Think Before You Speak

While I was bulldozing through my single digit years, my mother’s mantra playing on repeat was this: “Alex!!! Think! BEFORE. You. Speak!”

Because I didn’t. I certainly and unequivocally DID NOT think before I spoke. Like, EVER. I wore my heart on my sleeve, blurted out whatever I was thinking or feeling, and “stuff” just bubbled out of me on the fly.

What can I say? I’m an Aries. Thinking before speaking is simply not in my DNA;)

As life progressed into the double-digits, I kept on riding the compulsive ‘not thinking before speaking” wave, because (like I said), it wasn’t in my nature to think too much before speaking, acting, or re-acting.

While I HAVE learned to (at times) shut up before I DO speak what’s really on my mind (in my professional life, anyways), those close to me know that I don’t shy away from voicing the first things that come to mind in the moment, and improvising on the spot.

If something’s funny, (even if highly inappropriate), I WILL laugh out-loud before “thinking” too much about it. Or thinking about it at all.

These traits, while they’ve gotten me in quite a lot of trouble in the past, have also served me well. I work in an industry where thinking and reacting fast make the difference between selling a creative concept or losing a campaign. I have zero problems with getting up in front of a room full of people, presenting my ideas, and improvising on the spot. In fact, I find it kind of fun.

It comes naturally, mostly because I don’t feel the need to “think before I speak”. Also, because I can’t really do it.

In a field where I get paid to be creative, and increasingly in the advertizing/communications industry, more and more briefs start with: “We don’t have a lot of money, but…” (Translation: be creative, come up with great ideas in a ridiculously short amount of time and then verbally SELL them to us”), it’s actually an asset to be able to blurt out (sorry, I mean “generate”) a million random thoughts without thinking too much about how stupid they may sound. Because one of those turrets-like flashes will probably turn out to be the basis for a really cool, creative project.


Creativity, by nature, requires NOT thinking before speaking, and making connections without inhibitions.

And the part where you have to be able to pitch your creative ideas in a convincing manner becomes AS important, (if not more so) than the actual work itself.

This type of “acting and reacting” on the spot has helped me get by in different languages, even when I don’t fully speak them. When I moved to Canada in my childhood without knowing too much English, I easily made friends by compensating for my lack of vocabulary with facial expressions, mimes, and impromptu hand gestures.

Social intelligence is a term I only learned many years later, and it is contingent on a whole lot of intuitive, expressive physical and verbal interpretations that are anything BUT pre-meditated. You just let them happen naturally, and don’t think too much about them.

Decades later, as I stood in front of classrooms filled with Korean kids (to whom I was ironically teaching English) I was able to communicate with them through these means.

And a few years after THAT, as I found myself living in a city and working in an industry where I had to communicate in French 99% of the time (Montreal), where the field is (again ironically) COMMUNICATION, I’ve gotten pretty good at getting my ideas and work across by using 85% french, and 15% miming, gestures and funny sounds.

Communication is anything BUT black and white. It’s about making connections, and like creativity, there’s no “right or wrong formula” for making that happen. It’s all improv, baby.

It’s easy for me to be in the moment, because I ENJOY winging it. NOT thinking before speaking comes naturally. And, it’s more fun than the alternative: OVERthinking.

And now here’s the yoga twist, and I’m not referring to Parivrtta Trikonasana.

parivrtta trikonasana

This blog is mostly about me trying to find a balance between two worlds that I love: the schizoid one of my professional career, and the the more zen, detached, and “balanced” other half that I discovered in my search of DEALING with the first half: yoga.

Recently, circumstances led me to Isabelle, who has opened up a new yoga studio and was looking for teachers. The stars aligned, we met, she was searching for someone who could teach a few classes on the weekends, (I can ONLY teach on weekends). I was ready to move away from teaching private lessons to an actual studio. Perfect fit. We met, we talked, she has a good feeling, I have a good feeling, and I’m hired.

Oh, there’s just one little catch. I have to teach in French. AAAAALLLL French.

No problem, I tell myself. You’ve got this, Alex. You speak French all day, every day, you’re comfortable teaching, you like “winging it”, be yourself, blurt it out, and you’ll do just fine.

