When 2019 happened I opted out of my world. I stopped doing almost everything that I did for my own enjoyment – dancing, writing, socialising. I cut myself off from everything apart from Toastmasters and I wondered why? I put it down to the fact that Toastmasters is not a social group, (although strong friendships and even life partnerships have happened), it is a group that meet once a fortnight to improve public speaking, communication and leadership skills. A group that didn’t ask me questions that my fragile self had to answer and I always came away feeling better.
I have been a member of Toastmasters since 2013 when I joined to gain those speaking skills I would require to sell my book. Yes, I was one of those that would prefer to be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. I gained those skills and yet I still stayed. It was COVID 19 that showed me why.
With COVID19 and the ensuing lockdown facebook became filled with posts that were either humorous digs at what we had become or posts giving advice on how to survive with an intact mind. This was not a problem for me as life under lock down was little different to life before lockdown except that now everyone was living a life similar to mine. What had changed was the news content. We were shown how the Coronavirus had touched us all – wreaking havoc for individuals, businesses and countries. There was nothing but bad news and negativity. Even the most optimistic started feeling frustrated, deflated and even depressed and those feelings are contagious.
Hence all these articles teaching us ways to survive. One article I read and I’m sorry I can’t link it as it was months ago and I now can’t find it resonated with me more than any of the others. In it they talked about a researcher , John Gottman, that I had come across when Roger and I joined a resilience research project. He is a couples therapist who has shown that we need five times more positive stimuli to overcome one negative one. They went on to give five positives that if you embraced them would stand you in good stead.
Humanity. Instead of listening to the negative stories focus on stories that remind you of the goodness of humanity and the power of human connection. There have been many of these in Australia where people go and check on elderly neighbours, ensure that food is delivered etc. In Europe the spontaneous clapping in Europe to thank the health workers. The Met and National Theatre sharing their operas and plays. I’m sure we can all think of many examples.
Time may be the greatest gift of this crisis. How often when you were working did you wish for more time to see friends, to learn to do something new or just to bring some balance back into your life? You may now have less wealth, but you do have more time. How can you spend that time in a way that will bring you joy and happiness—now and for the future?
Serendipity – the unexpected benefits of the crisis. It may be that you are now working from home and can be with your toddler seeing his milestones instead of being told about them. It can be the return of the bird life and animals to our cities. This serendipity will be different for every person – what was yours?
Generosity Human beings are wired to be generous. And being generous is good for your health. When you give, you increase your self-esteem and self-worth. It also gives your immune system a boost.Doing good doesn’t require fame or privilege; generosity is even more infectious than the disease itself so find ways to give.
Humour When such a crisis is in progress it seems somewhat wrong to find humour but there’s humour all around if you pay attention. According to mental health and wellness website “Laughter relaxes your body, boosts the immune system, triggers the release of endorphins, protects the heart and burns calories.” Look for the funny things. Facebook has been having me laughing daily.
When I read these five criteria I suddenly understood why I come away from Toastmasters feeling good. Toastmasters gives these five things in abundance. Always relevant but some more apparent with the pandemic.
Toastmasters gives us humanity – we have the privilege of hearing so many people’s stories and the power of that connection is immense.
Time and being a toastmaster allows us to accelerate our learning. There are always new skills to be learnt that can be added to your resume, showing that you have not wasted any down time you may have had. Employers love Toastmasters because they come with communication and leadership skills. This is no longer an issue for me but I certainly used it in my pitch to the publisher showing that I had an ability to speak at writer’s festivals and Rotary clubs etc.
Serendipity – for the time we are unable to have face to face meetings we are learning new skills that we hadn’t expected to learn – how to have a video presence and how to present ourselves to best advantage in front of a camera. A real positive.
Generosity has always been a part of Toastmasters – from listening respectfully to the presenter, volunteering on the Exec to our wonderful mentors.
Lastly Humour – I’ve not yet been to one Toastmasters meeting where I haven’t had at least one laugh.
Toastmasters gave me five positives for one negative, something that my other activities could not do and finally, I know why I kept going to Toastmasters when I dropped everything else that I did.