How hypothesis testing can set you free

Have you ever been overcome by the kind of fear where you think something really bad is going to happen, if you take a certain action. The fear eventually puts you off taking the action? One example might include a fear of public speaking where you are afraid that people might not like your presentation or, might laugh at your mistakes so; you avoid any opportunity to speak in public. The problem is that in many jobs, particularly in the knowledge economy, you are expected to be able to do some public speaking. In fact, the further up the ladder you go, the more important public speaking becomes e.g. your time is more valuable so you need to be able to deliver you message to many people at a time rather than just one at a time. You need to be able to tackle your fears and one great tool for doing so is hypothesis testing.

Hypothesis testing is a concept taken from cognitive behavioural therapy and that involves testing a negative ‘hypothesis’. The idea is that you will demonstrate to yourself that your fears and anxieties are illogical and unrealistic. Hypothesis testing works so well because once you have shown that your fears are illogical and unrealistic; those fears and anxieties cease to have any power over you. It’s like smashing down the door to a whole new world of opportunities.

How it works

When you’re afraid of something or; something causes anxiety, then normally this is linked to some kind of belief about what will happen. It is the belief which you are afraid of, not the event. The following are just some examples of how what we think is the fear is usually not the fear:

  • You are not afraid of heights; you are afraid of falling
  • You are not afraid of stuttering; you are afraid of being mocked for stuttering
  • You are not afraid of making a mistake; you are afraid of being shouted at

The thing that you are afraid might happen is called your hypothesis.  Unfortunately, we often usually accept our own negative hypothesis without ever putting it to the test. For that reason, we often find that a hypothesis just does not stand up to testing and; that is what you need to do with your hypothesis; put it to the test. And, once your hypothesis fails to stand up to the test, you are free. You might picture yourself, as Braveheart, yelling at your fear that it can never take your freedom.

Putting it into practice

There are many ways in which you can put any hypothesis to the test. The great thing is that you can make a game out of it and have some fun. Go all out and make it as enjoyable as you can.

Hypothesis testing a fear of public speaking

I will use the fear of public speaking as an example.

Fear of public speaking is the most common fear in the world. So, it can seem quite difficult to overcome it. You may be afraid that people will laugh at you if you make mistakes or that people won’t like your presentations. As discussed earlier, public speaking is an essential skill for career advancement so you do need to overcome this fear. The following tips will help you to put your hypothesis to the test:

1. Be clear about your hypothesis

If you want to test a hypothesis, you need to be clear about what exactly your hypothesis is. Why do you fear public speaking? What is it that you think will happen or go wrong?

2. Test it gradually

In reality, there is no difference between delivering a talk to a large group of people or a small group of people but you might have noticed by now that your mind does not always deal in reality.

Start with delivering your first talk to a small group, even just a handful of people. This should help to reduce the fear. Now, remember the thing you fear going wrong? Do that! e.g.

  • If you fear forgetting your words; pretend you forgot your words and reach for your notes to jog your memory. Make it obvious.
  • If you fear that you will stutter; deliberately stutter. Again, make it obvious.

Once you have done this; observe how people react. I bet that you’ll find that they will be compassionate and understanding. They will most likely just turn a blind eye to your mistake and wait patiently for you to get back on track.

Once you have hypothesis tested with a small crowd, you may feel the need to test again with a bigger audience.

3. Reflect on the experience

When you have taken on a challenge and, hypothesis testing is challenging, it is important that you take some time to reflect back upon the experience once you have finished. When you reflect upon the experience, it will reinforce the fact that your fears were unfounded; thus freeing you from the grip of the fear.

If you are overcome by fears and stressed out, you should check out Breathe.

The example given above is a very simple example of hypothesis testing but hypothesis testing really only needs to be as complicated as you choose to make it. Fear can overpower you and it can stop you from living a full life. It may be impacting your personal life, your career or both. You shouldn’t stand for this because sadly, most of your fears will be illogical and unrealistic. Do yourself a favour; identify the real source of your fear. Identify your hypothesis about what might go wrong and put it to the test. Free yourself from the shackles of fear today.