The Tim Ferriss Show – Susan Cain on How to Overcome Fear and Embrace Creativity

Check out The Tim Ferriss Show Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Before giving a talk, it’s very important to practice in front of a live audience
  • “So often when you see someone who’s really good at almost anything, it’s because they actually started out exactly the opposite, and they just cared so much about fixing that problem”
    • With a good public speaker – what appears to be natural, only appears to be so after having started off very very unnatural
  • If you want to improve your public speaking skills, join your local Toastmasters group
  • Here’s what Susan says to herself before giving her book talks:
    • “I will say to myself, ‘I am sure there is one person in this audience, who has a child that is shy/introverted. If that child has a better life because of one tidbit that a person in the audience hears today, then it’s all good.’ That pulls me out of myself, instantly.”
  • Mike Tyson once said  -”The hero and the coward feel the same thing. It’s how they respond that’s different.”
    • “There is no courage without the presence of fear” – Tim
  • When first pursuing something creative, try to take the pressure off yourself in any way possible
    • “If you have that kind of a creative dream and a creative love, you have to do everything you can to not spoil it with the pressures of paying the rent, or the pressures of needing to derive professional status from it”
    • So – perhaps keep working a job in order to fund your creative pursuit

Books Mentioned

Intro

The Origins

  • “Dating back to middle school, I’ve had a huge fear of public speaking”
    • “A lot of people say they’re afraid of public speaking…but they don’t have a fear the way I had a fear of it”
  • One thing Susan has learned:
    • When you have a bad public speaking experience as a child, the experience gets “coded” into your amygdala, which is the part of your brain that registers all your fears
    • So for the rest of your life, your amygdala, is in a way, tainted with this prior experience

Tim’s Introvert Hacks and Tips

  • Tim, also a self-proclaimed introvert, will frequently take bathroom breaks during social outings to give himself a reset/break
  • Tim prefers to have group dinners with friends at home, rather than out at restaurants, to tone down the external stimulation a tad
    • He also likes to cook the meal for the group, so he has a task to do while people are originally arriving
  • “I’m good at playing extrovert, but up until 6th grade, I wouldn’t even go out for recess. I would sit on a step and read books.”
  • Prior to his first SXSW talk in 2007, just before the launch of The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim practiced in front of his friend’s three chihuahuas
    • Why do this? – So he could nail the performance aspect of the talk, to be able to hold the dogs’ attention
  • Prior to his latest TED talk, Tim frequently practiced in front of small groups of strangers 
    • He would then ask them for feedback and adjust
    • “You really need to get real people in front of you. You really need to get into the messy reality of what a live audience will feel like.”
  • What else did Tim do prior to his latest TED talk?
    • He assumed his heart rate would be ~30 beats higher than normal, so… he would do a bunch of push ups, and drink a few double espressos, and then do a dry run
      • “It was not just important for me to practice the content, but to practice under the physiological stress that I would probably experience when trying to deliver the content”

Start Small

  • “So often when you see someone who’s really good at almost anything, it’s because they actually started out exactly the opposite, and they just cared so much about fixing that problem”
    • With a good public speaker – what appears to be natural, only appears to be so after having started off very, very unnatural
  • “If you’re afraid of something, you have to expose yourself very slowly to the thing that you fear, in really manageable doses”
    • Start small – little by little you can overcome every fear
    • Way back, when Susan wanted to first get a hand on her fear of public speaking, she joined a group called Speakeeezi, run by Charles diCagno (a group for people with public speaking anxiety)
      • She recalls the first task she had to do, was stand up in front of a group and just say her name, and that was it!

More Ways to Improve Public Speaking

  • Eventually Susan joined Toastmasters
    • It’s a worldwide organization – you sign up for a group that meets near you, and once every two weeks or so, the group meets to practice public speaking
    • Tim has also done this
  • Prior to her TED talk, Susan hired a coach for the full week before – Jim Fyfe
    • Susan worked with him from morning until night, for the week prior to the talk
    • How did the coaching work?
      • They started by practicing Susan’s talk, while she sat on the couch (this lowered the ‘seriousness’ vibe a tad)
      • After 2 days of this, they started doing it while standing/on a stage
    • Tim says one of the commonalities of good coaches, is that they’re likely to say – “Let’s start from where you are right now”
      • If they then sense any type of fear/overwhelm, they’ll bring you back to a point of familiarity or comfort

What does Susan do now, prior to giving a talk?

  • Lots of deep breathing
  • “I will say to myself, ‘I am sure there is one person in this audience, who has a child that is shy/introverted. If that child has a better life because of one tidbit that that person in the audience hears today, then it’s all good.’ That pulls me out of myself, instantly.”

Eventually the Public Speaking Butterflies Get Manageable

  • They might not completely disappear, but they get manageable – “The difference between manageable and non-manageable is gigantic in terms of the effect on your life and your career”
    • For Tim – this has held to be true
      • Especially with podcast appearances, or small Q+As on stage
      • But with keynote talks, Tim says he still gets very nervous
  • Tim recalls Mike Tyson once said  -”The hero and the coward feel the same thing, it’s how they respond that’s different”
    • “There is no courage without the presence of fear” – Tim

A Great Thought

  • “There’s something weird about public speaking – it has such disproportionate value to what you’re investing in it”
    • “What’s waiting for you on the other side of it, is so gigantic”

More Helpful Advice

  • After ending her law career to become a writer, Susan told herself – “It’s really hard to make a living as a writer. So the goal is to publish something by the time I’m 75 [she was 33 at the time].”
    • She did this to completely take the pressure off of something she loved so deeply
    • “I just knew that if I turned this thing that I deeply loved into a source of, ‘This HAS to be the place where I make my living, or this HAS to be the place where I derive some kind of professional stature,’ it was going to soak a lot of the joy out of it.”

