Is this the year you try something new, tackle something big, or try something bold? Monique Barden asks the experts how they take the plunge.
Do you have a deep yearning to try something new, but fear is getting in the way?
Have you turned down a public speaking opportunity because it fills you with dread? Have you secretly always wanted to write a book, sing in a choir, take up painting, run a marathon or complete an ocean swim?
Your comfort zone can be a great place, but when you spend too long there, you’re avoiding new experiences.
Taking risks can increase our happiness, productivity and creativity. We can challenge our views and perceptions of the world, and inspire others.
Weekend asked a writer, singer, public speaking coach and endurance athlete for advice on how to confront your fears and push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Are you ready to take the leap?
Pip Adam (writer)
Pip Adam spent 15 years working as a hairdresser before becoming a writer. Back then, what she really wanted to do was film.
“I think in the back of my mind, I always knew that I wanted to create things, but at that stage I wasn’t sure what the creating format would be,” she says.
“I liked the idea that I could be the persona of a writer. Then hairdressing became really fulfilling as a creative outlet. I just loved it so much … the desire to create was there all along,” says Adam.
Pip Adam, an award-winning author, began her career as a hairdresser.
Her path to becoming a writer started at university. She went to one of her friend’s lectures and thought, “Oh this is interesting”.
“I went to University when I was 21 because you could go then without entry requirements. I studied English and I found that I loved books and I loved reading and poetry and it really inspired me to write,” says Adam.
She started with poetry, at 23 she went to film school and then returned to writing. Hairdressing kept her employed through her studies. “I was very grateful to have a trade to finance my way through that,” she says.
Her background in hairdressing and working in a trade has also helped her writing career.
“There is something strange about hairdressing because it’s one of those careers where you touch people. There is a lot of talk in the salon by people and the characters are so interesting for writing. Also I know this sounds strange but the structure you use in writing a novel is similar to cutting hair.”
When asked whether she has had times when she has had to push herself out of her comfort zone, Adam says she feels like that’s where she wants to be operating all the time with her writing.
“Every time I write, I get terrified that I have written something that is really terrible. There is a fear of showing it to other people. Certainty is a really dangerous place for me to be. Self-doubt is extremely helpful. Writing in an area of discomfort pushes me to try things I haven’t done before, so it pushes me to a new level of writing. If I’m feeling that what I’ve written is cool and that it’s really good, generally it’s not.”
Adam wrote her award-winning novel The New Animals between 8 and 8.15am because that was the only time of day when no one needed her.
“Writers write,” says Adams, “and I made heaps of excuses with this book that I didn’t have time to write. I spoke to a friend about that and she goes, ‘If you’re going to write it, then just write it’.
So I thought, ‘Between 8am and 8.15am I can write (because no one needs me’. It worked for this project because it was quite episodic, but I’m not sure it works for all projects. Towards the end I needed to spend more time on it. It’s shown me that I can write even when things are bad.”
Having a schedule is important. “I write 500 words every day and it helps doing it in the morning because you’ve got the rest of the day. A lot of the writing then happens in between the writing. I might see something during the day and think, ‘Ah, what about that?’ and then move things around.”
Adam’ s advice for aspiring writers …
• Start writing. Find a way to fit it in. Just block out 15 minutes a day.
• Build a community of likeminded people that you can go to for motivation or advice.
• Reading is important. Watch movies, play video games, listen to podcasts -anything with a narrative.
• Having authors coming from different viewpoints is important. Everyone has a story that only they can tell.
Pip Adam, The New Animals, Winner Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize, Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2018 (Unity Books).
Steve Gurney (endurance/adventure sports athlete, motivational speaker/writer)
“I’m not fearless,” says Gurney, “I’m just a bit more demanding of life. I don’t want to end up with regrets.”
In 1995, Gurney, a nine times Coast to Coast winner, contracted leptospirosis and was in a coma in intensive care.
He started to think, what really matters to me?”.
“The [doctors] told me, ‘You probably shouldn’t do so much sport’ because of kidney failure. That drove me,” says Gurney.
