Changing our Relationship with the World – Geoff Johnston

About the Author:

Geoff from South Australia is the father of two children and “Poppy” to five granddaughters and one grandson.
Geoff was a chronic overt stutterer since the age of 3-4 years and stuttered out-of-control most of his life despite continuous traditional speech therapy. Geoff joined the McGuire Programme in July 1999 and found he related easily to the holistic and “sports mentality” of the programme.
Geoff, a life-member of the Australian Speak Easy Association, was the Regional Director of the McGuire Programme in Australia for 13 years retiring from that role in November 2014. During that time Geoff was involved in instructing and coaching over 1,000 people who stutter. He regularly speaks to community groups, at conferences and is interviewed on radio and television. He is passionate about helping people who stutter to gain control over their speech and achieve “quality of life” changes.

I love the theme of the 2021 Conference, “Speak the change you wish to see.” If we wish to be more effective speakers, change is critical not just around speaking but changing our relationship with the world!

If we are to “recover” from stuttering, a holistic approach is necessary involving changes to how we see ourselves interacting with people and our environment. Changes to the meaning we give to situations, changes to our inner dialogue, changes to our perceptions and beliefs, and changes to our emotional responses to situations, particularly speaking situations.

I do use the word “recovered” because I know dozens of people around the world who qualify as recovered stutterers.

My definition of recovery has little to do with fluency, has little to do with perfect speech. It has all to do with overcoming the fear of stuttering thereby not allowing stuttering or thoughts of stuttering to play any role in our lives. We can say what we want, to whomever, whenever without holding back or having abnormal fear of judgement. There may be habitual residue of the physical habit of stuttering from time to time, but it took me a lifetime to realise that in the main, people do not really care….so why should we care so much!!

Immediate results during and after intensive treatment are impressive. The intensives provide a supportive environment with total acceptance and support. However, we all know this is “magic fairy dust” and generally those skills and feelings of self-confidence are difficult to transfer to the real world. The end of any intensive treatment is just the start of a long-term process of change and a new belief system around our speech. 

Why immediately after an intensive course, success is high, only to drop away with time? There is more to stuttering than stuttering. Changes in other areas of our lives are required!

Let us think about why other people are successful in their endeavours whether it be sport, career, academia, etc. and then apply those behaviours to the stuttering world. If you want to get good at something, find someone who has been successful in that activity, find out what they did and do the same things with similar passion, bravery, hard work and persistence and you will likely have a similar result.

I recently read an article “7 Things Successful People Do” by Nick Ortner, published by The Tapping Solution which got me thinking, how could I apply Nick’s principles below to people who stutter? My observations have been formed while running around 70 x 4-day intensive courses for more than 1,200 people who stutter over 14 years in Australia and New Zealand. Those courses were for the McGuire Programme.   

1 – They first change how they think and feel

How does this apply to People Who Stutter (PWS)?

Changing how we view situations, particularly speaking situations, will change our inner-dialogue and provide a different emotional response. “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” (Dr Wayne Dyer). Stop thinking of ourselves as a stutterer, but rather as someone who speaks with a stutter sometimes. Embrace the belief that stuttering does not define who we are. 

Ownership is the first thing for any personal development shift whether that be giving up smoking, losing weight, changing out speaking behaviour, etc. Eliminate the victim mentality. Stop blaming others. We think blaming our parents, our boss, our partner somehow gets us off the hook! 

However, behaviours are not changed by retaining the status quo. We need to widen our self-concept to accommodate the new roles – otherwise our existing self-image will continue to impose its restrictions. 

It is only by realising that we are in charge, that progress can be achieved. I ask, who is driving your bus?

2 – They believe they deserve success

How does this apply to PWS?

Many PWS lose hope and have little faith when presenting for treatment because of failed treatments in the past. They have an unhealthy dose of self-hate and loathing which must be addressed if they are to progress their recovery. 

Successful people believe they deserve success and pursue their goals with bravery, hard work and persistence. They shut down the “self-critic!” 

Unsuccessful people tend to give up when the going gets tough! They dwell on reasons why they don’t deserve success based on past perceptions and possibly negative feedback from their social environment. e.g., “you’re lazy,” “you’re the dumb one of the family,, “you can’t talk!”  

