In January 2016, a Toastmasters chapter was started at my company. I went to the initial meeting and while I was a little put off by all the clapping (I am used to it now), I liked the idea of having a positive place to get better at something that is nerve racking for me – public speaking. I am not scared of public speaking like I am of spiders, but I do get nervous and tend to shake during my presentations. It is distracting to me and I can imagine it is distracting to the audience. I decided to join the club and become more familiar and comfortable with public speaking. Not only have I become more comfortable with public speaking, I have also learned a lot about my coworkers who are also in the club. This has brought me closer to a lot of them. This was a quite unexpected and pleasant surprise.
But I am not here to sing the praises of Toastmasters, although I could certainly do that (if anyone is interested in joining a club near you but wants to know more please feel free to contact me). I am writing this post today because of something I read in the July edition of the Toastmasters magazine entitled “How to Grow from Your Toastmasters Evaluations” by Kristen Hamling. Part of Toastmasters is that you are given feedback after a speech and this is to help you improve. The evaluator will tell you things you did well and point out some areas that could use some work. Sometimes I find it hard to hear this criticism or any criticism really, but these paragraphs in the article really struck a chord with me:
“Buddha described our pain and suffering as being hit by two arrows. The first arrow is an event that actually happened, something that we have little control over. Consider this the negative feedback in your evaluation. The second arrow is then shot by ourselves. We focus on our reaction to the feedback and how it makes us feel.
In life, we can never stop the first arrow from firing, but we can do a lot to stop the second arrow. As Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author, writes in his book What I Talk About When I Talk about Running: ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.’
Mindfulness is a way of understanding the emotions that arise when we are criticized. We become curious about what those feelings are and where they come from. We don’t need to act on them or deny them, just observe them. Observe the emotions non-judgmentally, as if you are trying to describe to others how you are feeling.
Most emotions come at us like a wave. They build and peak but with time and calmness they will subside. Our goal is to not react at the top of the wave, but to tread water until the wave of emotion passes. When the emotion passes we become far more capable of thinking clearly and responding to feedback clearly and rationally.”
I absolutely know this wave of emotion but have never thought about it in these terms. In the past when I have been angry or upset, I have reacted at the top of that wave and the results were never good. I said things or did things in anger that I would never do any other time. Being angry doesn’t give me the right to do or say those things. Afterwards, I would always feel incredibly guilty for letting my anger get the best of me. I made a decision a few years ago to stop and think before I reacted. I’ve done well. I’m not perfect but I know that I have improved. I feel so much better about how I handle situations and I carry around no guilt or regrets because of what I said or did. Typically, I am not as upset as I initially was (top of the wave) and I end up just letting it go (treading water).
Something to be mindful about as we navigate life. Having these tricks and being mindful of your actions in heightened emotions can increase your happiness and quality of life. I know it has for me.
Your fellow traveler,
P.S. I totally picked up a copy of Haruki’s book mentioned in the article.