When I first began speaking professionally, one of the pieces of advice I received very early on was to get funny. Not a very encouraging piece of advice, especially since I wasn’t funny. That’s not to say that I couldn’t make people laugh sometimes, but it was sporadic and I didn’t know how to be funny consistently. After hear this piece of advice over and over from seasoned and successful speakers, I decided there was no better way to learn humor than to learn standup comedy. Plus, it was on my list of 101 things to do in life (more to come on that in the bonus section), so it seemed like the right move.
In order to force myself into following through on this crazy idea, I signed up for a standup comedy class in Boston. It was very helpful in crafting my first five minutes of material. I learned all about the setup-punch formula and began to understand how comedy works. The entire goal of the class was to ultimately get me ready for open mics, which is where amateur comedians try out material in front of a live audience.
I will never forget my first open mic. I showed up at the basement of a popular bar in Boston, where the audience consisted of almost entirely other comedians. I would soon learn how difficult it is to make other comedians laugh. I was so nervous. While I had, by this point, spoken many times to audiences much larger, I had never gone on stage with the sole purpose of making people laugh. The thought was terrifying. In my five minute routine, I got one laugh.
It was a discouraging experience, but I was committed to improving. This is when I told my mother, Ann, about my comedy endeavor and how difficult it was to do these open mics. She immediately responded, “That reminds me so much of my time as a concert pianist, while back in college. I would get so nervous before performances that I couldn’t sleep for days leading up to a performance. But, I eventually learned one technique that would center me.”
She told me all about how she would spend hours sitting alone just picturing herself playing the music. She would shut her eyes run through the entire piece, imagining herself playing absolutely perfectly—each time making it feel, sound, and look completely real. After repeating this process a number of times, she would have the confidence to perform at a much higher level in her concerts.
I had read about Olympic athletes using this same technique, which they called “visualization.” So, even though this sounded crazy to me, I figured that it couldn’t hurt more about this. In my research I learn all about how to use this technique of picturing success in your head to perform in real life.
Before my next open mic, I used the same technique of picturing myself go through the entire routine. I imagined the audience loving it. I pictured telling each joke with a confidence that left the audience with no choice but to laugh. I imagined how good it would feel to really connect with the audience. The results we staggering.
My next open mic went significantly better. Because I had replayed this video in my head of doing my standup routine in front of an audience so many times, by time I got to the real thing, it felt like I had done this many times. It was much easier. This instantly became one of my primary tools as a speaker moving forward. Now, before every speech that I ever give, I picture myself giving at least the first five minutes of my speech, with the audience hanging on every word. I instantly feel more confident afterwards.
You can use this same exact technique in your own life.
WHY THIS TECHNIQUE IS IMPORTANT:
Modern medical research shows that our eyes are actually a direct extension of our brain. The optic nerve which runs from the back of your eyes provides a direct connection to your visual brain. Thanks to the miracle of modern day technology, EEG feedback shows that vision is an extremely powerful mental programming tool. We now understand that a thought can influence our physical reality.
Some of the most recent research shows us actual real-time pictures of the brain as it makes new neural connections as a result of a thought. Repeating the same visual thought over and over actually strengthens the neural network that represents the thought. This means that picturing something in vivid detail is perceived by the brain as real. Therefore when you do this before an important event or before achieving a goal, when it’s actually time to follow through, your brain feels like it’s already done this before.
Of course, the same principle can also apply in the exact opposite way. If you picture yourself failing (which is what many of us do…) before its time to perform, then your likelihood of failure goes way up. That’s why it is so important to only picture the most positive scenario in your head.
Now it’s time to apply this to your goals. Take one goal that you would like to achieve and picture yourself accomplishing it in vivid detail.
Be sure to give yourself some time to picture fully accomplishing the goal. Here are a few keys to keep in mind as you do this to ensure that your brain perceives these thoughts as real experiences:
- When you picture yourself completing the task, make it in the first-person perspective.
- Make all the video in your head full color—no black and white.
- Make sure that it is very zoomed in.
- Experience the full range of sensations. How did it sound and feel?
- Relive how great you felt when you accomplished the goal successfully.
- Be sure to repeat the key moments over and over.
Be sure to take the time right now to do this with any of your goals. Remember that this technique can be used to help you achieve goals, but it can also help you perform at very high levels whenever you need it. The more you use this technique, the better you will be in implementing it.
Written by Marc Wayshak, leadership expert and college speaker.