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20 Paradoxes That Give Us Wisdom and Perspective

20 Paradoxes That Give Us Wisdom and Perspective

Paradoxes may seem logically impossible, but they’re often true. Paradoxes reveal the essence of the human condition, while pushing us to question what’s really true. From everyday tips to poignant life lessons, paradoxes can teach us how to navigate the world in a wiser fashion.

1. The best things in life are free.

We’ve all heard this phrase, but it’s somewhat paradoxical. Most of the time, we have to pay for value. The more valuable something is, the higher it costs. But many of the most satisfying things in life can’t be bought. They are freely available to anyone who is wise enough to seek them out.

Take away: Don’t get caught up in chasing material possessions.

2. The more choices we have, the more paralyzed we become.

In today’s world, we often think that having everything at our fingertips makes life easier. In some ways it does. However, when faced with a multitude of choices we often become stressed and unable to make a decision.

Take away: Don’t drive yourself crazy with what-ifs. Just do what you think is best.

3. Stop looking for happiness if you want to find it.

Often referred to as the Paradox of Hedonism, the idea is that we tend to find happiness when we aren’t actively searching. Happiness is elusive, and we don’t always find it in the places we’d expect. Happiness isn’t a place, but rather a state.

Take away: Let happiness come to you when it’s ready.

4. The best ideas come when you’re thinking about something else.

Inventor Philo T. Farnsworth purportedly came up with the idea for television while plowing a potato field. Among smart and successful people, these peculiar stories are common. Great thinkers think abstractly, leading their minds to connect seemingly unrelated things.

Take away: If you’re ever running dry of ideas, try doing something completely unrelated to the task.

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5. We don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone.

It is an unfortunate tendency, but sometimes we can’t recognize the value of something until we notice its absence. You probably wouldn’t be thankful for your roof unless it collapsed one day. It takes effort to appreciate what you already have because it’s hard to imagine life without it.

Take away: Consciously keeping track of what you’re grateful for is a great way to stay humble.

6. The more you multitask, the less you get done.

Research has shown that the human ability to multitask is technically nonexistent. Well…that’s embarrassing. All this time we thought we were being more productive, but our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. So if you are multitasking, you may just be doing lots of things poorly or partially.

Take away: Put your individual focus and effort into important projects.

7. You get what you give.

When people are generous, they naturally attract the generosity of others. People who are selfish and always looking out for themselves repel generosity. Kindness and selfishness doesn’t go unnoticed.

Take away: Be generous. Give to others and you won’t have to worry about receiving.

8. The more you try to control a situation, the less control you have.

Everyone knows a control freak or two, and you may have even seen firsthand how ultra planning can backfire. Most things in life are uncontrollable, and when we try too hard we can actually make things worse. The only thing we can definitely control is ourselves.

Take away: The best way to handle situations is to accept change and adapt to it.

9. The things that deeply move us don’t exist.

Philosophers call it the Paradox of Fiction. Humans have always been affected by stories, art, and literature. We can be influenced and inspired by characters that aren’t real and events that never occurred. Why is it that some of our strongest and most profound emotional reactions are driven by things that never existed?

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Take away: Fiction has the power to change reality. Now go read a book!

10. Insanity is rational.

A study showed that certain mental illnesses may allow people to be more logical than the average person. When given a quiz full of logic questions, schizophrenic participants performed far better than participants without the illness.

Take away: Never underestimate someone just because they’re different from you.

11. The longer you sleep, the more tired you are when you wake up.

Why is it that sometimes we sleep 5 hours and wake up refreshed, while other times we sleep 10 hours and wake up feeling like a plane hit us? This is a common problem, particularly for people who get little sleep on weekdays and too much sleep on weekends. This happens when your circadian rhythm is thrown off.

Take away: Adopt a steady sleep routine to feel more energetic.

12. We can only change when we accept who we are.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” -Carl Rogers

When we spend our time and energy hating ourselves and wishing we could change, it uses up the energy that we could be using to change.

Take away: Accept yourself and work hard. Change will come naturally.

13. The faster you run from your problems, the quicker they catch up.

Sure you can run away, travel across the world, or backpack through Europe. But if your main goal for leaving is to solve problems, you will end up disappointed. Most problems arise from who we are, not where we are.  If you run, your “baggage” will be right there with you- at the baggage claim.

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Take away: Face your problems head on so they don’t become worse.

14. The institutions that teach us equip us to question those institutions.

“The paradox of education is that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”- James Baldwin.

While we need institutions to teach us, they often teach us best about the things we reject or want to change about them.

Take away: Learn all you can from others, but think for yourself.

15. We can eat more and lose weight?

If you are overweight and consistently dieting with a piece of lettuce for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you may actually be contributing to the problem. Under-eating can slow your metabolism, meaning less energy consumed and less burned. As long as your diet is clean and healthy, frequent meals are the way to go.

Take away: Eat often and eat real food to stay healthy.

16. If you want a faster commute, shut down a traffic route.

Named after the mathematician who discovered it, Braess’ Paradox refers to the odd phenomenon that occurs when towns block off a main road. One would think that this would worsen traffic, but it often improves it. Since faster routes become more attractive to drivers, this can increase commute times for everyone, even those on other routes. Check out the full explanation here.

Take away: Don’t rely on shortcuts, they aren’t always what they seem.

17. If you want to find love, stop looking.

“I walked into the coffee shop, expecting to meet my true love, and there he was!” Have you ever heard someone say this? Didn’t think so. That’s because we tend to fall for people when we don’t expect it. Although difficult for lonely people, it is smarter to be patient rather than desperately search for soulmate.

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Take away: Be yourself, do what you do, and the right person will naturally come along.

18. The more you wait the longer things take.

Who hasn’t sat in math class, staring painfully at the clock as it slowly ticks forward? Although it’s only a perception, the more conscious waiting we do, the longer things often seem to take. Time flies when you’re having fun, so you are better off trying to make the best of long division while you’re stuck doing it.

Take away: Try to make the most out of things you dislike. It will only make them pass quicker.

19. People who talk the most say the least.

There is a longstanding suspicion that chatterboxes talk a lot and say little, which is sometimes true. While packed with verbiage, their speech is often devoid of substance. Meanwhile, people who hold their tongue are often lauded for their profound speech. 

Take away: Speak to be understood, not to impress or gain attention.

20. Cats and toast don’t mix.

The infamous Buttered Cat Paradox is perhaps the most mind-boggling of all.

The premise: Buttered toast is known to fall face down when dropped (Yes, it was determined by physicists.) Cats are known to land right side up, as long as the fall is far enough from the ground. So the question arises: What would happen if we strapped toast (butter side up) to a cat’s back, and the poor cat was dropped from several feet up? Some speculate that just before reaching the ground, the kitty would begin spinning indefinitely. However, no one is willing to endanger their cat to find out.

Take away: Nothing. This one can’t help you at all.

Featured photo credit: Nickwheeleroz via compfight.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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