How to Speak Up Like an Olympian
I used to be a runner. Not the exercise, marathon kind of runner. No. I was a runner when it came to conflict. In a fight or flight situation, I was gone. Out of there.
It’s taken me a long time and conscious effort to stick around and confront conflict.
Something as simple as a conversation with my husband or speaking up for myself at work or with my parents was too stressful for me to handle. I was afraid to upset the apple cart. I was worried about making waves. I didn’t want to look like a complainer.
The catalyst for me beginning to shift my behavior came after I ran from my husband. We were newly married and just moved into our first house together. We had a disagreement about something (I can’t even remember what the issue was) and I got in the car and fled.
I drove around town, then went to the library to sit in the quiet. When the library was closing, I realized that I had to go home. I dreaded what I would be confronted with when my husband greeted me at the door.
I expected anger, frustration, or the third degree.
What I received was worry, hurt, and confusion. He didn’t understand what drove me to flee the house. He was more worried about my safety and the status of our relationship than about whatever we had argued about.
I realized in that moment that I had to change my behavior.
It took a while. My first instinct, still, is to run away from conflict. But I have developed some strategies to help me stand up for my voice, my values, and my needs.
One strategy involves visualization. If I know I must have a tough conversation with someone, I visualize it first in my head.
This technique came from watching the Olympics. I heard story after story of how athletes would visualize their performance so when time came to compete, they were mentally confident.
One such athlete is Lindsey Vonn, labeled “America’s Best Woman Skier Ever” by Sports Illustrated. Vonn said, “I always visualize the run before I do it. By the time I get to the start gate, I've run that race 100 times already in my head, picturing how I'll take the turns.”
When I first began to visualize situations, I realized that I asked myself a lot of unanswerable questions like – What if they get angry? What if they laugh at me? How will they respond? What if I look greedy?
All this energy is focused on the other person. I can’t control the other person. I can only control myself.
Lindsey Vonn couldn't control the weather or the snowpack, but she visualized how she would respond to different conditions. I had to consciously shift my visualization to ME – the only thing I can control – and visualize my response to different conditions.
What is important about this conversation? What do I hope to accomplish? How do I feel? What outcome do I need? Why is it important for me to speak up?
When I shift the focus to me and visualize the conversation, I gain confidence. My breathing changes. My posture changes. The worry and fear dissipate and is replaced with resolve. I know what I am willing to tolerate and how I will respond if confronted with different scenarios.
My first instinct is always to run, but I don’t give into that knee jerk reaction anymore. I know it is more important to speak my truth, to live my life on my terms.
It’s hard and takes a leap of faith in the beginning - faith in my convictions and purpose. But after I flexed that muscle a few times, it became easier. I’m on my way to becoming an Olympic caliber boundary setter!
Give it a try. The next time you have an upcoming meeting or conversation causing you worry, try visualizing it ahead of time.
Remember to stay focused on yourself and the things you can control.
How can you practice visualization in your life today?
For more tips and tricks to Create Healthy Boundaries and Say NO With Confidence, download my free People Pleaser's Toolkit and begin practicing today.