When I realised I had to act to get over my fear of presenting to the project teams I was leading, I joined my local Toastmasters club. I soon recognised we learn to be better presenters and more confident speakers by going through cycle after cycle of observing, feeding back and trying out.
My years of learning and leading led me to consider doing postgraduate research, but I imagined being stuck at a desk alone, feeling miserable.
I was delighted to discover action research which involves working with other people and the kinds of feedback loops I had found so valuable.
After only 18 month the research process is already having a big impact in my life and work. Here are the four stages which I hope will be useful to you as fellow project managers or in other roles in technology and elsewhere.
1. Noticing experience
The first stage is noticing what is actually going on. We repeat patterns, playing out “rules” about how life works and how we are expected to be. One of the “rules” I had learned was that a proper Irish girl’s dinner involved meat and two vegetables.
But a different kind of noticing was going on. I was paying much more attention to nature on walks with my dog Betsy. 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. Some people do this via painting and sculpture, some poetry and stories, others do photography. Some do a bit of all of these.
Initially I thought this was weird. How does “serious research” involve playing with paint and poetry?! But it really made a difference. I shared stories like when I visited an abattoir in my early 20s, I drew pictures of me sitting inside trees and wrote poems about the nature I walked in with Betsy.
Finally, I found a picture with a giant lobster holding a human over a pot of boiling water. He’s explaining to another lobster that the human isn’t screaming. The sound’s just the noise it makes when it touches the water. That picture was the tipping point. I felt extremely uncomfortable about using animals for food anymore and decided to try out not eating meat or fish.
3. Exploring ideas
Experimenting with being vegetarian meant big changes. I imagine I wouldn’t have lasted without this third stage. It’s about exploring ideas and going beyond the “rules” and “facts” we take for granted.
I explored ideas from many different perspectives allowing me to see what other people said 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.
Exploring others’ ideas allowed me to understand and develop my own. I became clearer about what I stood for and how I might keep the change.
4. Putting into practice
This came together into a new, more confident way of being with food. I no longer felt obliged to eat meat and fish just because I’d previously done so. I could handle other people’s responses to my choice. I became more confident about trying out new foods.
These steps to change are eminently doable. Pay attention to what’s going on around you, find ways of going deeper into what it means for you, and explore ideas so you can be clearer on what’s possible and what’s important to you. These steps can help make lasting change in your job and impact your personal life.
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 programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org.