By Jean Gamester, Toastmasters International
When I took the decision to join a speakers club 12 years ago I didn’t realize the positive changes that would follow. I had no idea that it would lead me to doing a doctorate and that this in turn would lead to me making lasting changes in my life.
I became of member of a Toastmasters speakers club to get over my fear of giving presentations to the project teams I was leading. It worked! It turned out that the magic ingredient in creating confident speakers was to give and receive lots and lots of feedback. We become better speakers through going through cycle after cycle of observing, feeding back and trying out.
After many years of learning and leading in Toastmasters, I reached a quiet period and wondered “what next?” I considered doing postgraduate research, but predicted miserable years of reading and writing alone. Not something that fitted my proactive work style!
Then, I made a lucky discovery. There was a kind of practitioner based learning that anyone can do. It’s called action research and it involves going through cycles of experience, reflection and action. It involves working with other people and the kinds of feedback loops I had found so valuable.
My research began 18 months ago, and the method is already making a big impact in my life and business. Here are the stages, with an example of one big personal change, which can be used in the world of work.
1. Noticing Experience
The first stage is about noticing what is actually going on. We repeat patterns; playing out “rules” we’ve learned about how life works and how we are expected to be. In my case, one of the “rules” I had learned was that a proper Irish girl’s dinner involved meat and two kinds of vegetable. To not eat meat would be a terrible sacrifice, I thought.
But a different kind of noticing was going on for me. I was now paying much more attention to the nature on my morning walks with my dog Betsy. I felt much more connected with it, but on its own, the noticing of nature wouldn’t have led me to make a big change. But then I went deeper…
2. Going Deeper
Here we delve into our subconscious mind and pull out what’s really going on in there, going past the “rules” and repeating patterns in our lives. There are loads of ways to do this. Some people do painting and sculpture, some do poetry and stories, others do photography. Some people, including me, do a bit of all of these.
When I first came to this, to be honest, I thought this was a bit weird. I am supposed to be doing serious research (and working on my business) and instead I am playing with poetry!! But you know what, it really made a difference. I shared stories like when I visited an abattoir for the first time, I drew pictures of me sitting inside trees and wrote poems about the nature I walked in with Betsy.
Finally, I found a satirical and surreal picture that switched realities with a giant lobster holding a human over a pot of boiling water. He was explaining to a fellow lobster that the human isn’t screaming, it’s just the noise it makes when it touches the water. That picture was the tipping point that brought it all to life, all of that reflecting and going deeper. I felt really, really uncomfortable about using animals for food anymore and I decided to try out not eating meat or fish for a while.
3. Exploring Concepts and Ideas
Experimenting with being a vegetarian after almost 50 years of being an avid meat eater meant big changes for me. I imagine I wouldn’t have lasted long if I hadn’t engaged in this third stage. It’s all about exploring ideas and going beyond the “rules” and “facts” we take for granted.
I explored concepts and ideas from lots of different perspectives, writers and stories. It allowed me to see what other people had to say about nature, how we often separate our bodies from our minds, how we absorb expectations about how to feed our bodies and how to appear. I discussed it with other people, some thought I was mad, others were delighted I had made the choice.
Exploring others’ ideas allowed me to understand and develop my own. I became clearer about what I stood for, what was important to me and how I might keep the change alive.
4. In Practice
Over time all of this came together into a new and more confident way of being with food. I no longer felt obliged to eat meat and fish just because it was the way I had always done it. I could handle other people’s responses to my choice. I became more confident about trying out new foods to replace the ones I was no longer prepared to eat. And I was no longer quite so nervous about ordering food in a restaurant when I wasn’t sure what it would be like.
There have been a few times when I have been really tempted to buy a nice big steak because that was what I would have really enjoyed before, and an easy choice. But I quickly remember what I have experienced, felt and thought in this process, and I find something vegetarian instead.
Everyone can use these steps to make long-lasting change: give attention to what’s happening around you and look for ways of going deeper into what it means for you. Explore the ideas/concepts behind it all so you can be clearer on what’s possible and what’s important to you. Together, these can help you achieve lasting change in business and elsewhere.
Jean Gamester is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland.
Members follow a structured educational program to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International. You can follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.