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I Watched an Artist Create Stained Glass and Learned an Important Lesson About Life

I Watched an Artist Create Stained Glass and Learned an Important Lesson About Life

Until recently, I had never been inside a stained glass studio. Next thing you know, without any planning at all, I found myself inside two different studios over the span of three days. Strange how life works.

I assumed that I would see some nicely colored windows or something similar, but that would be it. Little did I know, I was about to learn an important life lesson.

During a conversation with one of the artists, I was told about a strategy used to cut glass and immediately realized that this same idea applies to habits, self-improvement…and almost everything else.

Here’s what the artist told me.

Lessons Learned from Stained Glass

Stained glass artists create different designs by making cuts on the glass to “score” it and then breaking off the pattern or shape that they want to use in the finished product. (In other words, they make a notch in the glass and then break the pieces apart like you would with a Kit Kat bar.)

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The most difficult cut in stained glass is called an inside cut. Basically, it’s a curved line where you throw away the part inside of the curve. The problem with inside cuts is that the edges of the curve tend to chip when the pieces of scored glass are broken apart. The image below shows what I mean.

    As the artist talked about inside cuts, he said, “The glass will shatter if you try to cut too much off at once. The best way to do an inside cut is to slice off smaller curves piece-by-piece. In fact, it’s not just the best way to do it, it’s the only way to do it.”

    So, you start by slicing a shallow curve and breaking a small piece off. Then you cut a slightly deeper curve and break that off. And so on and so forth, until you have your full inside cut. The image below shows the strategy.

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    stained-glass-inside-cut-success

      By slowly cutting deeper and deeper curves, the artist prevents the glass from chipping and breaking as it changes shape.

      Inside Cuts in Everyday Life

      Changing your behavior, building new habits, and learning new skills is a lot like making an inside cut on a piece of glass.

      If you want, you can try to make a big change and cut the entire piece at once. We convince ourselves that we can do this all the time. We’ll commit to transforming our diet overnight, get inspired to launch a business in a weekend, or we finally get motivated to work out…and push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion.

      If our life is like the piece of glass, we try to change the entire shape of it all at once.

      Why? Because it’s so easy to focus on achievements instead of progress. We tend to get obsessed with our goals rather than focusing on our system.

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      I don’t know about you, but I’ve made this mistake tons of times myself. I’ll get excited and motivated and jump into a project or chase a goal with everything I have, but pretty soon the pieces begin to break and I have to start over.

      Approach Change Like a Stained Glass Artist

      The alternative is to approach your goals and dreams like a stained glass artist.

      You can choose to make slow, methodical gains. Start with a small, unimpressive cut — something you can easily handle — and do it well. Then, repeat with a slightly bigger step. And again. And again.

      This process is like starting with something that is so easy that you can’t say no. And then focusing on improving by one percent each time. And then committing to doing more repetitions.

      Of course, change isn’t easy — no matter how you do it. Slow gains are boring. Certainly not sexy. Nobody writes news stories about them. But moving forward in a slow and methodical manner doesn’t mean you lack ambition, drive, or vision. The stained glass artist has a very clear vision. He knows exactly what he is working toward.

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      You and I can do the same. If we keep making small improvements, then pretty soon we will end up with a beautiful masterpiece on our hands instead of a bunch of fragments.

      James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

      This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

      Featured photo credit: Steve Snodgrass via flickr.com

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      James Clear

      James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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      Last Updated on January 15, 2021

      7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

      7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

      The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

      Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

      Posture

      First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

      • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
      • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
      • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
      • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

      All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

      Facial Expressions

      Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

      • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
      • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
      • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

      If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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      1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

      A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

      The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

      This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

      2. Relax Your Face

      New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

      The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

      To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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      3. Improve Your Eye Contact

      Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

      The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

      To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

      3. Smile More

      There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

      Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

      4. Hand Gestures

      Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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      It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

      5. Enhance Your Handshake

      In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

      “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

      It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

      6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

      As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

      Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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      Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

      Final Takeaways

      Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

      If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

      More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

      Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

      Reference

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