How do we turn that around?

Change those limited beliefs by having a go, not expecting perfection and focus on our intentions rather than our expectations or the perceived expectations of others. By having success in situations we would normally avoid, we begin to believe in ourselves and our capabilities.

Fear and self-doubt figure prominently in the lives of many people, not just those who stutter. They can sabotage hopes and aspirations. When left to our own devices, it is possible that we may never summon up sufficient courage to face the issues that impede our progress. However, we can gain confidence and encouragement by leaning upon the experiences of others by joining support groups, using coaches and speech buddies.

Develop the habit of paying attention to your emotions. Then do what is needed to be in the right emotional state by changing our thinking patterns and states.

3 – They do whatever it takes to overcome events and patterns from the past that do not serve them well

How does this apply to PWS?

“If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got” (Tony Robins and many others).

Define a compelling reason to change. This focus will provide the motivation to do the hard things required to move on from the past self-limiting beliefs and become a powerful speaker.

Focus on being an effective communicator. Drop the preoccupation with “fluency.” Striving for fluency will only sabotage our efforts because we will be trying not to stutter, trying to be fluent. Focus on being a powerful and confident person, an eloquent speaker, and fluency will come as a by-product of these activities rather than the focus! 

Think differently! Fluency is the consequence, not the objective!

Stop trying to be fluent. Openly ADVERTISE that your speech pattern is different by doing disclosures, use exaggerated technique and voluntary stuttering to reduce the fear.

Personal development occurs when we venture beyond our existing comfort zones. It requires re-drawing our mental maps so that we increase the size of our safe and familiar areas. 

When we feel the discomfort, we know we are confronting the fear. It confirms that we are taking risks. “Like the tortoise, you can only move forward when you stick your neck out” (James Bryant Conant). The only limitations are those that we impose upon ourselves.

When we achieve something that we previously regarded impossible, it causes us to reconsider our limiting beliefs. If we conquer something that has challenged us it opens our eyes to other possibilities. We grow as people; our self-esteem and confidence grow which has a positive effect on our speech.

Today, as adults, we have a choice over what beliefs, patterns, and habits we want to keep or discard. And we have a choice over the meanings we give our past experiences.

Successful people are aware of how limiting old beliefs, habits, patterns, and experiences can be… and they do whatever it takes to change them!

4 – They silence their critical voice

How does this apply to PWS?

Develop the habits of never allowing negative thoughts to exist. Immediately change them to positive thoughts. To quote Alan Badmington from the UK, “I never dwell upon negative thoughts for more than the flickering of a candle.”

Question negative thoughts by asking:

Is there evidence my thought is true? Possibly just my tainted perception or opinions.

Am I worrying about something outside of my control? Why would you?

How useful is my thought? What does the thought do for me? Who is it hurting?

How bad is it? Am I making too much of it? Will it be relevant in the future?

5 – They are willing to fail, repeatedly…

How does this apply to PWS?

Be prepared to fall off the bike and then get back on.

Treat relapse as an opportunity to learn. Successful people see failing as a part of the learning process.  And no matter how much they fail, they are never willing to quit. Because failing implies that the journey is over. If they see individual failures as a part of a longer journey of success, then they learn and apply the lessons. Three steps forward, two steps backward, three steps forward…etc. 

Get rid of that perfectionist streak. Do different things that feel uncomfortable. Practise being imperfect. Failure does not exist if you see it as positive lessons on the path to success.

6 – They do the important things first, not the easy things

As part of a busy life, we may feel tired, lacking motivation or short of time. There may be a tendency to do the easy tasks, those that don’t challenge us physically or intellectually. Successful people do the important things FIRST, not the easy things. They know the important stuff is what will get them to where they want to be.  

How does this apply to PWS?

Attention to our speech must be a daily activity. We should practise every day. Whether that be a technique, breathing pattern, expanding our comfort zone, personal development…any activity that changes self-limiting beliefs and improves our relationship with our world.

Reliance on a technique must be short-term. When does exaggerated technique become a trick or a safety behavior? Then the fear of stuttering and the social anxiety will remain to control thoughts and behavior.

