We have all heard the expression that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the true definition of insanity. Indeed it is. Yet, when it comes to our behavior, many of us believe that we can have different outcomes in our lives without doing the hard work of instituting change.
Behavior change is a process - one that is often long and difficult. And, while there is no specific data that consistently confirms how long it takes to change behaviors or form new habits, conventional thinking suggests it can take as little as 3 weeks and as long as nearly a year. In reality, you cannot simply adopt a new behavior. Just thinking you want to change something is not enough to actually force the new behavior. Your brain literally needs some rewiring. Behaving differently takes time and practice. It requires introducing a new way of thinking, a new approach to doing something and allowing your brain to catch up.
Think about it. If you have been smoking for 20 years and you decide you want to quit, the most challenging way of doing that is by giving up the cigarettes cold turkey. Expecting your body to stop craving the nicotine simply because you have made up your mind that you no longer want to smoke is not a realistic option for most. Your brain is still looking for not only the substance but also is conditioned to expect the behavior of smoking the cigarette in various situations. Changing this behavior requires a gradual reduction of the intake and an alteration of the behavior. For instance, no longer smoking when out at a bar. Reducing the narcotic intake after meals. Over time, your brain will stop expecting the cigarette and you will gradually see a behavior alteration.
When we work with clients to help them overcome their challenges with public speaking, we approach it much in the same way. Often, the obstacle they are most challenged by is fear. Fear is a mental state that causes behaviors that, in the case of public speaking, can fundamentally alter one’s physiology. Suddenly, you are sweating in a freezing cold room. Or, perhaps, information that typically comes easily is inaccessible in your head. In order to overcome these struggles, we work with clients to help them feel more confident about their skills to reduce their nerves and fear and allow their minds and bodies to operate in a natural and productive way. By practicing their skills – strong posture, meaningful gesturing, engaging eye contact and using your voice in a powerful way – even the most anxious speaker can learn to perform naturally and confidently. But, like any other behavior change, it requires time and commitment. You can’t just change overnight but you are definitely capable of becoming a better speaker or presenter. Even those who claim they will never be comfortable speaking in front of groups have found that, with practice, they have been able to shift their behavior to think and act differently.
It just takes time and the first step, as in any change, is deciding you want to make the change.