Sunday, November 27, 2005

Under Pressure...

Better loosen up your schedule if you plan on reading this whole blog...

So I haven't written in this for a while because I've had more work than ever before. Grad school is hard, I'm not doing as well as I thought I would be and I'm having to work harder, which will pay off, but I'm still stressed out. I was home in Plymouth for the past 10 days which was really nice, and though I was getting bored at the end, I'm back here and kind of wish I was home again. Seriously, it's lonely here. There really aren't many people around to talk to, and now that I'm done with work I won't have much to do other than study and work out (which I haven't exactly been diligent about lately) until I go home for Christmas. As much as I enjoy the privacy and independence of living alone in a pimped-out apartment, it gets very, very lonely, and I miss having Ethan, Andy, and Mike around to hang out with. I wish they lived down the street or something. It sucks going to bars alone, and since none of the girls in my program are exactly peaking my interest (save for that one uber-hottie, but I don't know her name and a girl that fine has got to have a boyfriend or two...), I don't feel like pursuing anything there. I'm done with work until March, which is both good because I have more time to devote to finals, but also sucks because I won't have any money coming in for a while and I'll get bored easier. I wasn't accomplishing anything meaningful at Tatnuck, but at least it was some kind of movement. (My biggest regret about UMass was not having a part-time job at any point there, I would have had more money and wouldn't have felt lousy about sitting around bored all day, which lead to a boatload of new problems. Hopefully I'll be able to curb my spending and keep busy in other productive ways.)

Anyway, I don't want to complain, things just feel very weird right now. I got back today and I immediately felt homesick. Physically, I just feel different. I'm groggy and my eyes are unfocused, but that could just be from the stress and that fact that I haven't been to the gym in 2 weeks and ate nothing but junk and turkey for the duration of my time home. I haven't found a rhythm for practicing my speech and have had no motivation to even though I haven't been able to get a word out for a few weeks. My breathing is way off and I'm talking too fast, and even though I was home with my family and wanted to be fluent with them, I did not put a full effort in and only practiced once. I have had a really hard time answering the phone lately which is odd, because that's something I can usually do. I let Molly pick the phone up a few times, which I'm not proud of. At Thanksgiving we passed the phone around to talk to my cousin Pam who just had another baby (Colby Griffin Hartman...He's cute, but I guess we're just throwing the name Griffin into first- and middle-name slots now, apparently), and when it was my turn to talk I could barely say anything, and even though it was just my family it was embarrassing. I've been trying to figure out what to do.

One of the things I am mostly interested in right now is the psychology of why people do or do not do anything. If anybody has heard of the success guru/motivational speaker Anthony Robbins, that is what most of his stuff is about, and I've taken to it quite a bit. At the end of last year I was looking on Limewire to find audiobooks to listen to rather than just music all the time, and his name popped up. I had seen his infomercials on late-night TV and he looked wicked corny, and the whole idea self-help looks tailor-made for losers, so I kept it on the DL. But I figured, I've found it for free, a bunch of athletes and business moguls co-sign him, might as well give it a shot. I downloaded all of his programs and listened to them. Each mp3 is about 30 minutes and has lame super-hero-type music at the start, which is just embarrassing to listen to. However, the verdict is, yes, it's corny , too idealistic, and over-the-top, but he also makes a ton of sense about how the mind works and has a lot of effective ways on improving your life, and the guy is incredibly motivating. His biggest points are basic and common-sense, but he puts them in a way that actually makes you believe and apply them. He talks about things like gratitude for what you have, accountability, goal-setting, having a clear idea of what you want, giving to others instead of asking from them, contributing to society, growing and maturing, managing your emotions, positive thinking, continually raising your standards, and finding your purpose. His diet-and-exercise plan is complete bullshit and I haven't had a chance to really apply any of the financial stuff yet, but other than that, I've enjoyed listening to him.

You have to figure most people in life dislike where they are, as shown by obesity, depression, the divorce rate, drug addiction, alcoholism, suicide, and things like that. If you look at the characteristics of the few people who are happy and fulfilled, they live by most of the principles that Tony Robbins talks about. If you don't think that way naturally, he is a great way to start. Sometimes I don't like where I am, though I am getting the ball rolling. I've made some changes since starting to listen to him, though not as many in my behaviors as in the way I think. I've learned to appreciate what I have in the moment rather than always waiting for something good to come along to be happy. Some of the changes I've made include this blog, the future website and podcast, finding the golf course job myself, working on my stuttering, and treating people better. I think my biggest goal is to be a significant voice in the stuttering community, much like Marty was. I want to go to the conferences and have people know who I am and gives keynote speeches and let people know that I am working my ass off to make a difference for other people who stutter. That's why I want my podcast to be as good as possible and why I promote the hell out of these little projects. These are all things I wouldn't have thought to do before. I also have a lot of other smaller goals that I wrote about before, such as learning to play piano (I'm big into Coldplay right now), learning how to work on my car, and giving change to the homeless people in Worcester I see every day. Little things like that add up and make me feel like I'm contributing even if it's on a small scale. My goals list is always changing, but the point is I'm at least thinking in the right direction even if I haven't physically shook the world yet (my book will be good though. Hell, this entry is probably 3 chapters worth).