I am sure for some PWS their stuttering is so deeply ingrained and the fear of stuttering so intense they choose to use exaggerated technique permanently. For them that choice might be quite justified.

Other PWS choose to stutter freely with the attitude I do not have to change, the rest of the world must change. The bad news is the rest of the world is unlikely to change any time soon. However, learning to accept one’s stutter may reduce the fear of stuttering and result in more eloquent speech. 

We all choose the path for us and there is no right or wrong, simply different! 

7 – They get clear on what they want and who they want to be, and then take daily action to get there

How does this apply to PWS?

Successful people know that there is tremendous power in being clear about their end goal and what they need to do to get there. They take consistent daily action to move forward (e.g., go to a shopping center and talk to fifty strangers).

They never let their current limitations stop them from seeing a better future. PWS who struggle with their speech allow the fear of stuttering and being judged to impose limitations on their lives.

“Feel the fear and do it anyway” (Dr Susan Jeffers). What’s the worst that can happen, really?  Form a habit of saying a big YES to all speaking situations and go out and create more speaking situations (e.g., sitting next to a stranger on the train to have a chat). 

Summary

Changing our speech for the better requires changes in other areas of our lives. Changing those limiting attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and habits that support our stuttering behaviour.

A process of continuous improvement!

 

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Comments

Changing our Relationship with the World – Geoff Johnston — 15 Comments

  1. Geoff I love the idea of change how they think and feel. Such an important first step as it is difficult to get into action mode unless you start to change that mindset. This article is such a great remainder of why other communities can learn from our stuttering community as these are just great overall life lessons!

    — Kunal

    • Thank you for the feedback Kunal. We focus so much on our stuttering we forget the other behaviours/habits that if changed, can make stuttering less of an issue! Cheers,
      Geoff

  2. Hi Geoff! I loved reading this article. What an interesting take on stuttering. It is so true that “personal development occurs when we venture beyond our existing comfort zones”. As a future SLP, this was so inspiring to see how I can hopefully encourage my future clients who stutter to aim high and not let a stutter hold them back from their goals. Thank you for posting this!

  3. Thank you Clara………Change and personal development happens outside our comfort zone! Best wishes for your future career as a SLP. Your challenge is to encourage your clients to find a compelling reason to transform, to change their thinking, to be brave, work hard and persist. Without that reason to drive them when the going gets tough, they might as well go fly a kite! Change is terribly difficult even when that change is for the better. Nothing worth having is easy! Cheers, Geoff

  4. Hello Geoff! Wow, your article had such great new perspective that I have never quite heard before. The way you connected Nick’s principles and applied them to PWS is awe-inspiring. Each of the seven methods you spoke in relation to PWS is telling of how powerful attitudes, beliefs, etc can be. Thank you for your influential insight on how change in other areas of one’s life can impact stuttering in a positive manner.

  5. Thank you for the feedback Serena. There’s more to stuttering than stuttering! Treatments for stuttering must be holistic, not just a focus on speech!

  6. Hi Geoff,

    Great paper. Lots of important and insightful points.

    But what resonated most with me is “They silence their critical voice”.

    That has been the most challenging part of my journey with stuttering (and a few other emotional “flaws”). I have always allowed shame take up so much headspace. I remember constantly having swirling thoughts of:
    “What’s wrong with you?’
    “When are you going to stop stuttering?”
    “Why can’t you get a grip?”
    “It’s no wonder you don’t have any friends.”

    The most important gift I gave myself was finally quieting those voices in my head. I acknowledged that it was OK to have those thoughts, but that I needed to let them go.

    I was always overly critical of myself – for stuttering, being overweight, for being too emotional, for not doing a better job being caretaker at home.

    When I realized I didn’t deserve to be so self-critical, it was then I was able to quiet those voices – sometimes even banish them – and finally grew into my own skin. It took a lot of work but oh so worth it.

    Thank you.

