Am I really so shallow?

I think about happiness all day long, and it really makes me sad to realize how much my happiness is affected by seeing a two-pound swing in my weight. Zoikes. Don’t I know better?

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Bootstrapper has a great list of 100 tiny tips to improve your mood. Just reading a list like that improves my mood, even before I try any of the tips — I love tip lists.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

This Wednesday: 17 tips for conquering stage fright.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 17 tips for conquering stage fright

One of the most common fears is stage fright. I was so nervous before giving my school report on coral in fifth grade that I remember it vividly, to this day.

I still get nervous before speaking in public, but not nearly as much. I’ve made a list of tips that have helped me get more comfortable with the process.

Unfortunately, the most effective tip is the one that people with stage fright will least to want to follow: do more public speaking! It truly does get easier with practice.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that people feel stage fright in different situations. One friend of mine feels perfectly comfortable speaking to 500 people, but dreads speaking to twenty. I love speaking to twenty, but the bigger the group, the more intimidated I feel. One friend of mine quails at the thought of TV, another friend thinks that TV is much easier than talking to a live audience.

Here are seventeen tips for overcoming stagefright (and I needed every one of them):

Preparation
Prepare. I don’t write out a talk word-for-word, but I use a lot of notes, and I practice it word for word, many times. That works for me. Some people do better with a more ad-lib approach. But either way, the more prepared you feel, the more relaxed you’ll feel.

Mental practice. It sounds odd, but mentally rehearsing and imagining yourelf giving a relaxed, accomplished performance really does help prepare you. In order to make that mental rehearsal as close to the real situation as possible…

Try to visit the scene. Checking out the room where you’ll be presenting will make you feel far more comfortable. Pay special attention to amplification devices: will you be wired up? use a stationary mike attached to a podium? Hold a wireless mike?

Earlier that day:
Don’t do anything unusual. Don’t take a nap if you don’t usually take a nap. Don’t skip a meal; because of nerves, you might not feel hungry, but you need the energy. Don’t get a facial—I remember a friend of mine got a facial the day of her wedding, because she thought it would give her a lovely glow. Instead, it make her skin red and blotchy.

Exercise. Exercise helps make you feel relaxed, energized, and focused. It’s a good outlet for feelings of stress and jitteriness. Also, if you’re really nervous, you probably won’t be able to concentrate on anything very well, so exercise is a good way to occupy your waiting time.

Check your notes and equipment — make sure you’ve brought every page of the right set! I number each page of my notes and check to make sure they’re all there. I once went to see a friend moderate a panel. She took out her notes and said, “Oh dear, I picked up the wrong set of papers.” She was able to wing it beautifully, but I NEED my notes. Along the same lines, if you’re doing any A/V fanciness, make sure you have what you need so that it works properly!

What to wear:
— You’ll probably perspire much more than usual, so dress appropriately.

– If you don’t know about the sound system, or if you know you’ll be wearing a mike, be sure to wear a jacket or shirt or something on to which a mike can be clipped. A turtleneck sweater won’t work well.

– For women: wear low heels or flats. One symptom is stage fright is wobbly knees, and wearing high heels amplifies that feeling to the point that I feel like I’m going to topple right over.

Just before:
Act the way you want to feel. This is my Third Commandment, and it really works. ACT deliberately calm, lighthearted, and enthusiastic. This will help make you feel this way. In particular…

Focus on raising your energy level. It’s more interesting to listen to a person with more energy, and yet many of us lower our energy level when we’re nervous. So make an effort to pump yourself up.

Lower your shoulders and your eyebrows. When you’re feeling stressed, these tend to rise, which makes you look and feel tense.

Take deep breaths.

Stretch your arms above your head and swing them around. This will help you feel loose and relaxed.

Delivery
Take your time at the beginning. My tendency is to rush through the preliminaries to get started. I’ve found, though, that I feel and seem more relaxed when I take a moment to get settled. As an audience member, it never bothers me when a speaker adjusts the mike, organizes papers, takes a drink of water, or whatever. Again, act the way you want to feel: relaxed.

– If you’re standing, remember to keep your weight balanced on both feet. Otherwise, it’s easy to start rocking from one foot to another, which is very distracting both for you and the audience.

– If you’re sitting, don’t lean back in your chair. This drains your energy and immobilizes you. Sit near the edge of the chair (but not so near that you might teeter off). If you cross your legs, cross them so that the knee farther from the audience is on top. This orients your body toward the audience.

Remember, even if you screw up, it’s not a catastrophe. As I learned when writing Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, early in his career, Winston Churchill was humiliated when he blanked out during a speech, and from that point on, he wrote his speeches out word for word, right down to notes to himself like “Pause; grope for word” “Stammer; correct self” that were meant to give the impression that he was extemporizing. And he managed to have a pretty decent career, nevertheless.

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Leo Babatua of the fabulous blog Zen Habits has done an e-book featuring his most invaluable insights. Check it out, The Zen Habits Handbook for Life.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

In which I learn the meaning of the terms “extraversion” and “neuroticism.” They’re handy concepts.


Two psychological terms that get thrown around a lot are “extroversion” and “neuroticism.” For a while, I’d suspected that I didn’t quite understand exactly what they meant.

Daniel Nettle’s short, fascinating book, Personality, made it clear – and both terms are both extremely useful concepts in thinking about happiness.

