How fasting for Ramadan can make you a better communicator

I didn’t eat (or drink) anything for 16 hours this past Tuesday. One of my coworkers is muslim and for the past month, she'd been fasting for Ramadan. 

Everyday for the entire holy month of Ramadan, muslim's aren't to eat or drink from sunrise to sundown. In the summer, that equates to about 16 hours a day (5am to 9pm) with no food or water. Or coffee. Or water. Or snacks in the breakroom. Or water. Or corn pops with milk. Or coffee. Or even a healthy salad for lunch. Or water. 

I walked over to her desk daily and begged her to tell me how her fast was going, fascinated like an 8-year old boy reading a Marvel comic strip. She told her stories. She told me that the hardest time everyday is right after work, when she goes home and she can't cook. She's forced to sit in front of the T.V. but after a while, that hunger consumes her and well, she's better off moving and doing something active to take her mind off of it. Something like cleaning. She usually cleans for hours after work. 

I was shocked to find out that deep down, she actually ENJOYS fasting. It cleanses her, she said. It makes her feel more grounded, disciplined, and more spiritually alive.

I was in need of a good cleanse. I told her I would do it with her for one full day. In case you are wondering, I am alive. I am well. And I am really glad I did it.

But I have to say, I expected this intense, rigorous physical test and mental struggle. But it turned it out to be something entirely different.

Fasting had some rather unintended consequences….for instance….

Ramadan taught me how to be a better communicator.

You read that right. No food or water for 16 hours made me a better speaker and writer.

Before you close this page because you think I'm completely full of shit, realize that I'm obsessed with communication. It's something I think about constantly. I found that when you’re completely thrown out of your routine, there is a force of nature that makes you think about normal everyday things in a new way. So for me, fasting changed the way I thought about how to talk to people. 

Like the job interview for your dream job. Or the big pitch you have coming up with a potential client or investor. Specifically, fasting showed me how to:

  1. beat fear and outsmart your mind
  2. become absurdly confident no matter the situation
  3. show high competence and intelligence
  4. tell a great story and become more memorable
  5. get real life feedback on your communication.

Want to learn what I did? Go starve yourself for 16 hours. Kidding. I'll share with you my food-deprived, communication enhancing thoughts below instead. 

THE RAMADAN RULES OF EXCEPTIONAL COMMUNICATION

  1. don’t trust your mind.  

I was sweating on my drive to work.

What if you just can’t do it and everyone knows you’re a failure?

How in the world are you not going to eat for 16 hours? You’re a joke for thinking you can do this.

What if you get so weak that you pass out at your desk and your boss has to call an ambulance for you and you’re transported out on a stretcher in front of the entire company?

When we’re afraid, our minds love to tell us stories. The stories are usually really good. But rarely are they based in reality.

So why are we fed these lies? Simple answer: Our bodies have one goal. SURVIVAL. It wants the quickest short-term fix possible to keep you alive and then instructs the mind to make it happen.

If my mind was being honest it would have said: “Eat something so I don’t have to do the hard work and burn energy from fat.” OR “Drink water so life is easy for me.”

You probably hear the same baseless stories all the time before big moments at work or other threatening social situations.

Don’t tell that story because it’s not good enough.

Don’t tell that joke because people won’t laugh.

Don’t introduce yourself to that person because what if they think you’re weird.

Don’t share your opinion in your work meeting because what if you sound like an idiot and then everyone in the room laughs, you get fired, exiled to a foreign island and have to hunt for your food like Tom Hanks in Cast Away?

Lesson 1: When fear is present, don’t trust your mind. Your mind will try and trick you. You beat it by:

  1. realizing you will never die from a social threat (like when you have to stand up and present in front of people. Or if people don’t laugh at your jokes).
  2. acting (by acting in the face of fear you break the fear cycle and begin to reprogram your brain).
  3. building positive experiences. (This only happens when we act in spite of fear. And if we act, it will happen. I promise).

2. preparation leads to serious confidence  

I got up the morning of and cooked a breakfast consisting of 3 pancakes, 4 eggs, banana creme greek yogurt and approximately 3102 dates. That made me feel pretty confident that I had enough food stored up to make it through a full day.

