What are you rehearsing?

What are you rehearsing?

“Nothing at the moment,” I hear you reply. Of course, we know speakers must rehearse their speeches, but that’s not the type of rehearsal that is the subject of this article. I’m talking about how you rehearse for life. When the curtain goes up, what will you fall back on? What kind of self-talk will influence the choices you make?

In December 2007, I was indulging in my favorite avocation, performing on stage in a community theatre production of The Wizard of Oz. I played the Cowardly Lion. Midway through the second act during a Sunday matinee, I mis-stepped and fell from a platform to the stage floor. It was a drop of three or four feet, but coming as unexpectedly as it did, that was enough to injure me. Specifically (as I would learn later), it was enough to dislocate my right elbow and break my forearm in two places. What do you think I did next?

Here’s a hint: “The show must go on!” So I went on. Not only did I get up and finish the scene – the one where the Tin Woodsman and I put the legs back on the Scarecrow – but I finished the whole show that way, including the costume change back to Zeke the farmhand for the final scene.

When people ask me, “Why didn’t you stop the show?” I answer “Because I didn’t know how.” All I knew to do was what we had rehearsed – and we had never rehearsed stopping the show! In times of great stress, you will fall back on what you have rehearsed.

Sadly, this does not always lead to such a positive outcome. A half-dozen years earlier, I had experienced another kind of fall – not a literal one, but more of a fall from grace. I had experienced a major failure in my professional life. It was the sort of failure that made me question a great deal about myself, including my competence and ability to perform my job. My self-talk consisted of statements like, “David, you’re incompetent. The world is finally seeing that you’re not as smart and capable as you’ve fooled everyone into thinking you are. You are a fraud!”

The trouble with telling yourself things like that is that it is so easy to believe them. They become the script that you rehearse internally. And in times of great stress – as this clearly was – you fall back on what you have rehearsed. So, I convinced myself I was incompetent and even worthless. I convinced myself of this so thoroughly, in fact, that I spiraled into major depression.

It took me a long time to recover from that depression, and along the way I caused considerable pain to the people closest to me. Fortunately, with professional help, I survived and recovered. And since then I have come to appreciate the power – both good and bad – of self-talk. As my friend Sherry Winn has told me, “What you tell yourself becomes your truth.” In other words, what you rehearse in your head becomes your reality, for good or for ill.

Which brings me back to my original question, what are you rehearsing? How is your self-talk? Whether you believe it or not, your self-talk is completely under your control. One of my new practices is one I learned from author Brené Brown, specifically from her book Daring Greatly. I have learned to meditate daily on this simple statement: “I am enough.” This is what I rehearse now. I may not have been smart enough or capable enough to see my failure coming and head it off, but there is no shame in that because I learned from the experience and moved on. I am capable of learning and growing. I am enough.

Do you believe you are enough? I encourage you to try telling yourself this on a daily basis. Rehearse it. Remember what Sherry Winn says: “What you tell yourself becomes your truth.” Are you tearing yourself down with your self-talk, or building yourself up? What are you rehearsing?

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