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20 Things I Wish I Had Learned in School

20 Things I Wish I Had Learned in School

Everyone’s journey through life is unique. Public education is supposedly designed to even the playing field, but some would say it is the root of great social imbalances. Too many graduate from high school without ever learning the basics. If I could send a letter back in time to my ten year old self, this is what it would say:

1. Nobody knows what is going on.

Scientists who spend their careers analyzing the nature and origins of life on this planet have gleaned only a few more solid facts about the universe than your own parents have. Nobody knows why we are here or what we are supposed to be doing, and anyone who says they do is selling something. What each of us perceives is only a fraction of what there is to know, and we can only find truth by combining our perspectives without judgment. But how can we do this if so few people can admit that they don’t know the answers?

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2. Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. (Frank Zappa)

For a lot of people, life is as simple as looking around at what other people are doing, trying to figure out what seems to be working, and falling in line without letting on that you have no idea what is going on. Every once in a while someone decides to do something nobody else is doing and suddenly, progress is made.  But this aspect of reality is not evident in the insulated hierarchical society of public schools. Imagine what would happen if we taught this to kids much earlier in life.

3. Being cool and popular in school is a trap.

All but a handful of my most popular and talented grade-school peers went on to become miserable adults. Kids who grew up never questioning themselves or the authorities because everything they did was rewarded with acceptance missed out on essential steps in mental development. As a result of the imbalances this creates, many adults have confidence beyond their capabilities, and others grow up without the necessary confidence to reach their full potential.

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4. Some of the highest quality human adults were late bloomers.

Some kids take their time, quietly trying to understand what is happening around them instead of taking everything for granted and at face value. They can come across as really weird to other children. Others are cast as ugly and weird as kids only to grow into the most beautiful humans on earth. Late bloomers tend to be paragons of perspective since they have the rare experience of viewing life from both sides of the coin. Their observations allow them to approach popularity and success with more wisdom as an adult.

5. Do not hate.

If you must hate, do not hate for what one has done to another. This is the root of 90% of drama and involving yourself in such conflicts is not worth it. This goes both ways, as it is also unwise to involve outside parties when you have a problem with a particular person. Confront them directly, as only your antagonist can provide closure. Involving other people who have nothing to do with the problem is only going to make it worse.

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6. You must know yourself before you can expect to truly know another.

Kids are raised to live up to all kinds of expectations. Many go straight from wanting to please their parents into long-term romantic relationships without ever taking time to address their own goals and desires. Selflessness can be seen as an honorable trait. If left unchecked, it can lead to misery and resentment. There is much more to life than graduating, getting married, and having kids. Many adults get so caught up in these things that the possibilities of their potential pass them by. People who take the time to become independent and happy in their own right while they are young grow up to be better partners and parents.

7. Do not start college until you have a sense of what your career should be.

Doing anything just because you feel it is expected of you and not for any particular reason of your own is a waste of time and resources. College is expensive, and taking random classes is not likely to result in a sudden revelation about exactly what you were put on earth to do. You can learn that kind of thing much more effectively from experiencing life and getting to know yourself better outside the classroom.

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8. There will never be a time when it is okay to stop learning and growing.

Diplomas are intended as trophies of expertise and certification in particular or general areas. Adults reach these milestones and the career goals associated with them thinking “I did it right, I know it all, I can stop learning now,” or “I have this child who is looking at me for answers, I had better at least pretend like know everything.” I once imagined myself reaching some unknown, intangible state of knowing everything. However this sense of serenity never came until I admitted that, despite years of higher education, there is very little I know for certain and probably a lot more left to learn than I have time in which to learn it.

9. Fear is the mind killer.

Fear is a very natural response that we all share, yet it is widely exploited by manipulative forces. It can set you back more than anything else, and those who are controlled by fear are the first ones to become stagnant and pliable. Irrational fears can easily be examined through facing them head on. Other fears are more deep seated, and can take a lifetime to eliminate. It is best to begin vigilantly examining fear as early in life as possible to avoid missing out on important formative experiences.

10. It is impossible for anyone to control what other people think, feel, or do.

Many learn at an early age that they can get what they want by manipulating others. There is certainly something to be said for the power of inspiration and influence. Yet even with the best intentions, the consequences cannot be entirely controlled. Talk until you are blue in the face, but people cannot change without learning new things. They are more likely to learn from their own experiences than anything else. If you want to make the world a better place your own example is the most influential tool you have. Life is simpler when you expect less from others and more from yourself.

Oh, and by the way:

  • Innocence is the one thing you can’t ever get back once you lose it.
  • Be very careful with other people’s hearts.
  • If someone does not listen to you when you say no, they are not worth your time.
  • Bullies and teasers are only projecting their own insecurities onto their victims.
  • If you spend your youth wisely, you will be a more stable adult.
  • Your twenties will be the best years of your life.
  • Learn to take criticism and overcome failure.
  • Get really good at doing what you love.
  • Don’t believe the hype.
  • The world is not what you think it is, people are not who you think they are, and nothing is what it seems.

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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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