Anyway, I brought this up because the all-encompassing issue he talks about is that people basically operate based on what gives them pain and what gives them pleasure, and will live their lives accordingly. But pain is more powerful than pleasure, so people will avoid the pain more often than pursue the pleasure. If a person is overweight and wishes they were thinner but does nothing, it's because they associate more pain to actually dieting and exercising than to staying the way they are. They only truly make the change because it hurts more to stay overweight than to lose it. I felt that personally in high school when I finally decided to lose weight after years of wanting to. People procrastinate because it is painful to do their work right away than to do anything else, but the night before the paper is due they realize it will hurt more to not do the work, so they cannot procrastinate any longer, another thing I've felt personally. I will not approach a girl at a bar, because I'd rather go home alone than go through the whole ordeal of possibly being rejected, even though she could end up being my wife and the rejection will only hurt for a few minutes. If you look at situations in your own life, there are probably similarities. I feel like the reason I do not practice my speaking as much as I probably should is because my stuttering does not hurt as much as actually putting forth a full effort. The times I am very diligent about practice are when the thought of stuttering really hurts, such as in class or in the future with a client. I'm going to tie in the the loneliness paragraphs because I spend most of my time here by myself. Since I am alone all the time, there is not often a reason to practice speaking. Sure, I could make times to practice in the real world, and occasionally I do, but it isn't that simple. Everyone knows how important it is to exercise and eat right, but does everyone do it? Of course not. A lot of guys bulk up in the winter and cut down in the summer, because there's no pressure to be really trim in the winter, so we can eat more and pack on more muscle and fat. However once summer arrives it's time to start getting leaner for the beach. It's why girls go nuts to try to lose weight for Spring Break. If you don't, there will be consequences. If you want to really accomplish something there has to be more pain to not doing it than to following through. So by and large, making time to apply practice in the real world will not stick because for me, if it doesn't feel authentic I won't do it. I have a job where my speaking does not matter and once I'm out of work I fly solo for the rest of the day. If I had a job where I needed to deal with people, such as being a salesman where I'm selling something and it's important how I present myself, there is pressure and motivation to speak fluently. I will feel the pressure when I start clinic and I am working with actual clients and want to practice what I preach. Right now I'm comfortable, just like I feel comfortable being a little doughy because it's winter and I'm not going to the beach any time soon. I get little spurts of motivation, but they leave within a few days.

The easy answer would be to find situations where I have no choice but to follow through, such as finding a salesman job, but the golf course job is so conducive to my grad school workload that it's not worth it to rearrange everything. I'm hoping that once I start the podcast, Toastmasters, and the NSA meetings this week that I will feel the pressure again. Being comfortable feels good, but in the grand scheme of your life, you will only be happy if you feel the pressure to move forward. I'm too comfortable...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Accountability and Voluntary Stuttering

Good news, I've purchased, so that is officially mine. Look for that over the winter.

This past week I've been thinking about the concept of my accountability for my stuttering. I was at a message board and I posted a question about how nervous I get when I approach someone, and how it just "happens to me." Without even considering that someone would disagree with that thought process, someone responded by asking me why I "choose" to stutter. The person (who does not stutter) brought up how people who stutter are responsible for the way they talk and have somehow brought it into their own lives subconsciously. My immediate reaction was "what does this guy know? he doesn't stutter, he doesn't know how it feels, how dare he..." and so on. I decided not to respond to allow myself to cool off and think about what he was saying before I put my foot in my mouth.