Why did Susan leave law to be a writer?

  • “I had wanted to be a writer from the time I was 4”
  • Susan went to law school, and practiced Wall Street law for about a decade
    • During that time – “It was so time consuming, that I completely forgot about that fact that I had wanted to be a writer”
    • The first few years practicing law, Susan says she loved it – but eventually it got tough
    • She then decided to take a leave of absence - “As soon as that space opened up, I now had free time for the first time in like 10 years. I started writing, and I had no idea it was going to happen”
      • A week later she took a class in creative non-fiction at New York University (NYU)
      • “I just had this complete feeling of certainty that this is what I wanted to be doing, but 0 expectation I would be making a living out of it
  • “If you have that kind of a creative dream and a creative love, you have to do everything you can to not spoil it with the pressures of paying the rent, or the pressures of needing to derive professional status from it.”
    • So to help pay some bills, Susan set up a side business teaching people negotiation skills
  • Tim has a good point
    • Many entrepreneurs/creators have side gigs to pay the bills while they build up their work/company
      • Susan puts in nicely – “You’re doing everything that you can to protect the thing that you love most”

What does Susan’s writing process look like?

  • She’s currently writing a new book 
    • Later in the podcast she briefly touches on it:
      • “Tuning into the sorrows of the world is a secret superpower that we’re not allowed to access very often”That’s really the only hint…sounds interesting 🙂
      • Side note – In these Podcast Notes, Susan brought up a video that I still remember. It sounds like it’s related to her next book – give it a watch.
  • “I first take whatever thesis I’m working with, and then spend a year or two walking around the world looking at everything through the lens of that thesis.”
    • Susan says she takes tons of notes during this period
      • How? – She throws everything into a Microsoft Word document (Susan says it becomes ~700-800 pages by the time she’s done)
        • She then goes through it, and tags things by topic (aka a theme) – she’ll then separate everything out by topic, print it all out, and then group the topics together into binders
      • For this next book, Susan tried to use Scrivener instead of Word, but didn’t really like it
  • Next comes the writing
    • “It feels like it’s this place that I go, deep in my mind, and I really love being there. No matter what’s happening to me in my outside life, I always have those few hours a day, whether I’m going to a cafe, a library, whatever…and I’m sitting with my laptop, a cappuccino, and I’m just doing it”
    • When does Susan write?
      • She usually drop her kids off at school around 8am, then play tennis or does yoga, and after that….she’ll write - it’s usually around 10am that she starts
        • “I’ll just write until I feel I’m not concentrating well anymore” – Very often it happens after 2-3 hours
      • “If I had no other obligations, the best times of day [for writing] would be more like 7am, and also super late at night”
  • Susan has noticed something interesting:
    • As our cortisol levels are lower at night (this is the stress hormone), the ideas she comes up with late at night are different than the daytime ideas
      • “I’ll make different types of associative leaps, and there’s a softness and ease in my thinking and feeling about the ideas”

Are there any books, resources, or writers that have had a significant impact on Susan?

  • Tim found Draft No. 4 and Bird by Bird helpful
  • Susan explains how she and a group of other writers, who were in the creative non-fiction class with her at NYU, formed a writer’s group after the class had finished
    • They used to meet once a week – Susan says that this support system was extremely helpful to her

Some Great Writing Advice

  • Tim recalls some book writing advice he got from a book agent that passed on one of his books:
    • “Treat each chapter like a feature magazine article – it should have a beginning, middle, and end. That way, each chapter can live on it’s own.”

Introversion vs. Shyness

  • “Introversion is really about the preference for lower stimulation environments”
    • Introverts have nervous systems that react more to incoming stimuli
    • Extroverts are the opposite – their nervous systems react less to stimulation
  • Shyness is much more about the fear of social judgement
    • Lots of introverts are shy, but not necessarily all of them

Any Books Susan Has Gifted Frequently to Others?

What would Susan put on a billboard?

  • “Only connect”
    • At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters
    • Aim to connect, on a really deep level, with those around you

Wrapping Up

  • Susan asks Tim what his next book will be:
    • “Based on a podcast episode that came out a few days ago, I think it’s going to be this book that I’ve been trying to give myself permission to write, which is about how to pay attention to the psychoemotional undercurrents and components of life very closely, and how to use tools, both on and off the beaten path, for finding resolutions for problems, or challenges, or insecurities, or trauma that in current conventional practice, is thought to be very difficult to treat, or even untreatable”
    • Tim says he’s “moving with purpose” on this project – it’s his top priority 
      • He says he’s working on it everyday now, but it will be awhile before he gets to the actually writing phase

Random

  • Warren Buffet has said that his best ever investment, was a Dale Carnegie course he took on public speaking, as it magnified his ability to do everything else

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services


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