About the presenter: Mike Hughes is the executive director of Speak Easy Inc., "Canada's national organization for people who stutter." Since 1984 Speak Easy has been providing information and support to adult stutterers, parents of stuttering children, professionals in the field, and the general public. Speak Easy's web site address is www.speakeasycanada.com. The organization also publishes a monthly magazine, Speaking Out, which is edited by Hughes, and has published over 200 issues.

You can post Questions/comments to the author before October 22, 2004.


by Mike Hughes
from Canada

"We would worry less about what others thought of us if we knew how rarely they did."

People do not stutter because they are nervous, but they are nervous about their stuttering. After an incident during which we stuttered, we feel compelled to relive that stuttering. We remember the shame we felt and the embarrassment it caused. We say to ourselves: "If only I had taken my time; or taken a breath; or thought about what I wanted to say; or, or, or . . . ." Rather than focus on any positive aspects of the conversation, we dwell on the negative. We remember only the failure, our shame and our humiliation. Not only do we remember it for the duration of the conversation, but we allow it to haunt us for the remainder of the day and to disturb our dreams at night.

The first rule of training is to repeat a lesson over and over again. This will reinforce the message and strengthen the training. We learn to do something well by repeatedly reinforcing it. Repetition is the foundation of all learning. But why would we want to train ourselves to stutter? Why do we repeat the lesson over and over in our mind? Just exactly what do we hope to gain from reinforcing our stuttering?

As I look back over a lifetime of stuttering, I realize that I did not begin to reduce my stuttering until I stopped allowing it to control my life. I stopped focusing on my stuttering during a conversation and, instead, focused on the results of the conversation. I focused on the positive rather than the negative. Instead of remembering every instance of shame and embarrassment, I forced myself to forget about it. If my listener no longer remembered my stuttering hours or minutes later, why was I beating myself up over it days, months, even years later? A fleeting instance for my listener became a horrific memory for me. Reliving my stuttering didn't change a thing. It served no purpose at all! To what end? To what gain did I torture myself? My listener had forgotten it; why couldn't I? Why couldn't I "give up the dead"?

So I changed. . . . . . .

I trained myself to forget my instances of stuttering. At the end of each day, I made myself remember all the positives of the day: the work I had accomplished, the errands I had run, the feel of the sun on my face, the invigorating taste of a breath of spring air . . . anything would work, as long as it was positive rather than negative. I soon began to have fond memories of each day's accomplishments rather than failures of stuttering. As a result, my focus shifted away from my stuttering and it lost its grip on my life.

Nor would I allow myself to forecast my stuttering, to look forward in the day and anticipate situations in which I would stutter. For many stutterers, anticipation becomes apprehension. We scan the immediate future and predict possible instances of stuttering. The closer they get, the more apprehensive we become. By the time the situation arrives, we have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are fully prepared to stutter--so we do.

Instead, I trained myself to dismiss my apprehension. I would fuhgeddaboutit. The moment I detected myself predicting stuttering, I forced myself to replace such thoughts. To deny my stuttering prophecy, I would busy myself thinking about other things--how much change I had in my pocket, who would win the baseball pennant this year, did my car need an oil change, how high is up, where does my lap go when I stand up--anything to prevent self-fulfilling prophecy.

And it worked!

The more I forced myself to fuhgeddaboutit--to forget about stuttering--the less I stuttered! Once I stopped setting myself up to fail, I stopped failing! Without the apprehension and reinforcing memories of stuttering, I began to replace the negative with the positive. Instead of storing up negative memories of stuttering, I acquired positive memories of communication. And I continued to build on this positive attitude. Every evening, before I went to sleep, I trained myself to recount the day's activities, remember the accomplishments, and reinforce the positives.

Just think! I spent all those early years trying to fight my stuttering. No one cared as much about my stuttering as I did, and I gave it far more importance than it deserved. My world revolved around my stuttering and the effect that it was having on my life. Hours and hours were wasted seeking out any and all possible cures. Nothing worked . . . so I moved onto the next "sure thing." All that wasted time! It wasn't until much later that I finally got the message. I truly wish that an adult had taught me that lesson when I was young. It seems so simple:
Remember to forget about stuttering!

You can post Questions/comments to the autho before October 22, 2004.

April 7, 2004

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