After thinking about it for a couple days, I have realized I am much more accountable for the way I talk than I would like to think. I have said that my stuttering does not necessarily mean that I am nervous, and it hurts when people immediately assume that and write me off as a nervous, bumbling idiot. The more I think about it, that isn't entirely accurate. When I am nervous, I stutter MUCH more than normal, and since there are situations where I always seem to stutter more than others, there is a connection to how nervous I am whether it is conscious or subconscious. I have a lot of trouble approaching someone, male or female (which is why I hate to do it), making phone calls to places I don't know (calls to places I know are much easier), and asking a favor of someone (which I absolutely hate doing. I was having a conversation with my friend Jillian in class and because of my comfort level my fluency was very good, but I wanted to have her call our friend Kate to get me a coffee before our next class, I had a hard time asking that. After she told me to make the call myself with her phone, I cowardly sent a text-message to Kate, because I was nervous about her not realizing it was me calling her from Jillian's phone. However now that Kate has my number I would be alright with calling her myself), approaching an authority figure (boss, teacher, etc), being put "on the spot" (ordering at a restaurant, being called on in class when I don't expect it) and other situations like that. In the past I have described it as an unconscious anxiety when I don't feel any normal nervous feelings like a fast heartbeat or sweating or anything like that, but it is still nervousness. I try to think about the times when I am most fluent, and they have been when I am hanging out with friends talking about sports and life in general (though not always, there are times when I can't get any words out at all with friends sometimes and I don't know where that comes from). Once I reach a comfort zone with someone and we are just talking, I rarely stutter (the person I probably stuttered the least with in my life was Jaylynn. At most, maybe a handful of times.) If there are times when I am expected to talk or in somehow "impress" someone on a minor level (such as telling a good story or a joke with a punchline) it is very hard because there is some amount of pressure on me, but when we're just shooting the shit or talking about the weather or how a local sports team blew a game (or the whole damn franchise, Lucchino...bastard) , I am fine. I have a lot of my problems with new people because I am afraid of how they will react when they are caught off-guard by my head movements and such, but after it happens and they see it, I am more relaxed and the anxiety goes away and so does the stuttering.

So the moral of the story is, if I'm stuttering, I am either nervous or subconsiously nervous, forget all that other "it just happens for no apparant reason" business. I am going to believe that it's not my fault that I have a neurological (and in my opinion, hereditary, though some people claim it's not proven. Hey, I've got a father and a close relative who stutter as well, I'm comfortable saying there is a genetic link in my situation) predisposition to stutter, but I am accountable for how I handle it and how my thoughts and emotions contribute to it, as well as how much effort I really put into correcting it. If I focus my thoughts on "what will this person think of me and how will they react" I am going to get nervous, but if I think "I am in control of this" than I will be. The problem lies in that it's not that simple to actually put into action, and this is where desensitization and voluntary stuttering comes into play.

Voluntary stuttering is a technique used a lot by people who stutter, especially in the first stages of therapy, in order to desensitize his or herself to the shame and hatred of the stuttering. I'll put it this way: STUTTERING SUCKS! There is nothing fun about it, it's embarrassing, it's tiring, and it just plain sucks! END OF STORY! My life has clearly been very affected by it in every possible way. If I let it, it completely controls me, as evidenced by my younger years and some of the residual shame and anxiety that I still have today. The theory behind it is that if WE are controlling the stuttering, not the other way around. WE will make people wait as long as we want by intentionally prolonging what we say and creating repetitions. Once you have gotten over other people's reactions, the nervousness stops coming and you will not stutter as much. What happens with me sometimes is that I know how to control my stuttering, but in the moment of speaking slower and stretching out syllables and taking my time, it almost feels like a hassle to others because I am intentionally making them wait. I find that this entire thought process happens in a split-second and in the heat of the moment I would rather just FORCE it out than apply what I know how to do. Since it happens so fast, it feels like I'm on auto-pilot and have no say in the matter. I think that's why so many people find it difficult to apply techniques in real life because they haven't addressed that. It's easy to say it just happens and you can't control it, but it's a matter of will and practice. If my goal was to completely stop stuttering than I could do that with enough practice, dedication, and direction. The problem is, that's not my goal, and I'm not exactly sure what my goal is. Right now I am trying to walk the line between "being comfortable with myself no matter what" and "I want to improve the way I speak" which is hard, because if am truly comfortable, what drive do I have to change? I have been reading more about voluntary stuttering from yahoo! group message boards and the like, and people say it REALLY helps. I tried it a few times in therapy last year when I would make phone calls, and I didn't really like it. Sure, it did give me a little rush and was not as bad as I thought it would be, but I still didn't really like the feeling of intentionally making someone wait. I hate to make someone wait intentionally. I don't like to be late for dates, class, work, or anything where people are depending on me to get there on time, and this includes talking. I do not mind actually stuttering in front of people because, at least according to my old way of thinking, "there's nothing I can do about it" so I don't worry about it in some situations, but if I have to do it intentionally, I HATE it (have you noticed me CAPITALIZING to show emphasis?). The thing is that this is all about being in control and making people wait, which is a new concept to me. I am going to decide to give it another try--at least on a small level--at first and the more I read about it and if I do have success with it, I'll continue to use it.

In other news, I've decided to get my SpeechEasy fixed, so it's been sent out and I should find out when I get it back and how much it's going to cost me, but the good thing is I'm getting it fixed on my own dime, not my dad's. He has already spent too much money on my stuttering that I haven't put the effort into, so it's on me now to take care of myself (more on that another time). I anticipate being both more willing/able to use it here as opposed to UMass because of the background noise factor and the motivation factor, so I will let you know how that goes.

Enough for now, peace.