|About the presenter: Alan Badmington is a former police officer and lifelong stutterer from Wales, UK. He is a highly successful public speaker, having won numerous trophies and appeared as a finalist in the 2005 Association of Speakers Clubs UK national public speaking championships. Alan regularly addresses diverse community organisations in an attempt to increase public awareness about stuttering, while his media involvement has further brought the subject to the fore. He has given talks to SLP students in the USA, as well as undertaking presentations/workshops at NSA/BSA events. He was a keynote speaker at the 7th World Congress for People Who Stutter in Australia in February 2004, where he won the Oratory Competition. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org|
Looking back, I believe that my life could have been so different had I enjoyed my current insight into stuttering when I was younger. I'm not one to waste time and energy dwelling on the past we can't change the outcome. But that does not preclude me recounting, and sharing, a few of the many lessons I have learned, in the hope that others may glean something that could better equip them to deal with their stuttering at an earlier age.
I have benefited tremendously from acquiring an understanding of the principles (and advantages) of expanding our comfort zones. Many people (not just those who stutter) rigidly cling to the belief that they should be comfortable at all times, and avoid situations they feel may create discomfort.
Fear is the gatekeeper to our comfort zones; it holds us back from doing things when we cannot guarantee a successful outcome. By not venturing outside our comfort zones, we eliminate risk but severely limit our personal (and professional) growth.
It has been my experience that many persons who stutter (PWS) avoid expanding their comfort zones, casting themselves in a diminished role content to live the same safe predictable life. Our self-image sets the boundaries of our accomplishment. When we have a narrow self-image, it restricts our personality and potential. It curtails our activities because we believe that we are incapable of doing certain things.
We all possess a mental blueprint of ourselves, shaped by our personal beliefs, life experiences and the way others have reacted to us. Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are consistent with our personal concept of who we are, irrespective of the reality of that image. We develop a kind of tunnel vision which causes us to focus on things that fit our self-image/beliefs, and exclude those that do not.
How we view ourselves impacts enormously upon the way in which we live. If we believe we are incapable of fulfilling a particular task, we avoid it. When we widen our self-image (to accommodate new roles), we are presented with so many fresh opportunities. Many people are fearful of change, preferring the tried and tested, where there is an absence of risk. They feel more at ease in a familiar environment, communicating with people with whom they have become accustomed. It is so rewarding when we embrace change and accept the accompanying challenges.
I drew up a plan of action that involved preparing a list of situations I avoided (including public speaking). I knew that I needed to face my fears and challenge the negative beliefs/emotions that I had accumulated over so many years. At first, the things that I did felt uncomfortable, but they became progressively more comfortable as I repeated them again and again.
Our ability to tolerate short periods of discomfort is the key to successful expansion. We must not give up at the first hurdle. Like the turtle, we can only move forward when we stick our neck out. We need to take risks, and challenge ourselves, if we are to transform our attitudes and self image. No one has ever changed behaviours by retaining the status quo.
I believe that expanding comfort zones should be an ongoing process for everyone - not just for PWS. It doesn't have to be too challenging; maybe something small to begin with just as long as we are not standing still. There is a tendency to stagnate when we continue with the same lifestyle. We need change!
I began setting myself daily challenges, the greater the challenge, the more satisfaction I derived. I incorporated them into my everyday life and routine, making my new behaviour habitual. Stepping outside my comfort zone, and treading a less familiar path, greatly enhanced my existence.
Personal growth occurs when we venture beyond our existing boundaries. When we feel the discomfort, we know that we are confronting the fear. When we achieve something we had considered impossible, it causes us to reconsider our limiting beliefs. If we conquer something that has challenged our advancement, we grow in stature. When we overcome hurdles, it opens our eyes to possibilities that we could never have imagined. When we are stretched by a new experience, we grow as human beings. The more we expand the more confident we become with our own ability.
Having commenced stuttering in early childhood, I developed strategies to protect myself. I began avoiding words that appeared to cause me difficulty. Almost unconsciously, I substituted them with others that I felt more confident in using. Avoidance crept insidiously into my life. I was unaware of the true extent of my dependence - it became such an integral part of my existence.
Until recent times, I was completely oblivious to the fact that, whenever I changed a word, I fuelled my fear of saying that word. Each time we avoid something, we strengthen its influence over us. We can evade for so long, but the time will come when the situation demands that we have to say a specific word, or speak in a particular situation. When that happened, I found that my fear level had increased so much that I stuttered more severely. Had I been aware of the implications when I was younger, I would certainly have made every effort to reduce my avoidances.
By deliberately introducing such words into my daily conversation (and not waiting until they had to be said), I found that the fear gradually receded. Today, I no longer avoid words or situations, nor experience any anticipatory fear.
LIVING LIFE TO THE FULL
Fear and self-doubt can sabotage the hopes and aspirations of many people not just those who stutter. Some PWS allow their speech to influence their educational paths, choice of careers, relationships and social involvement. It is important that we do not adopt a victim mentality, or exclude ourselves from participating widely on life's stage.
Some of us are presented with greater challenges than others. We cannot select the cards we are dealt, but we can certainly choose how we respond to those challenges. We should make every effort to ensure that stuttering does not inhibit our personal growth. There will, undoubtedly, be setbacks along the way, but they should not be viewed as failures. They are learning experiences stepping stones to eventual success.
Our time on earth is relatively limited. We must, therefore, enjoy life to the full. There is no re-run; we don't get a second chance.
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