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Unpacking "Presence"

As the group gathered, Phil was aware of a growing #anxiety around his role as the presenter. Those in the room seemed affable enough, but he knew the impact this group could have on his career and how it had impacted others. The word was, when the meetings began, the mood would shift and the climate would become brutal. Like a coordinated attack on those who showed any sign of uncertainty.

He had practiced, rehearsed, filmed and revised until he knew his material forward and backward – so why was he becoming increasingly anxious? He knew his anxiety would show and create something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, inviting the sharks to attack! Then he’d be screwed. They would find the holes in his presentation and make him out to be a fool, an incompetent who didn’t belong there. Maybe he should reschedule or have one of his peers deliver the material. He was coming unglued.

Been there? What is it that creates the tension, #selfdoubt or anxiety around these situations? Some might say its natural, and perhaps a bit of nervousness is a good thing since it heightens your awareness. But when the anxiety compromises your ability to effectively deliver and navigate a presentation or discussion, it’s a problem that no amount of preparation or positive self-talk in the mirror is going to remedy.

Situations like this arise due to a lack of confidence. The #confidence born of #self-acceptance. There is the confidence that comes with experience and successful repetition within an area of focus. Then there is the confidence that results from an self-acceptance that transcends circumstances and situations. It’s the later that allows you to navigate differing and difficult situations with a presence that communicates and instills confidence. In this space, you’re grounded intellectually, fully present and focused on the task at hand, not on factors or negative thoughts that would contribute to insecurity. Self-acceptance, according to Harvard contributor Srini Pillay, MD, is “an individual’s acceptance of all of his/her attributes, positive or negative. It includes body acceptance, self-protection from negative criticism, and believing in one’s capacities”. It says I’m ok with who I am, good and bad and in the midst of success or failure, I know that I will learn and grow from the experience. So, regardless of any particular outcome or opinion, I know who I am and where I’m headed.

Can anyone ever really achieve this level of self-confidence/acceptance? Absolutely! The fallacy is in believing that you can achieve this transcendent presence by layering positive thoughts and mantras on top of negative beliefs that tell you that you’re unworthy. Your level of self-acceptance is a direct result of what’s been programmed into your subconscious throughout your entire life. Beliefs that are reinforced by negative thought patterns that arise automatically creating doubt and uncertainty. Layering positive self-talk on top of underlying negative beliefs may provide confidence for the moment, but when a perceived threat is sensed (i.e. a challenge), anxiety results and we attempt to manage through it with stress related behaviors that minimize our ability to be present and confident.

Achieving lasting self-acceptance is a journey that requires insight, honesty and management. Insight around your value, your strengths and flaws. Honesty with yourself about mistakes made and wrongs done. Management of thought life, mindfulness.

This is not to say that practice, preparation and knowledge of your material is not important. It is. Nerves will arise at times in new situations and these steps will aid in preparing you. And in many situations, you will get started and perform well. But, if like Phil, the anxiety multiplies and cripples, these strategies are of limited value. So, before you ever get there, invest in the practices of self-acceptance. We’ll dive deeper into how to progress through this journey in future blogs – sign up for notification of our next installment, “Your Personal Inventory”.

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