But THEN I went home and tried talking myself (en français, of course) through one of my regular yoga sequences (by this I mean a one-hour class). And boy, did I EVER fail. Or, as they say in french, “echec total”. Total failure. Not ONLY could I not find the french words for the necessary body parts, verbs or adjectives needed to communicate what I was actually doing, but I just…froze.

For the first time ever, I had to think before I spoke, and even when I did THAT, the words I needed simply weren’t there. I opened my mouth, and nothing came out. Nada. To say it was humbling would be the understatement of the year.

I had 10 days before my first class to prepare, learn the proper vocabulary, and get myself to a level of comfort with the French yoga terminology to be as comfortable as I am in English. Or at least to be able to say “Inhale, lift your arms, look up”, and name some essential body parts.

lift your arms_yogabender

It turns out that the English to French yoga term translations on the internet are limited (to say the least), and that most of the French yoga classes I DID find use terms and expressions that no one actually uses in Quebec (the French-Canadian-speaking province where I live).

Every spare second I had between meetings, work-related crises, and working late ( which pretty much left taking the subway, doing groceries, and brushing my teeth) was spent rabidly drawing stick figures in my little “yoga in french Crash-course notebook”, Google translating terms from English to Sanskrit and back to French, and then, (where pertinent) scrambling to find French to Quebec-French expressions, scribbling down, memorizing and repeating snippets of French verbs, adjectives, expressions and verbal cues, reading and re-reading my notes, lists, and drawings.

Because this was happening during the middle of a month-long blitz period at work, my own yoga practice was getting squeezed in during the day in 15 minute increments, after I got home late and before I ate dinner at 10:00 pm. In French, of course.

I went to bed listening to french yoga classes on my earphones, and had all kinds of strange dreams involving yoga and french fries. Total zen….Right?

My friends and colleagues kept asking me what the big deal was, since I speak French every day, and get by just fine. And my only answer to them was this: For the first time ever, I have to THINK before I speak.

Why? Because as any yoga teacher will tell you, teaching yoga is all about the students.

As a yoga teacher, you have to be able to communicate as simply and efficiently as possible to your students the actions they need to do, (without confusing or injuring them), and simultaneously offer modifications and adjustments for the different levels within class any single pose, yet at the same time move them smoothly through the sequences in a way that doesn’t cause them undue stress. Oh yeah, and keep the energy in the room flowing.

In my teacher training, special emphasis was placed on eliminating “filler words” or “filler sounds” (such as errrr, mmmmm, I mean…, now just…, try to…, ooops, sorry!, or now we’re gonna…), which most of us DO use in regular life to buy us time until we find our words to what we’re REALLY trying to say. ESPECIALLY when we’re communicating in a second language.

As a yoga student, you may not be aware of all that your teacher is communicating and doing in any given moment to offer you a class which will allow you to go through and leave (hopefully) a little better off than when you walked in.

And that’s the whole point. The classes that have nothing to do with the teacher, but allow you to focus on your practice and remain present in the moment free from distractions are the ones we want you to have.

And those classes require that the teacher is clear, simple, to the point, yet is also able to connect with you in some way.

For me to be able to deliver that kind of class, I needed to have the words for what I was trying to say (in French) in my verbal toolbelt, so that even during those moments when hiccups DID arise, I would be able to pull out some French improv out of my goodie bag so that my students didn’t even realize I was free-styling.

And even though in English I have tens of thousand of words at my “beck and call” to accomodate any given situation, my French reality is just not the same. In French, I had to pick, choose and MEMORIZE a few limited cues that would allow me to only communicate the essential actions I needed to get across. I’m not used to essentials. Essentials are castrating, curated, and pre-meditated. But sometimes they’re necessary to get our message across.

And so, for the first time in my life, I was forced to think before I spoke. Yoga taught me yet another valuable life lesson that no one (including my mother) had been able to do in 30+++ years. Once again, it pulled me waaaay out of my comfort zone, and forced me to deal with the aftermath. And in the process, I learned some very valuable (and very humbling) lessons.

And that’s what yoga does. It forces us to grow, and this growth almost always comes from places of discomfort.

We have to face our habitual patterns of acting and reacting, and learn to deal with them. If we’re lucky, we resolve them and move on tho the next lessons. Because we’re works in progress, with the potential for infinite and never-ending growth.

How did it turn out in the end, you may wonder? How did that first French class even go?

I’ll let you know in my next post. For the moment, I’m all talked out. I have to go think about it.

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