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How 24 Hours in Malaysia Changed My Life

How 24 Hours in Malaysia Changed My Life

The first country I had ever gone to on my own, visiting no one and knew not a soul, was Malaysia. I’ve been there a few times now but I will never forget the first time I stepped foot there. It was only for 24 hours but those 24 hours changed my perspective and outlook on people and life forever.

They say that you grow the most when you’re out of your comfort zone. I have to say that I completely, utterly agree with this statement. Going overseas completely alone, not knowing how to speak the language and not knowing one single person in the whole country was definitely out of my comfort zone. I was 22 at the time and I must admit, I will never forget this trip. There were two people in particular that I had met in Kuala Lumpur, both who have left me with some valuable lessons.

The Taxi Driver

It was 2011, here I was just landed in Malaysia. I had no idea where I was going and was searching frantically to exit the airport. Where were all the signs in English? I just wanted a taxi and I found myself lost in the Kuala Lumpur Airport. After what felt like hours, I finally found the taxi rank and hopped into a cab.

“Where are you going?” The taxi driver asked. I buckled my seat belt as I replied, “I don’t know, where would you recommend?” There was silence. Then he laughed, “You don’t know where you are going? Who comes into another country and doesn’t know where they are going?”

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I was a little nervous when I responded. “Well, I was in Thailand for the last month and didn’t realise I could only be in the country for 30 days, so I left and am heading back there in 24 hours so I can stay another 30 days!” The look on the taxi driver’s face was priceless. Looking back, I can totally understand why he was so bewildered.

As he drove, I started flipping through a tour book. One of the “must sees” was China Town. “How about you take me to China Town and I can stay there?” Almost instantly, he shook his head. “No, no, no, you not stay in China Town… very dangerous place, especially if you’re alone.”

To be honest, at this moment, I realised just what I had done and a wave of panic rushed over me. Only I would jump on a plane and have no clue where I was going. Seriously, who does that? Now that this taxi driver knows I’m alone and have no idea where I’m going, anything could happen. I gulped. “Maz, chill out, he is so friendly and his eyes are genuine, nothing but good vibes,” a voice inside my head whispered.

The taxi driver must’ve felt my anxiousness so he started chatting to me. He told me of all the cultural differences and how to show courtesy to the elders. He taught me how to say hello and thank you, then we exchanged stories. I started to relax.

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The ride was really enjoyable and I learnt a lot in the half hour trip. He then offered to drive me into the city and stop at different hotels, while he waited outside until I found a place I liked. He didn’t charge me any extra than what we originally discussed. “Let me know what time you need to leave for the airport and I will come pick you up.” He smiled and waved as he drove off.

The Stranger on the Street

“Hello!” I turned around to see who was calling out to me, he was a tall, dark man that looked to be in his early to mid 30s. I was in the mall exploring Kuala Lumpur and was not expecting to be running into anyone. I walked faster. He followed and kept calling out to me. My heart started to beat a little faster as I quickened my stride. He still followed while calling out to me.

Suddenly a voice in my head whispered, “Maz, no one knows where you are and if something happens to you, how would they know what happened?” I cringed at the thought. What had I got myself into? Another voice popped into my head, “Maz, you don’t know anyone in this country and you could do with some company, go on and make a new friend!”.A strange feeling of calmness rushed over me. I stopped and turned around to the stranger.

We ended up walking through the streets while he showed me the sights. We went to a bar for a drink and he told me that he had been living there for the last 2 years studying. He told me stories of when he first arrived in Malaysia and the culture shock he experienced. He taught me of the cultural differences and their way of living. We had a great time and I learnt more about Malaysia chatting to him than I would have from walking alone.

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We left the bar and started wandering some more. He took me to wherever I wanted to see and he was such a gentlemen I felt quite at ease. A lot different to how I felt when he was calling after me in the mall. We then went and had some food, shared some laughs and he walked me home.

What I Learned

Before this experience, I had always been weary of others. I found it hard to trust someone and it took me a while to open up. I worried about people’s intentions before I even got to know them and was always quick to assume the worst before giving anyone a chance.

When I was ready to leave for the airport, the taxi driver was running late and I started to worry that he wasn’t going to turn up. “Maz, you should’ve just booked a cab instead of depending on a stranger.” As I said this to myself a cab pulled up in front of me. “Maz?” He called out. It wasn’t the same taxi driver, how did he know my name?

“Maz, I have to take you to airport. My friend very worried about you making your flight.” He said with a look of concern. “Where is he?” I asked. I was a little nervous that another cab driver had come for me instead. “He was in a car accident, he is in hospital now but he called me because he was worried about you missing your flight. He promised you he would get you to the airport. Jump in, we are running late!”

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I was in shock. “Oh my, is he okay?” A complete stranger, was worried about me. This stranger was in a hospital bed after a car accident and all he could think about was keeping his promise of getting this random 22 year old girl to the airport? I was speechless.

The guy I had met the night before had walked me home, on the walk home I started running scenarios in my head. Should I pretend I am staying somewhere else so he doesn’t know where I really am staying? Is he going to try and hit on me or even force himself on me? I was preparing for the worst. Instead, he walked me to the door of the hotel, asked for my Facebook so we could stay in touch and he shook my hand and thanked me for the evening.

Here I was thinking up of all the worse scenarios in my head, letting fear rule my mind, when I didn’t need to be anxious, nervous or even pondering on such negative thoughts. It was definitely an eye opener. I learnt that our intuition knows best and if we listen to our guts, it is usually spot on. I learnt that when you open up to others you open up to opportunity and the universe.

We shouldn’t assume the worse in people especially before giving them a chance. Our intuition knows best and we can feel if someone is bad news or has bad motives. If I hadn’t trusted anyone or allowed myself to open up, that trip would’ve turned out pretty boring. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge. It’s all about perspective. Is the glass half full or empty?

Since then, I have taken this newfound attitude with me wherever I go and I tell you what, I have never made so many friends and connections with so many different walks of life. I’ve had a ball getting to know so many people from different backgrounds and some of which are now amazing lifelong friends who I love very dearly. The 24 hours I spent in Malaysia may have been short but it definitely was sweet. So sweet that it changed me forever.

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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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