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The Tough Love Guide To Finding Optimism

The Tough Love Guide To Finding Optimism

There’s a reason why the phrase “down in the dumps” exists.  It’s a real thing. Sometimes it feels like the silver lining stood you up and now you’re all dressed up with nowhere to go. Problems are problems. No matter what size they may be. There are times when they can feel so much bigger than you and you’re all alone in an empty room with them without any furniture for you to hide underneath.

Here’s some good news: you’re not alone. At some point or another, we all encounter dilemmas that challenge our happiness. It’s how we react to these challenging times that determines how long they last, what lessons we draw from them, and whether or not we change for the better. Optimism is a necessary tool for climbing out of the dumps and a strong device to draw out the best in this world.

When you feel like you’re so far down the hole that you can’t even see it, try these steps to ascend towards optimism.

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1. Find your people (or person)

Get on the phone, or better yet, meet in person with a good friend or family member who makes you feel safe and talk it out. If you don’t have this person in your life, pay someone like a therapist or a bartender with a good ear. Either way, connect with another human being who has the capacity to be warm and/or the ability to listen well.

Expressing your troubles aloud can have a cathartic effect. Getting whatever is bothering you off your chest will help alleviate some of the pressure built up from suppressing it. Plus, if you have the right people/person by your side, they can fill you up with some of that much needed optimism that you’ve had a hard time accessing.

2. Give it a name

This one you can do by yourself or you can make it a group activity. Dealer’s choice. Part of what keeps us from optimism is the inability to truly name what is at the root of our issue.

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Focus – truly examine what’s making you so blue. Many times the small things that we find dissatisfactory are really symptomatic of a bigger issue. Maybe it’s not really about the fact that you lost your job but the fear that your spouse might think you’re not able to pull your weight as an equal partner. Or maybe it’s not the fact that your boy/girlfriend picked a Lebanese film tonight and you hate subtitles but that all things Lebanon remind you of the one that got away. I don’t know. Whatever it is, give your oppressor a name so you know what to call it when you tell it to leave.

This could be hard because identifying a root problem requires some H-O-N-E-S-T-Y. However, in the long run, you’ll take pride in your bravery and that can bring you closer to optimism.

3. Exercise your talents; give away your gifts

Remember what you got, because it’s a lot. I don’t remember where I heard that. What I do remember is that there are certain things that I’m really good at. You have those too. Everyone has talents; some of us have gifts.

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What’s the difference?

Simply put: talents are abilities we’re naturally inclined to but need to be put into practice often in order to develop them. Gifts are characteristics that are in our nature that we operate in the world with in a more organic manner. One person can be a talented musician, well versed in multiple instruments. Additionally, they have the gift of patience which enables them to teach music to others. Pick one of your talent seeds, plant it, water it daily, and it may bring you a harvest one day. If you’re lucky enough to have a gift, then find a way to dispense it freely. Good vibes have a reflective quality. Witnessing your talents and gifts in play will definitely put optimism in your life.

4. Go outside and move around

If you’re like me, at some point, you might have had a string of days where blending into the couch seemed like a good idea. Trust me. It’s not. Motivation is scarce when you’re feeling down and maybe it really is too cold, or too sunny, or too scary to go out but you won’t know until you do it. So just do it.

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During one of my few couch spells, I read an article that proclaimed that simply walking is scientifically proven to release endorphins, a stress fighting chemical, in your brain thus making a person feel better. You know what? When I finally got off the couch, showered, then went for a walk I found out it was right. Crazy. I know. The only things that should be between your couch cushions should be some loose change, popcorn, and maybe a condom wrapper- not your hind-parts sinking into them because you’ve been sitting for that long. Optimism is definitely not there. Go outside, take a stroll, and find it.

5. Buck Up

Chances are if you and your loved ones are healthy, all else is solvable. Not to trivialize what may be going on with you but to break it down to a base level: this holds true most of the time. I remember when my father had his stroke a decade ago, other problems seemed to have melted away.

Looking back at the years that followed, I never heard my father complain about the state of his health or about all of the changes he had to make in order to stay healthy. The man adjusted his diet, exercised, and monitored his blood pressure regularly. All of this he kept to consistently. Recently, I had the privilege of traveling with him to the Philippines. Through the multiple flights and long days of exploration, he maintained the stamina of a man decades his junior. He was able to do that because when the most important thing: his health, came into question, he bucked up and just did what he had to do. He didn’t get weighed down with what ifs or the negative possibilities. This may be the most important step in claiming optimism.

6. Trust

When you try your best, you never have to be ashamed of the outcome. Whether the scale tips to your side or not, trust that the tide is in your favor. Your best efforts will put you on the best path for you. If you can make room for trust in your thoughts, you can bypass inner judgements that often create unnecessary comparison, worry, and overall displeasure. There are so many great things around you; happening for you. Trust yourself to do right by you and you may find yourself making better decisions more suited to your overall health. A balanced mind, body, and soul are definitely in possession of optimism.

Featured photo credit: Have You Seen This Man/Tony Fischer via flickr.com

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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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