    Pam

  7. Hi Pam,

    Great response thank you. Yes, it certainly is challenging! We need to stand guard over any negative thoughts and self-talk! Whenever I start to get self-critical, I flash up in my mind a big red STOP sign, focus on that for a moment then bring in a thought about a positive, happy time I have on my “reserve bench”. Or simply ask, “who is this negative thought hurting?”. Just me, then dismiss it and move on! It has now become a habitual behaviour not to dwell on the negatives and I’m so much more happier and confident! I still get stuck occasionally but hey, so what! I’m so much kinder on myself and forgiving.

    Everything I’ve heard about you Pam over the years has been so positive. Love your paper “Change Changes Everything.” We’re on a similar journey. Good job!

    Regards,
    Geoff

  8. Hi Geoff,
    What a pleasure it was reading your entry.
    I love the idea of focusing less on being successful in regards to fluency and more on intentions. It really resonated with me when you said ‘Fluency is the consequence, not the objective.’ I think sometimes clinicians can focus too much on fluency. I think first and foremost we should focus on improving the quality of life for PWS; whatever that may mean to THEM, each individually. The focus should be placed on things such as working on confidence, putting themself out there socially without fear of judgement, etc.
    I am currently pursuing a career in Speech Pathology and have found some great insight here in your paper, so thank you for sharing some very important points.
    I am curious, in your opinion, did the traditional therapy you received do more harm than good? Is there anything positive you took away from that experience? Or did you find that all of your success came later from more holistic approaches?

    Thank you in advance,
    Jessie

  9. Hi Jessie,
    Thank you for your response to my paper and the question you asked.
    Wow! I could write an essay just on that question! Congratulations on pursuing a career in Speech Pathology a challenging path especially if you choose to help adults and adolescents who stutter. From the age of 10 to around 50 I participated in many intensive courses run by Speech Pathologists. The results were very good short-term in terms of fluency but like most participants, relapse in the real world was the usual result! Why? During the courses not a lot was done to eliminate the fear of stuttering. There was a strong desire to be FLUENT! Wrong focus entirely! Did it do me or others harm? I believe so, because the hope and belief that I could be cured of stuttering was gradually dissolved because of the repeated failures of traditional therapy which judged success by stuttered syllables per minute in controlled environments. Again pressure to be fluent, to not stutter! The techniques taught could be successful ONLY if ongoing coaching and support was provided and a holistic focus addressing the psychological aspects of stuttering. The McGuire Programme provided that for me.
    Success is only achieved by life changes in how we think and relate to ourselves and our world! The time for success also has to be right. A compelling reason to change must exist to keep pushing ahead, three steps forward, two steps backwards, etc. And in my case I expect the older I became the less I cared about what people thought of me. I was secure in my identity, my skin! These days I often think back on a day’s constant talking and can’t recall stuttering once! Always surprises me a bit even now because previously not only did I stutter on every word, often it was every syllable!
    I give a lecture every year to Speech Pathology students at Flinders University in Adelaide and it fills me with joy to hear probing questions coming from young students. They have open minds and are prepared to analyse and question what they are being taught because my perception is success treating adults and adolescents who stutter hasn’t progressed a lot in the past 40 years! There’s a lot of hope resting on the shoulders of the new generation of Speech Pathologists.
    Regards,
    Geoff

  10. Hi Geoff,

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. It’s so impactful to hear your take on the principles Nick Ortner shared in his article in regards to how they apply to people who stutter.

    I’m a Post Baccalaureate student studying to be an SLP and I’d love to ask you more about your experience with SLPs throughout your life. I’ve learned from a handful of adults who stutter that the SLPs they worked with during adolescence measured their success on the singular goal of being fluent, and this had a lasting negative impact on their self-perception. This immediately jumped out at me when I read your similar thoughts. I’m curious, have you seen a shift in this SLP mindset since you were a child in speech therapy?

    It’s my hope that most grad programs / professors are already or at the very least, beginning to implement teaching future clinicians that the ultimate goal is to do no harm and support people who stutter gain more confidence in their speech. The professors in my program are certainly teaching this perspective and it gives me hope that people who stutter will start receiving therapy from SLPs who have been educated to provide the most supportive and beneficial therapy possible for future clients.

    Thank you in advance for your thoughts!