One of the get-well cards he got was from a 92-year-old lady who had attached a piece of paper with a list of things that she would do if she could live her life again.
“I thought, that’s kind of tragic,” says Gurney.
Adventurer Steve Gurney takes in the view at the top of Mount Hutt.
Gurney has studied and talked about motivation a lot. He believes there are different ways of looking at motivation. True motivation comes from something that aligns with your values.
“When you’re coaching someone in goal setting, I ask, ‘How will this goal support your purpose on the planet?’ That’s an intrinsic goal. Setting a frivolous goal that doesn’t really mean that much to you means you’re probably not going to do it,” he says.
“Sometimes we set a goal that has to be done, that’s extrinsic, like we have to go to work and pay the bills.” He points out that often people who are truly motivated to get fit will usually have had a health scare.
He was driven by a belief that he was not loveable. “‘I’m not good enough’ is a common theme in humans,” says Gurney. “I thought, ‘I have to earn it. I have to go out and compete. I’m a very competitive person. I was the eldest child and the eldest grandchild on both sides, then my sister came along, and I learned at that age to compete.”
Gurney says his ourney to escape depression came with several realisations. “I thought I was climbing a big ladder to success, but it’s actually a hamster wheel. You have to go deeper and have some sort of spirituality where you learn to love yourself. I don’t feel the motivation to succeed like I used too. I feel deep down that I had to prove it to people.
Now he gets a kick out of motivating others. “I like pushing people out of their comfort zone because it changes them. I want them to be a better person. I want to challenge them. I ask them, ‘What regrets would you have if you don’t take action? What really matters in your life?’ When people are excited about something … they are going to achieve it.”
Gurney says social connection is important, so exercise with a friend in the morning or after work. Training on your own isn’t sustainable. “The benefits are a healthier happier person.”
As for Gurney, there’s a reason he prefers swimming in oceans or lakes – he calls it “earthing”.
“We’re connected to the real world, connecting deeply to your soul. We have clever brains, but we need to listen to our gut and not our head.”
Advice from Gurney on how to get started:
• Make your goals fun and connect to your purpose on the planet. Ask: “What are my core values with my goals?”
• Be curious. Why do we have this problem? Understand it. Go back to the cause of it. How can it align to your values?
• Usually humans are only motivated when they get a health scare. There are two types of motivation: towards and one is away. Toward motivation is because it would be fun. People tend to have either or. The best is to have both. List the pros and cons of both.
• Read autobiographies of sports people like Peter Snell and John Walker to get motivated. Barbara Kendall and Roger Banister have told their story the challenges they faced.
• Make it an achievable goal.
Steve Gurney, The Beginner’s Guide to Adventure Sport in New Zealand, www.stevegurney.co.nz
Maggie Eyre (public speaking/presenting coach)
“If you get offered a speaking engagement, just do it,” says Maggie Eyre, an expert on public speaking who has written several books on the subect.
“Instead of spending years saying, ‘No, I’m too busy,’ lying, procrastinating, pretending that it’s not important, accept it and then get some coaching,” she says.
Depending on your budget, there’s lots of different ways to get coaching. A lot of people get value out of toast masters because you’ve got an audience and you get feedback.
Eyre also recommends working with actors because they know about performance, they know about stage fright and voice projection. Join a drama group where you are practising improvisation or a film class where you have to actually perform.
Eyre also recommends that people go and work with a voice tutor. She has a lot of one-on-one clients, but also does workshops because of access to an immediate audience. They’re going to give you feedback, it’s not just the tutor.
“I think that if you’re really scared, ask yourself, ‘Why?'” says Erye. “Our clients usually say, ‘Well, I gave this client presentation five years ago and it was really bad, and this is what happened,’ or, ‘My boss told me I’m hopeless at presenting and I need help,’ they have an association with effort and fear, when really it’s about simply being yourself and telling stories.”