As I’ve posted about before, Nettle’s book sets forth the “Big Five” model of personality. This five-dimension framework has emerged in recent years as the most comprehensive and dependable of the various personality models out there.

The five factors are:
1. Extraversion – i.e., response to reward
2. Neuroticism – response to threat
3. Conscientiousness – response to inhibition (self-control, planning)
4. Agreeableness – regard for others
5. Openness to Experience – breadth of mental associations

In this framework, the opposite of “extraversion” isn’t “introversion,” it’s “neuroticism.” So what does it mean, exactly, to be extroverted or neurotic?

I’d always thought “extraversion” was basically “friendliness,” but according to this scheme, high Extraversion scores means that people have very strong positive reactions, so that they consistently report more joy, desire, excitement, and enthusiasm. “Friendliness” is actually closer to “agreeableness.”

And although I’d often thrown around the word “neurotic,” in the Woody Allen sense, I hadn’t quite known what it meant. Turns out that people with high Neuroticism scores have very strong negative reactions—fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, disgust, sadness, very often directed at themselves.

These two concepts gave me a lot more clarity in thinking about human behavior.

They account for the fact that some people just take things harder – things are more infuriating, or scarier, or more anxiety-provoking. Other people find things funnier, more fun, more interesting.

The Extrovert laughs at hearing a woman talking loudly into her cell phone on the bus, while the Neurotic complains about it for days.

Learning these two terms was fascinating, and explained a lot about human nature, and it also had a very beneficial affect on me: I’ve become more patient with people who, I suspect, score high on “Neuroticism.”

Instead of feeling impatient with — what sometimes seems to me to be — unduly high levels of anxiety, irritation, or general negativity, I remember that this is an aspect of their personality. I don’t think that salmonella or black mold poses much of a threat in my life, but now I understand why my friend is more anxious about it.

Also, this framework reminds me that although it often seems to me that a certain situation automoatically evokes a certain response, that’s not true.

As a “low-medium” scorer on both extraversion and neuroticism, I can often choose whether to tap into my extraverted or neurotic side.

When my two-year-old daughter proudly shows me how she pulled an entire roll of toilet paper off the roll, I can choose to laugh at the ridiculous sight, or I can react with exasperation. I constantly try to remind myself that although it’s harder, it’s nicer for everyone, if I can choose to laugh.

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Today on the terrific LifeRemix network, I posted a list of the ten tips I used to transform myself from a couch potato to a gym enthusiast (well, if not always an enthusiast, at least a regular). If you’re trying to stick to an exercise regimen, check it out.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

This Saturday: a happiness quotation from G. K. Chesterton.


“There is only one thing that that it requires real courage to say, and that is a truism.” –G. K. Chesterton

This turns out to be one of the greatest challenges of writing about happiness. Phrases like “Just be yourself” and “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” are always dangerously close.

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I always find much thought-provoking material on Therese Borchard’s Beyond Blue. She writes about depression, happiness, and serenity, from a religious perspective. But somehow I’d missed the fact that, like me, she is also a great lover of St. Therese of Lisieux — and was, in fact, named after her.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

It’s Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: What “Pimp My Ride” and “Trading Spaces” can teach you about happiness.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

I love any kind of before-and-after, especially with photographs, progress charts, or anything that shows how much change has been accomplished. That’s one reason I love putting gold stars on my Resolutions Chart. (If you’d like to see a copy, see the left-hand column for directions.)

I know many people feel the same way – just look at number of TV based on before-and-after: The Biggest Loser, Pimp My Ride, Extreme Makeover, Trading Spaces, Nanny 911, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy…and what’s the name of that fashion show?

Yesterday, at the gym where I do my strength-training, my trainer showed me the stack of charts that she’d filled in since I started. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I couldn’t believe that I’d shown up that many times. I vividly remember watching her write my name at the top of a page, on my first day.

It occurred to me this morning that it would be fun to ask her to set the machines at the weights I could lift when I started. That would also give me a sense of accomplishment – a “before” and “after.”

I’m planning to re-organize some closets, and to deepen my gratification, I’m going to take “before” pictures so that I’ll have a record of the improvements I’ll have made “after.”

For your Happiness Project, look around in your own life and see if you can find a before-and-after opportunity.

Could you take a photo of a messy car or closet “before,” then another photo “after”?

Could you carefully note your present physical condition, so that if you stick to your exercise routine, you’ll be able to measure how far you’ve come “after” a few months? I remember when I first started running, I ran just a tiny bit further each day, and after six months, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment each time I passed by the place that had been my turn-around point when I’d started.

A “before-and-after” requires a commitment. By documenting your “before,” you’re promising yourself that there will be an “after” – and that fact alone will probably make you more likely to follow through.

Also making progress tangible makes it more rewarding – and we’re more likely to stick with rewarding activities.

If you happen to document your before-and-after on the web, send me the link! And if anyone knows any great sites that show before-and-afters, please post them in the comments – I’m willing to bet that most people would like to seem them as much as I would.

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My pal Ron Hogan writes one of my favorite blogs, GalleyCat, and he invited me to tag along when he met Beth Lisick, who wrote a terrific memoir called Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone, in which she writes about the year she spent trying to improve her life by following the advice of ten of America’s best self-help gurus: Suze Orman, Richard Simmons, Jack Canfield, John Gray, etc. (sound a bit familiar?).

He just posted his account of our happiness-filled encounter, which I thought was pretty funny.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.