Lourdes and I went to see "The King's Speech" last night. If you've got any doubts about seeing it, please, do - it's wonderful. One of the best parts of the film is watching Bertie (Colin Firth) struggle against his conviction that he will never, ever, stop stammering. There he is, the man who was about to become the King of England, and he's absolutely paralyzed by the fear that his throat and mouth will stop working and he won't be able to express himself.
As the movie progresses, however, you see that isn't the case. When he's relaxed and isn't focused on his fear, he communicates quite well. But the minute fear starts taking over his brain, he's a disaster. He remains completely convinced that he's going to mess things up, and, sure enough, he does!
Sports people call this "choking". You're playing well, you're doing a really good job - but then something happens that brings in that moment of doubt, that feeling that maybe you're not good enough, and BLAM! Everything comes apart. I'm not going to name any names, but we've all seen it: in tennis matches, in football matches, in (ummm, ehem...) under-23 international ice hockey championships playing against the Russians...you're winning, you're doing well, but ten or twenty minutes later, those doubts have started to control your brain, and you're dead.
How do you fight it? Don't allow yourself to be fixated on failure.
Imagine yourself in a moment where you're speaking English fluently and without being self-aware. You're relaxed, you're doing well. If you can visualize it, you can do it.
Kill your inner editor. Everyone has a voice from the past that tells them, "You're no good. You don't know anything. You're a failure." Now, imagine yourself telling that person to shut up. Imagine yourself asking that person, "How do you know? Why should YOUR failure influence me?" Inner editors are very powerful. They're also irrelevant and totally useless. Keeping your inner editor will never help you, but getting rid of that person is extremely satisfying.
Be fair to yourself. It's easy to focus on what you didn't do well or mistakes that you made. How many times do you congratulate yourself on doing things well? How many times have you focused on your successes, rather than your failures? Replace your inner editor with your inner grandmother:
The teacher said you did a great job with the role play on Monday's class!
You got an 80% on the last test - that's 10% better than you did last time!
You used those new phrasal verbs properly!
The guy from London said that your English sounded a lot better on the phone!
It doesn't matter if these things would sound stupid to someone else. They're not for someone else - they're for you and for you only.
It's just like the sports coaches say: Attitude gives you altitude. The most important muscle you have is the muscle that is located between your ears.
"Really, the greatest fear is fear itself." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
"Our greatest fear is not that we are powerless. Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." - Marianne Williamson