice and then launched it. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would still be running over two years later.

And now?

All of these experiences that I made an impulsive decision to pursue have given me self-confidence, new skills and some amazing new friends. I have learned that I love inspiring people to tackle their own ‘uncomfort’ zones, that I am an entrepreneur at heart and that I am obsessed with tea and cake.

All of this because I wanted to be a little more interesting. Who would have thought?

Fall in love with your dreams

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I have hardly slept for the last two weeks and it’s not because I am suffering from insomnia. It’s because I have been far too excited about the business plans I have been working on.

I liken the feeling to falling in love but instead of falling in love with a person, I’ve fallen in love with my dreams. My ears have been ringing as I collapse into bed every night with a mind full of ideas. Once it starts, it manifests and before I know it, I’m making notes about new business concepts at 2am.

Even with the lack of sleep, I have managed to bounce out of bed in the morning, just to spend 30 minutes incorporating the new information into my business plan. I’ve even taken to working on my laptop during the 20 minute train commute in the mornings…

My point is, if you’re not bouncing out of bed in the morning to do something that you love, change your situation. Start by making a list of all of the things that you are passionate about, then make a list of the things you do every day. Compare the lists and adjust accordingly.