After I published my article last week, “How to Start Letting Go of the Fear of Being ‘Wrong,’” a reader reached out to me with a question.

She wrote: “I like your idea of offering compassion to the part of me that’s scared. The only problem is— My fear comes up most when I’m in front of other people. Sometimes, I’m in a meeting with a colleague. Other times, it’s when I’m in front of a group.

Just last week, I froze up during a question and answer session after a presentation for my organization. I wanted to speak from my heart and get the message on point, but my mind went blank, and I couldn’t get the words out. I had to rely on my co-worker to answer the questions.

It’s great to give the scared part of myself a hug, but I can’t do that in front of my boss or a room full of people! What am I supposed to do when my mind goes blank in those situations? Help, please?!”

Here’s my response:

First of all, thank you for your question. (I love getting questions from readers!).

Of course, you don’t need to give yourself a hug when you’re on a stage!

If you’re not completely comfortable coming up with poignant remarks off the cuff, you’re not alone.

Public speaking is one of the biggest fears of Americans.

Many people believe that they “should” just be able to talk on their feet without thinking about it much. While some people are great spontaneous speakers, many of us are not.

Improvising is a skill, and it’s not one that most of are born with. Proving this point, there’s an awesome local organization that teaches these improv skills. There are four basic courses (levels one through four), followed by three tiers of advanced courses (with almost twenty different advanced courses in all!).

Someday, I want to take these classes. For now, I always prepare ahead of time. Otherwise, I risk my mind going blank, even without a huge fear of doing something wrong.

If you know that part of you is terrified of doing it “wrong,” it’s probably not realistic to expect yourself to let go of this fear in one of the most potentially scary situations there is.

Any time you’re planning to speak publicly or are heading into a highly-charged situation where you’ll have to think on your fear, it’s a good idea to prepare by having a conversation with the part of you that’s scared.

I’ve written about how to taking time to offer compassion to the part of you who is scared is the first step to letting go of the fear of not being “right” or “perfect” or even “good enough.”

Practicing self-compassion in your day-to-day life is part of your preparation for more challenging moments like difficult conversations with your boss or public speaking. The more you get in the habit of offering compassion to the part of you who’s afraid during everyday life, the more you’ll be able to shift out of fear and ground yourself in more challenging situations.

The practice I’m about to teach you is another step towards letting go of these fears, especially when you’re preparing to give a presentation or have a difficult conversation.

I invite you to try this now:

  • Grab a piece of paper and something to write with.
  • Then, bring to mind a situation in which you’ll have to give a presentation or have a conversation that makes you nervous or anxious.
  • Feel for the fear or nervousness in your body and say “hello” to this part of yourself. Then, in your mind’s eye, sit down next to it and let it know that you’d like to ask it a few questions.
  • When you feel ready, I invite you to ask the part of you who is scared these questions and write down the answers that come up:
      • What is the worst thing you can imagine happening?
    • How do you feel when you imagine that happening? Witness the emotion that comes up without making it wrong or trying to push it away. Listen gently, as you would to a child who is frightened.
  • Now, imagine that the same thing is happening, only the difference is that you’re coping. How would you like to respond? Allow yourself to make this image a brightly colored movie and feel how you feel in your body.
  • How can you prepare yourself for being able to respond in the way you want to respond? Get as specific as possible about what small steps you can take now, in case the worst happens. What will you do now to prepare to be able to cope then?
  • If you need more time than you have right now, I encourage you to set a time on your calendar when you’ll come back to this conversation with yourself. Then, make sure to keep this promise to yourself.

Some people tend to over-prepare out of fear, and if this has been your habit, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to over-prepare. But, it’s important to have a balance. One of the most loving things that you can do for yourself is to pause and give yourself at least some time to prepare before you go into a potentially scary situation.

I encourage you to not rush past self-compassion. As the saying goes, “go slow to go fast.” In the end, pausing to offer ourselves self-compassion is one of the fastest paths towards letting go of fear and creating the change we want to see.

If you have a friend or two who you think would benefit from this articles, please forward send it along to them. Thank you!

And, I’d love to hear from you: What came up for you when you were doing this exercise? And, what helps you let go of fear before a big presentation?

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