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November 2016

Post image for How to Become Less Uptight in Two Minutes

The classic advice for public speaking nerves is to picture the crowd in their underwear.

I wonder if the person who invented that ever tried it. I find it immediately increases the tension of a speaking situation. It makes you more aware of what’s at stake—the possibility of embarrassment, for the audience too.

What does work is to picture the room around you as it was at 4 am. Empty and silent. Nobody there to need any particular thing to happen, or not happen.

This simple thought makes it clear that the room itself is harmless, and so is speaking into it. Filling it with people changes that sense a little, but not so much that it feels dangerous.

The mental image of an inert room shrinks the prospect of speaking from a frantic story in your mind down to its bare bones again—people in a room, one of them talking. It becomes obvious that however the talk goes, life will continue afterward. The room will be quiet again, with no trace of your forgotten lines or botched intro, if they even happened.

Even if you never speak to a roomful of people, this ability to shift your view of a particular scene in this way is quite useful. You can reduce the stressful effect of queues, crowds, busy subway platforms and family gatherings just by imagining that same space as it might feel with no people in it—either the previous night at 4am, or a century from now, when it’s a dusty ruin. Back in the present, suddenly the place isn’t so threatening or intolerable. It’s just what it is to the senses alone—a space with people in it—and the mind is only adding commentary.

This remarkable little exercise works because our feelings towards the moment we’re in typically have little to do with the scene itself. Instead, we’re wrapped up in our own internal narrative around it.  Read More

Post image for Clarity Comes From Stepping Away

I’m home again after spending a week and a half in Ecuador, plus an election Tuesday in Miami and three days visiting in Toronto. That two weeks away felt like much longer, which is always a good feeling to have about a trip, because it usually means you learned something.

The time in Ecuador in particular was unforgettable, full of new friends and personal catharses. I was there as a presenter at a kind of retreat called a chautauqua, alongside J.D. Roth from Money Boss, Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, and Cheryl Reed, the retreat’s organizer. (I wrote more about the trip here.)

Essentially, a chautauqua is a get-together for purpose of exchanging ideas about how to live. A group of about twenty-five of us spent a week in a small mountainside resort in Ecuador’s cloud forest, reflecting on big-picture topics like lifestyle choices, personal habits, career moves and general well-being. There were day trips and activities, and a ton of conversations. We all sat in random spots at dinner every night so that every single person got to know everyone else.

We got to know each other so quickly that saying goodbye on the final Sunday was almost heartbreaking. I felt like I had known these people for years. By then, everyone had shared so much of what matters to them with everyone else: what moves us, what we love, what we fear, what we want to change about ourselves. We had gone from total strangers to a tight-knit tribe in which every member would do just about anything for anyone else. In seven days.

This is the magic of the chautauqua format. Everyone brings their own wisdom and experience to the group with a kind of generosity and acceptance I’ve never experienced in any other setting. Everyone is away from home and the superficial distractions of their normal schedules, so we were all very present for each other. We were constantly in conversation, constantly offering help with anything we can, constantly looking out for the whole group.  Read More

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