Mindfulness, Grit & Perseverance Reduces Stress

I was driving to a friend’s house over Memorial Day weekend when my mind started wandering down memory lane. It got me thinking about the last time I drove those back roads of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It had been the Fall of 2016. The presidential campaign was in full swing activating me with angst on a daily basis.

In addition to the election jitters, I was preparing to give a TEDx Talk and had seven weeks to prepare. Egad! Being invited to speak at TEDxWilmington was quite an honor, but with it came a tremendous amount of anxiety. Throughout the weeks of writing and rehearsing, my Inner Worrier bombarded me with doubts and fears: “Are you going to be able to learn your lines?” “Will you freeze up or get flustered by the sight of the cameras?”” Will you be able to hold people’s attention for the long haul?” My mind was non-stop.

Speaking to a global audience via the TEDx platform was unlike anything I’d ever encountered. TEDx speakers are required to speak without any notes. No paper, no index card, absolutely nothing available for the looking.

Six months later, reflecting back on those stressful days, I can’t help but wonder what helped me get through the process. What enabled me to maintain a strong-enough sense of resilience and resolve? How did I deal with the onslaught of anxiety?

For sure, my expertise as a psychotherapist and leadership coach came in handy. I knew that my Inner Worrier was activated by anticipatory anxiety and that worry wasn’t going to chill out until the talk was over. The neurochemical reaction produced by doubt is so powerful that it can override the mind’s ability to think rationally.

To protect myself, I started using a number of strategies known to foster calm and steadiness. Mindfulness practice was key. Mindfulness is when we intentionally pay attention to what’s going in our own head - to our self-talk. When I turned my attention inward, there was no mistaking it. Fear-based stories galore, jam packed with questions: “What’s gonna happen? How are you going to do that? What if it isn’t good enough?”

I kept reminding myself that the voice of worry was like a one-trick pony that only knows how to ignite worry. With that in mind, I redirected my attention to thinking about what an Inner Coach might have to say. That’s the part of the mind that is reasonable, optimistic and encouraging. Not surprisingly, those responses were far more interesting and far more constructive: “You’re right where you need to be in the process. You’re on track, stay with it. Eventually it will all come together, but you’re not at that stage yet. Keep practicing, you’re doing great.” I felt a lot more grounded and hopeful when repeating those more positive oriented Inner-Coaching™ messages.

Ultimately my efforts paid off. I held steady and maintained my sense of courage. The hours of practice paid off. I remembered my lines and accepted the mistakes made. “No big deal,” I heard my Inner Coach say to me while on stage. I had mixed up a word and then corrected it. My Inner Worrier was nowhere to be found. She was quiet and dormant thanks to all my mindfulness practice, grit and perseverance.

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