In previous columns I’ve cited brain research that sheds light on the transformational impact of the Relational Presence practice we do at Speaking Circles, an approach that may be considered the lazy person’s guide to dissolving stage fright with groups and in everyday life.
The issue that brings so many to Speaking Circles (including myself as founder) is the triggering of anxiety and contraction when being the center of attention. For many of us that response was a childhood survival mechanism that hard-wired our brain to make associations that would prove unhelpful in the long run. That groove, that rut, was years in the making and decades in the maintaining. Patterns of neuro-association like these are challenging to resolve.
The common approach of trying to overcome that conditioning with white-knuckle practice and a “fake it till you make it” mentality works for very few, leaving the rest of us moving through adulthood imagining we somehow missed the boat when it comes to public speaking.
The Miracle of Brain Neuro-plasticity
The neuro-plasticity of the brain provides a path of least resistance. Instead of trying to repair or overcome the hardened neuro-pathways, a thankless task, we have all this amorphous intelligent brain matter at hand that is able to form new neuro-pathways with new associations that become stronger and more compelling than the hard-wired ones. Imagine building a freeway parallel to an old rutted road, and this new way goes to a far better place.
Well-facilitated Speaking Circle turns shift our attention to a fertile area of the brain in which to build a powerful neuro-pathway that associates being fully seen and heard with expansion and pleasure. This new association develops even more quickly when we can clearly picture the mechanics of neuro-plasticity so we can let it work wonders for us.
See this excellent 2-minute animated representation of how neuro-plasticity works.
Part of understanding the mechanics relates to what are perceived as “relapses.” After a few good experiences in front of groups it is common to have an uncomfortable session that feels like all is again lost. But when you realize that all that happened was you went down an old hard-wired worm hole and got triggered, and you understand that the old wiring is still active, you simply learn to take a breath, find a pair of listening eyes, and switch over to the freeway. Eventually the new pathway becomes so much more powerful that the old wiring weakens in comparison and loosens its grip.
I’m imagining the malleability of brain matter, the substance of genius; amorphous, able to be shaped and molded in any direction. Fifty billion brain cells, each a perfect system, collectively form a billion dollar personal computer at our command.
As I see precisely what I’m facilitating that transforms lives, and as I call the attention of participants to that one-pointed purpose of our group work–to provide luxurious experiences that associate being fully seen and heard with expansion and pleasure–they are able to use that awareness to invite even more expansively pleasurable turns.
And since the active ingredient of this transformation is tapping into the pleasure of being seen, I have been suggesting that participants start each turn by expansively sensing into the pleasure of being seen before saying a word up front. You might try that in the mirror with yourself and/or in a Relational Presence dyad exercise with a partner.
Let me know how it goes!