Letting Go

birds hand

My name is Garrett and I have a stutter. When I tell people this they are surprised, even shocked. Just six years ago my stutter was very evident, yet today it has mostly subsided to the point where I am now a professional public speaker! It certainly comes back every now and then, but not nearly as frequently or as obviously as it used to. Recently somebody in one of my classes asked me how I got to this point, as he has a daughter who is facing the same challenge that I, and so many others, know all to well – the problem of stuttering. That question has prompted me to write this article. Before I start, I need to say that I am not a speech therapist or any kind of professional that has technical insight into why people stutter or what to do about it. I am currently a Leadership Development Specialist who draws from philosophy, coaching and a little bit of psychology. I speak only from my own experiences.

Childhood

I cannot remember when I started stuttering, but my parents tell me that they first noticed it in grade 4, when I happen to have a very strict teacher. At that time my behaviour changed; I was much more on edge, I couldn’t relax, I was afraid of the opinions of others and of making mistakes and, of course, I stuttered when speaking.

Junior High, especially grade 7, was a nightmare for me, causing more anxiety and panic attacks. The pressure of having to say anything out loud would make me hyperventilate from pure terror. I was afraid of the judgment of others, afraid of being deemed as lesser, inferior, stupid…

I stuttered through High School and started seeing a speech therapist. The tools helped, but not as much as I hoped they would. It seemed that the techniques would work at times when I didn’t need them so much, and not when my stutter was more evident. After High School and into University, I realized that I spoke better when I was calm, and had trouble when I was worked up. I researched different meditation techniques, with the hope of being able to attain a state of calm when I needed to. Techniques that encouraged an awareness of breathing and my physiological state (where in my body I feel tension) seemed to work well for me.

Insight

Around the end of my University career, my research into meditation led to even deeper insights that made a huge difference for me. This insight revolved around my self-perception. I realized that my stutter was an outcome of what I thought about myself, as well as what I thought about the opinions of others. I was afraid of being judged, and that added a crippling amount of pressure. The hierarchical world that our language reflects with intensity (words like “better” and “worse”) is completely made up! The judgments, categories, evaluations, etc. are all made up; they are not real! This insight then reached another level: If the judgments and opinions of others are made up, then so are the judgments I have about myself! If they are made up then I have the power to choose a different story. My self-esteem and confidence went from being a scarce resource that I needed to get from others, to being something that was only limited to my own imagination.

Realization

With this profound realization, my stuttering was greatly reduced.

It’s almost as if, if I truly don’t care about stuttering in front of others, or even in front of a classroom, I stop stuttering.

My stuttering isn’t completely gone – it comes back every now and then. Sometimes I slip back and become self-critical again, worrying about looking good and what other people think. At these times my stuttering re-appears. When it does, I focus on taking a moment to become aware of the thoughts going through my head. They are usually self critical and fear-based. I choose to focus on what I want to say and the enthusiasm I have around it. I lose myself in the content I want to share with others. That enthusiasm takes the place of anxiety and my speech improves. It’s almost as thought I have to pull my sense of self out of the equation. After all, if I am the one who stutters, then not being there even if it is only in my mind would eliminate the stutterer.

This perspective and change in belief about myself has made THE difference for me. Will it work for everyone? I don’t know. My hope is that it will help at least a few. I also realize that the messaging sounds deep, and is a lot to take in. This is why, as I find ways to better explain this perspective, I will make sure to write it down and share. For now though I will leave you with a quote that I think captures what I am trying to say:

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu

 

Garrett Hollman lives in Calgary.