Can you imagine how much tougher it would have been had I not prepared a huge ass breakfast the morning of? I would've had serious doubts. 

How prepared you are is always directly correlated with how well you’ll actually perform. When you’re preparing a talk or prepping for a big interview, the same goes.

People love to find excuses not to prepare. “Yeaaaa preparation is important...but what if I over-prepare?” “I do better when I wing it.” “I already know what I’m going to say.”

These are a lazy man’s rationalizations. Preparation is sometimes uncomfortable. So we procrastinate and make excuses to avoid. But words are too important not to be vetted out beforehand. Imagine how good it would feel to take almost all of the risk out of a performance?

That’s the power of preparation. That's how you get absurdly confident.

How should you prepare? Let’s say you have a job interview coming up. Here’s how I would do it.

  1. Write out your answers to every interview questions.
  2. Record yourself saying those answers (via video or audio).
  3. Have a few close friends give you a mock interview

By the time you walk into the interview, your answers have not only been vetted and polished, they’re now hardwired into your brain.

Nothing surprises you. You know your story word for word and you know it sounds good.

How can your confidence not be through the roof if you’ve done this much work upfront?

3. trim the fat

Fasting forced me to survive on less. Not only did I survive….I actually felt better.I felt clean. I felt sharper. I felt revived.

This was a complete mindset shift for me.  Wait…….I don’t have to eat all day long to feel good?

The communication equivalent to overeating? Verbal vomit.

You know the guy who talks just to talk? He thinks he has to fill every second of silence. He talks himself in circles and winds up in god knows where with half of his stories. His problem is he thinks he has to. He believes he needs to keep talking to stay interesting. But the more he talks, the less interesting he is. And the less competent he appears.  

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Do you want to show high competence in a big moment? You do it by trimming the fat out of your language.

That means giving more thought to what you say and the words you choose. That also means slowing down. Fast talkers tend to ramble because their brain hasn’t caught up to their mouth yet.

Say what you need to say to fully communicate your idea...and that’s it.  There’s no other agenda. You’ll appear more intelligent, relaxed, and polished. And it shows a very high level of confidence and preparation.

4. tell a story that keeps people guessing.

I had no idea what to expect from my fast. It was a new story that kept unfolding all day long. I never knew what was going to happen next. It was exhilarating.

These are the stories that all humans love. The ones where we don’t know the ending. Use this to your advantage. Tell a story that fascinates AND keeps people guessing. Share an idea that people haven’t heard before.

ASAP Rocky (a fashion icon/rapper) said in a most recent GQ magazine issue that he hasn’t worn a tie since 2010. Why? People expect a tie. It’s not interesting.

In the big moments, don’t wear a tie. Spend the time figuring out how to make what you say stand out. People will remember you.

5. test like a mad scientist

I didn't think I could do it. I thought I would pass out at 2pm at work. But I knew millions of people fasted for 16 hours everyday. And if I couldn’t make it a full day without food and they could, I wanted to find out exactly why and then work on fixing it.

Test. Identify your weaknesses. And then work on fixing them. That’s how you get better.

When it comes to communication, testing is your lifeblood.

Comedians are famous for doing this. Jerry Seinfeld will go to an underground comedy club on a random night in New York City just to practice new routines. So will Chris Rock.

If you’re not sure how people will respond to a story, a joke, or a new idea, there’s only one way to find out if it’s good. Test it. What testing allows you to do is refine. So when Seinfeld and Chris Rock tell a joke and it falls flat, they can pinpoint exactly where it fell flat.

Was it the way the tone in which they told it? Was the punchline not big enough? Or was it just a bad story?

Testing gives you the real-life feedback you need in order to get better.

If you want to become a better communicator, I’m not encouraging you to partake in a religious sacrament or give up eating or drinking for 16 straight hours. That’s up to you.

BUT you should do things that push you. You should do things that test you. You should do things you think you can’t.

If not for any other reason, than to look at something you do everyday in a new way.