Eyre herself had a phobia of public speaking. “I used to think, ‘I’m not going to tell anybody that I had a phobia of public speaking, I want them to know I’m an expert in my field.’ Then I thought, Well, Maggie, that’s very inauthentic, you hated public speaking, you turned down auditions in the theatre’. I was so afraid of failure and then I went and got coaching.”
Eyre says public speaking is good for you because it’s about confidence. If you lack confidence you will not get promoted, you will not get the job from the interview, you will not be memorable. If you give a confident speech, if you deliver a confident presentation you will be memorable.
She gives an example of a woman she coached who was the mother of the bride and was going to make her first wedding speech because her husband was no longer alive – she was terrified, so they rehearsed via skype.
“It’s that rehearsal that is vital. The rehearsal liberates people. That’s why I always say make sure you choose a coach that’s going to film you. Or ask friends to film you so you can self-critique. Often people see themselves on camera and go, “Oh I didn’t realise I was okay” or “I’m not as bad as I thought I was.”‘ She says people make huge progress with watching themselves being videoed, because they see the progress and how far they have come. “Your coach’s job is to make you great and to motivate you to do the homework.”
Weekend asked: If we keep saying no to public speaking, do we kind of shrink?”
“We do, we do shrink,” says Eyre. “We’re not serving people, we’re not serving the community, we’re not serving our partners. We’re not sharing who we are. We want to be liked, we want to be loved, we want to be admired and we want to be respected.
I have worked with people who are very shy, and they get knocked back at interviews. We need to walk in the door shining and for it to be authentic. If you want to go to networking events, you can’t just hide away in the corner with your glass of wine and the one person that you know. You need to learn about courage.
Eyre says public speaking isn’t about standing behind a podium. “It’s about being yourself and being able to share your ideas in a meeting, share your ideas on the phone, so you are engaging with people, you’re being influential. How do you make a person feel in a conversation? How do you make the audience feel? Are you intimidating? Are you angry? Are you empathetic?
Even if you’re not inclined that way, Eyre says: “You can learn to be warm.”
Eyre’s advice for calming nerves before speaking
• If you have a favourite song, turn it on. I know people who meditate before a presentation. Do something you love doing, watch a funny video, something that makes you laugh and takes you away from your computer.
• Write down all the things you are afraid of and turn them into positive phrases like, “I am relaxed”, “I am confident” or “I am calm”. “Some people say, “I am rehearsed”, “I am” is more powerful than “I will be okay”.
• Believe that you are an expert in that field. Get rid of any distractions beforehand, if you’re worrying about other things, you won’t be present in the presentation. Also be prepared that things might go wrong.
• Probably the most encouraging advice form Eyre is that the audience wants you to do well, they want to have a good time, they want to be inspired and they really want you to succeed.
Visit Maggie Eyre’website at www.maggieerye.com.
Caitlin Smith (singer/song writer/vocal coach)
The idea that only some people can sing is absolute bollocks to Caitlin Smith.
Being tone deaf is no excuse either as that occurs in less five per cent of the population.
“If you’re actually tone deaf you won’t be able to recognise if the pitch you’re singing is higher or lower than what you’re supposed to be singing. For most people, there is no such thing,” says Smith.
“You just need to do ear training and get used to using your voice and understanding how it works. Each time you make a sound, you are connecting the brain and the ear. If you let the ears be in charge, they will sing the note for you,” she says.
There are many health benefits to singing both physically and psychologically. Smith says it’s kind of like ultrasound, saying all those vibrations within the body are so good for us.
It’s also fantastic for breathing, meditation and has psychological benefits because we’re addressing our emotions. “It will help you express yourself better,” says Smith. “It will help you feel better because the voice you are using will be one that represents you. The voice that we sing with is the same one that we speak with.”
Caitlin Smith says everybody should sing as much as possible – even if they think they’re no good at it.
Smith says the way to become the best version of yourself as a singer is by using technique. She gets people to listen to the positis, instead of listening to their faults or mistakes.
“Of course, whatever you look for you’re going to find,” says Smith, “So, if you listen out for how horrible you sound, sure enough you probably will sound horrible. If you actively and consciously put in the techniques that you need, that’s guaranteed success.”
