Seema Menon of Toastmasters International on what achievement really means and how to overcome obstacles to achievement
We all want to feel that we are able to achieve our potential in life. Often the word ‘achievement’ makes us think of our careers or the businesses we own or are planning to start. To be happy and well-balanced, we also can consider our ‘achievement’ in our lives overall. What do we want to achieve in our personal lives, with our hobbies, our community activities etc.? If you want to achieve in any aspect of life, there are three big achievement killers that you will need to overcome. These are Distraction, MISinterpretation, and MIScommunication.
Let’s delve into each in turn, starting with distraction, or to look at it another way, attention.
Attention: This is the most important aspect of our consciousness. In the past, the capacity to focus was a given, but with the explosion of distractions around us, right from advertising to emails, from social media to news, giving attention to something has become a virtue.
Lack of accomplishment is not attention deficiency, but attention ambushed and misled to the more sensationalist and entertaining aspects; the attention candy of instant gratification. As the mind gets used to being distracted so often and with such compelling content, it looks to feed this need and takes us away from focusing on our goals.
How does one regain attention? Mindfulness is one way. It’s a type of meditation, a focus on being in the present and bringing full attention to the object. Mindfulness means calling attention to our thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and movements. The aim is to be engrossed in the act of engaging, be it enjoying a walk in the park, sharing a chat with a friend, painting, having a cup of tea or jogging. Mindfulness is about putting your attention towards that which is intended instead of being led by distraction.
Practising Mindfulness brings more awareness to one’s breath and we can use this to relax tense muscles or focus on a situation that requires attention. Breathing can also be used to help deal with pain, anger or the stress of daily life.
By being mindful and putting our attention on the goal we want to achieve, we will remove distractions and will therefore be more likely to reach our target.
Interpretation: Sensory stimuli impinge upon the mind which then interprets this experience based on one’s conditioning. Whenever there is a stimulus, we interpret it, give it meaning, and behave accordingly.
Distress and trauma, for example, are not products of what has actually happened, but rather how we interpret it. Someone can lose an arm in a tsunami and say, ‘Oh god I lost my arm, my life is not worth living’, while another person can say, ‘So what, I still have another arm, let me see what I can do with this life’.
A change in interpretation can alter your life dramatically. During the Covid Lockdown, you have a choice to be upset about the circumstances and feel depressed or you can make the most of this time to catch up on your hobbies, pick up a new skill, work on your physical and mental fitness, telephone friends for long chats. The choice is on the individual.
Interpretation is, therefore, ‘communication to the self’. If our communication is positive then we are more likely to be motivated to achieve, to be willing to try again when we fail. Both of which are important if you want to achieve something. Negative interpretation is a killer of success, so change the way you look at things – and you’ll be more likely to succeed.
Communication: While attention and interpretation are intricate aspects of the self, one of the aspects of what makes us human is the ability to communicate with each other. Communication has two aspects: a. Communication to the self (our own inner voice, our interpretation) and b. Communication with others.
Lack of good, clear, engaging communication is one of the killers of achievement. So, it’s essential we learn good communication skills.
We’ve covered internal communication, now let’s look at external.
For example, when communicating with an audience, large or small, there are three key elements to master:
- Managing your state
- Connecting with your audience
- Creating change
- Manage your state:
You can use your breathing to help manage your emotional state. Breathe slow and deep to calm yourself. Once relaxed, speak normally, and pause to breathe if you feel your stress rising. Pausing is also important in order to add punctuation to your speech and give the audience a chance to digest and contemplate the contents.
- Connect with your audience:
Give your audience the information they need. If you are an expert in the subject, then demonstrate this through the information you share. Speak with confidence, but don’t treat your audience as idiots (i.e. be confident, not arrogant). Making eye contact is also important. And smile.
- Help people to create change
Help your audience visualize the future. Help them see how things can be different. Help show them ‘how’ they can change. Many of us have desires but fail to act, so show them how to act, how to take the first step. Help them feel strong and positive, so they can make a decision. People in a low state don’t make decisions! The essence of a good external communicator is to effect a change in the audience, moving them to where you want them to be.
If you understand the achievement killers: distraction, MISinterpretation, and MIScommunication, you can take action to overcome them. By doing this, you will be much more likely to achieve the career and life goals that you set for yourself.