    Bree

  11. Hi Bree,
    Your comments give me hope that at last the speech pathology profession is understanding there is more to stuttering than the struggle with speech which is only the top 10% of the iceberg and the easiest to treat. The bottom 90% is where treatment should be focused! Addressing the fear, anxiety, shame, avoidance, hopelessness, etc. will determine the success of treatment for stuttering. These factors are “real world” issues whereas measuring fluency in the clinic or a controlled situation is ineffective. However, I see speech pathologists when doing “scientific” research to write their papers whatever, need to show measurements of “success” when applying for funding for continuing research. The only valid measurements however, are success in the real world when the 90% of the iceberg kicks in. Treatment therefore needs to be holistic helping the PWS to grow as a person by expanding their comfort zone, to eliminate the negative inner dialogue, to grow in confidence, etc. Eloquent speech comes as a byproduct of changes by the PWS and how they relate to people and their environment around speaking.
    Of course, PWS present for treatment with the end goal of becoming fluent and speech pathologists respond to that goal in my opinion to the detriment of the PWS. In most cases new skills fall apart in the real world under pressure and thereby having the negative and harmful consequence. Loss of faith and hope that we can be “fixed”. On the programme I attended and became a part of, “fluency” was a swear word not to be uttered! Focus was building confidence, self-esteem and changing perceptions and beliefs about our speaking personalities. And most importantly, free long-term ongoing coaching and support by recovering/recovered PWS. Speech pathologists are limited in providing this long-term support because of financial constraints on the PWS or time issues by the clinician.
    Having said that and maybe sounding a little critical of the speech pathology profession, any improvement requires from the PWS, commitment, bravery, hard work, and resilience. They need a compelling reason to transform. Too many PWS attend therapy as victims wanting the speech pathologist to “cure” them. Changes are needed on both sides of the equation!
    Regards,
    Geoff

    • Hi Geoff,

      I can’t thank you enough for your thoughtful response and perspective. I love how you say the only valid measurements are success in the real world. It’s so true that certain therapy techniques and skills only do so much. If the SLP fails to supplement those with teaching the tools to have confidence and bravery in the PWS’s speech, then those other techniques render useless when they step out into real world settings.

      It should be every SLP’s goal to provide the PWS with ALL the necessary tools to approach every part of the iceberg, not just that top 10% that people often get tunnel vision on. Thank you again!

      Bree

  12. Hello Geoff,
    I really enjoyed reading your article. In your article, you talked about how the most important aspect to recovery for PWS is to find confidence in your stutter. After speaking with various PWS, most of them share the same perspectives and I think that is great. I know finding confidence in something that you have tried to hide or have been embarrassed about can be difficult and finding that confidence is huge. This idea is an important one, but how do we enforce that idea to our earlier students or clients? Many PWS find this confidence later on in life after going through negative experiences, but how do we establish this principle of finding confidence in your stutter for those young children who are navigating their world while stuttering? Once again, thank you so much for sharing your perspective. Your words are truly inspiring!

  13. Hi ivonehernandez,
    Thank you for your question, a complicated one!
    I belief there is a direct relationship between confidence/self-esteem and becoming an eloquent speaker. How do we help young people feel confident within themselves when perhaps at school they’re being teased and bullied? When feedback from their social environment is negative?
    The approach I believe is not to focus on the stutter but rather take a more holistic view and help the child/young adult become a confident person. Help them to find something they’re really good at, something for which they have a passion!
    For me it was playing sport in High School becoming captain of the football and tennis teams. I still stuttered badly but kids had a new respect for me which helped me hold my head up high. It might not be sport! Music, science, computer games, whatever! Encourage the young person to join the drama or debating group at school. There are over a dozen famous movie stars who took up drama to help overcome their stuttering.
    Above all, teach them bravery, resilience and a strong belief they’re OK and their stuttering doesn’t define who they are and what they can achieve; eg Joe Biden!
    They need to hear their fluent voice often. Reading poetry, stories, alone if necessary. Add power, expression and articulation to their voice! To counteract the fear of stuttering and the holding back with their speech practise voice projection! For PWS I believe the more we talk, the better we talk!
    Hope these words are relevant and help?
    Regards, Geoff

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