Smith also thinks the message we receive from the media and music industry is one that there’s only a select few who can sing. “We’re not seeing the reality,” says Smith, “therefore there’s a lot of confusion with people, because we don’t sound like the other people sound and the reason for that is because they don’t even sound like that. Their voices have been manipulated so much, if they sing off key, they use Auto-tune. Also, the songs people sing are not genuinely written by the artists that we know and love, they’re written by a whole team of people.”
She would love it if vocal production was taught in schools. “It’s so simple, its twang and openness and that’s how you sing. It’s not more complicated than that. I think this whole mystification is the reason why people avoid and get so fearful. Singing is 100 per cent something you can learn and get better at.”
She admires Bradley Cooper for talking about the musical training he did for his role in A Star is Born. “He actually has a really good voice, but part of acting training is singing, and actors get a hell of a lot of training in how to deal with their fear and deal with nerves, way more probably than musicians do. Most of the amazing vocal coaching comes from the acting realm rather than the singing realm. Actors are really good at research and they’re honest about what it takes to get good at something.
“For every emotion we have there is an opposite and for fear its love,” says Smith. “So, if you’ve got fear around your voice think of how many songs you love and that you love singing. Particularly if you are a song writer, there’s a lot of fear around the creative process.”
Smith admits it’s something she’s struggled with herself. “I have been crippled by fear. I had Creative NZ funding in 2007, recorded an album in 2009 and it’s only just coming out now. If I had to tell you why, I would probably say it was fear. Fear can be very insidious in the way it manifests itself.
“When you are a singer you have to be physically honest and when you are a songwriter you have to be emotionally honest. What happens with fear is that it manifests as tension in the body, if you have tension in the body you can’t sing because it shuts down the open areas which resonates sound in. Fear will absolutely sabotage the whole system. Tension in the throat, the shoulders and the neck – all those things will shut the instrument down.”
If the thought of singing alone makes you cringe, the good news is that singing with others is better for us. “Oxytocin is released in group singing,” says Smith.
“In Maori culture it’s not a question of who can and who can’t sing: you have to sing, it’s part of the protocol. Singing is not something to be afraid of.”
Smith’s advice for aspiring singers
• Seek out vocal coaching. Learning the technique will help demystify the process. You don’t have to have a years’ worth of lessons, it just means you’re not hurting yourself when you sing.
• Sing more. There is no valid excuse like I haven’t got any time or anything like that. We’re all human and we all need to sing more
• For professionals, prioritise art and meaning instead of popularity and profit. Talk with other musicians and other song writers about what you’re going through.
Keep an eye out for the release of Brave Caitlin Smith’s Imaginary Band album You Have Reached Your Destination later this year.
Key learnings from the experts
• Don’t put things off. If you’re waiting for the perfect time to start, that might never come. Start now.
• Start simple. Training for a marathon begins with a 20-minute walk on day one, followed by a rest day. Make it achievable.
• Get some coaching. Learning from an expert will see your progress soar and will be hugely motivating.
• Find something that aligns with your core values. If you take on a challenge that you’re passionate about and has meaning to you, you’re more likely to achieve your goal.
• Everyone gets nervous, even those at the top of their game. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Is a comfort zone all that bad?
According to Andy Molinsky, Professor of International Management and Organisational Behaviour at Brandeis University, comfort zones get a bad rap.
In Psychology Today, he says spending too much time outside your comfort zone can become overwhelming and ineffective.
We need a balance of “stretch” activities with tasks that we’re comfortable and competent at, he says.
Timing also matters. If you’re expecting twins or caring for an ailing parent then your comfort zone is right where you need to be.
He also says it’s important to consider your own personal threshold. Some people thrive on being outside their comfort zone, others don’t, and some are in the middle, so you need to find out where you are on the continuum.
However, he’s still an advocate. “Don’t avoid things outside your comfort zone out of fear, but also know yourself and when something is simply too much for you to handle,” he says.