Today’s guest contributor is writer, coach, violinist, filmmaker, law school graduate, and web designer, Emilie Wapnick, who works with multipotentialites to help them build lives and businesses around ALL their interests. She’s the author of Renaissance Business and the troublemaker behind Puttylike.com.
“How do you like your Macbook case?” I asked the attractive stranger at the neighbouring table.
“What’s that?” he replied.
“Oh, I like it. It actually saved me the other night, when my roommate spilled his drink all over the place.”
We kept chatting. His name was Stephen and he played the cello.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, I was not trying to pick him up. I wasn’t even all that interested in his computer case.
Starting conversations with strangers is a practice that I’ve adopted to help me overcome fear and doubt in my work.
Yes, you heard me right. This was about productivity.
I learned this trick a while back, when I was in an entrepreneurial competition and had to give a terrifying presentation to some big name CEOs. Like many people, I’d always despised public speaking. But this talk was important.
I decided to prepare by shoring up my confidence beforehand. My logic was that if I was going to be expected to step onto The Stage — a place of supreme uncertainty — then I would practice feeling nervous first, by embracing uncertainty in small ways throughout the day. I dubbed these “mini-risks.”
When it was finally time to deliver my speech that afternoon, I felt far more confident than I would have, had I passively gone about my day, waiting for the big moment to descend on me. It felt as though I had created my day. I’d taken charge, just like I was about to do in that speech…!
I repeated this experiment several times, and continually found that on the days when I took a number of mini-risks, I was far more productive. I was able to focus on my work, and not get as distracted by fear or self-doubt.
Here’s what’s involved, and how the practice works:
Mini-risks can involve making eye contact and smiling at people on the street, asking your waiter a question about their life, or even standing in the center of a room at a party, where people might actually look at you(!) The degree of risk involved varies from person to person. What makes a really shy person nervous may seem like no big deal for someone who’s more extroverted. That person will have to take “bigger” mini-risks.
The key is to take actions that make you a little queasy, but are still doable, and aren’t truly harmful in any physical, or long term sense. Gauge where your current comfort levels are, and push yourself just a bit further than what feels safe. Start small, even if it means simply making eye contact with a stranger on the street.
An easy way to begin implementing this practice is to go about your day, and whenever you notice an opportunity where you could be assertive, take the lead, speak, or move, do it. From spreading out on a couch, to complimenting a friend’s shirt, to illustrating a point by diving into a personal story and opening up emotionally, there are a million tiny moments throughout the day when you have the choice between taking action or remaining passive. Start noticing these moments and begin choosing action.
See each mini-risk that you take as a win, regardless of how other people react. This is important. The practice must be action-based, not results-based. You take the risk, you win. Period.
Most importantly, stack those wins. Congratulate yourself each time you take a small assertive action. See each risk as an accomplishment in and of itself, and then stack each win on top of the next, building up your confidence.
When it comes to emotionally high stakes scenarios, like pursuing a business idea that everyone thinks is crazy, or performing your first stand up routine, we often feel like our success or failure is beyond our control.
Taking mini-risks reminds you that you indeed have control over your performance and the amount of output you generate in the world. It reestablishes a sense of trust in your own ability. You demonstrate to yourself that you can handle whatever is thrown your way– that while you may not have all the answers now (you may even be a complete beginner), you’ll find a way to make it work.
And so, no, I wasn’t interested in Stephen in that way (though he’s awesome, and we have since become friends). By jumping into a conversation with a total stranger, I was proving to myself that I could handle awkwardness and uncertainty, both in social situations and in my life more generally.
After chatting for a few minutes, I settled into my seat with my Sencha tea, smiled, and began working on whatever frightening project was in my heart that day.
What do you think?
Do you ever take “mini-risks” in social settings to help you move past fear and self-doubt in your work?
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