By Susan Harrow, Media Coach & Author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul
I was a nervous wreck.
I’ve been training for my 3rd Kyu Aikido (Japanese Martial Arts) test for about 9 months now. I have to memorize all the Japanese names of techniques. I have to know how to perform them when they are called out on the mat in front of all the students. And, worst of all – there is no talking. Just movement. And that scares the bejesus out of me.
I’m a verbal person and I figure I can get out of anything with the right words. I’ve done this many time in speeches, on the street to fend off an attacker, and during media appearances on TV, radio and print. But in Aikido, no go. The body does the talking. And mine is an awkward introvert.
I needed a way to cope.
So I’ve set my mind to do three strategies to blaze through my test. You can use these strategies when you have an upcoming media appearance, meeting, speech, or any encounter that gives you the shakes.
By the way I’m now a black belt.
Meditation helps clear the mind and make space for, well, nothingness. It doesn’t matter what kind of meditation you do. Whether it’s just breathing in white light and out black smoke, or following your breath or, as Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, (one of my favorites) to sit quietly and smile. For people with super busy minds (hello) you can do walking meditation, just feeling your feet on the ground, the sun on your face, the air in your lungs. Even doing this for five minutes a day can produce a kind of lasting peace inside in the moment, and also, a profound sense of calm over time. Any practice done consistently will change you, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large. There’s often a big loud tipping point, but frequently just a subtle shift. That’s the beauty and surprise of practice.
2. Imitate great examples.
For my aikido test I’m watching Hans Goto, my sensei or teacher, do every single technique that’s on my test on a video. I play it in slow motion. I stop and start it. Then I get on the kitchen floor rug and imitate him as best as I can. I klutz my way through, over and over again. I go to practice several times a week so I’m in constant training mode.
Then I ask different black belts in my dojo to do one technique with me, taking me through the details. I train every Sunday for two hours with Maria, a black belt who is always ready with a laugh – and who is brutally honest with me. She does a technique on me to show me the correct way to do it and then I try it. I watch other videos that show the technique from different angles so I can understand the mechanics better. Aikido is about angles and leverage – kind of like almost everything, right?
For media appearances find excellent examples and then get a sound bite buddy, or anyone for that matter, and practice different scenarios with your buddy. Try your excellent example’s voice tone on. Try the rhythms of their sentences. Try the format they use to frame their information. Try on their body language to see what it feels like. Sit like them. Hold your head like they do. Mimic their hand gestures and facial expressions. You can learn a lot by exact imitation. Embody their best qualities. You’ll begin to discover how it makes you think differently. Experiment. It’s only through the doing of it that it gets ingrained. And remember it takes 3000 repetitions to ingrain a habit and 10,000 repetitions to master it. So be patient with yourself.
3. Visualize what you want with feeling.
Writer Mary Carr said something like, My mind is like a street in a bad neighborhood. You don’t want to go down it. Mine too. It’s full of worst case scenarios, mishaps, and things gone horribly awry. When you visualize, just don’t “see” what you want. Include the emotions and body sense. And don’t worry about getting it perfect.
In Aikido, for Koshinage, a technique where you have to flip your opponent off your back while making sure that they can do a high fall and land properly, I envisioned throwing Maria, my uke (attacker) on her head, breaking her neck. Yikes.
But that’s OK. That’s part of practice and training. So I just noticed that, and tried it again. If I visualize the negative again, I just let it go and try again. Or I move on to another technique that I know and can see me doing it well with elegance and grace. Then, perhaps a few minutes later I attempt to see Koshinage throwing Maria safely.
So practice getting the felt sense of what you want to happen. Put yourself in the scene. If it’s a TV show get a clear picture of the set, the lights hot on your face, the glass of water on the table, sitting knee to knee with the host, answering questions smoothly with the sound bites you’ve prepared that tune into what you audience most needs to know.
See it, experience the emotion of it, and then see the result of your efforts. For media appearances it might be your phone ringing off the hook or your email box filling up with shopping cart orders. You might imagine another TV producer calling you to be an expert on their show. You might see yourself having coffee with someone who you admire who called you up after they saw you on that program.
I’ve set myself up on a little program that I know that I can do. I’m doing all three of the practices I’ve outlined daily for three weeks before my test. But guess what? Have I done all three daily? No. But I make sure to do at least one of them. Some days are better than others. Still I hold my deepest intention in my mind of the ideal day and I keep in mind the big picture of what I want to accomplish for my Aikido test – to have fun, own the room, to do the techniques to the best of my ability, to keep moving and do something even if it’s not the right technique, and to stay steady and present in the moment no matter what. Oh, and to infuse my spirit with joy.
I’d love to hear about a practice you’re doing….