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How to Live Gracefully

How to Live Gracefully

When “grace” comes to mind, we generally tend to think of flawlessness, Monaco, and all things inbetween. The idea of having grace or being graceful is an incredibly tightly-construed concept developed and it’s something that’s so incredibly far away from its original concept and origin.

“Grace” comes from the Latin word “gratia”, which means “God’s favour”, and so rather than “graceful” meaning “impossibly flawless”, it actually means to have a little je ne sais quoi. That indefinable quality which, rather than being something granted by divine inspiration, is something inside us and which we can easily bring out.

It isn’t unattainable, however—far from it. Living gracefully is pretty simple and definable, and fortunately for people like me, it has nothing to do with being physically graceful. I literally have no balance or graceful skills and am possibly the clumsiest person I know, but in cultivating a sense of gracefulness, I’ve at least learned how to take it on the chin when I do trip over my own feet.

Being graceful is a state of mind, rather than a state of physical perfection, and by utilising three simple and fundamental rules, it’s easy to start cultivating and bringing some grace into your lives.

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Rule no. 1: Be Good (to Yourself)

This first rule is both the easiest to implement and perhaps the hardest I’ve tried, and that people I know have tried as well: accept yourself. This is pretty hard when it gets boiled down to it because, let’s face it, we’re living in a society where our media is generally adept at making us aspire to visions of a perfect life; a nearly-unattainable standard of living that, while it makes us want to achieve it, also makes us feel bad that we aren’t there yet. Which, you know, is pretty mean.

So, one of the things I want you to start doing is just accepting yourself. It doesn’t have to be an overnight revelation; it can take days or weeks or months or years of slowly but surely understanding those big flaws you hate about yourself. They’re not flaws, or at least they are, but because they’re yours, you should never have to feel ashamed about them. Even if you wake up one morning and look in the mirror and decide that that one flaw you’ve always hated about yourself, that one attribute, isn’t that important.

The purpose of this rule? Well, besides everyone loving themselves a bit more (which is awesome and should be promoted all the time), being good to yourself makes you want to help other people more. On those days when your hair is great and you’re feeling awesome and that cute barista winks at you, you’re so much more likely to give someone else a helping hand or give someone who needs it a compliment. It’s kind of like that “random act of kindness” thing—you do something good for someone, they feel great and then they do something good for someone else, and so it snowballs on, having a positive chain reaction.

Being good to yourself and accepting yourself is in no way shape or form arrogance or narcissism: you’re not in love with yourself, you just LOVE yourself, and being a graceful person is all about accepting yourself for who you are and choosing who and what you choose to be. There’s a lot of talk about inner beauty and how everyone is beautiful, but you don’t HAVE to be beautiful at all, inside or out, if you don’t choose to be so. Start to treat yourself with kindness and compassion and you’ll see a massive change.

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Rule no. 2: Slow Down

Slow down, folks, slow down. Most people, including myself, have a problem with this one, particularly if you’re in a job where you’re pretty juggling seven tasks, a shopping list, social commitments and laundry all while trying to keep fit and you know, have actual human contact if you have a spare five minutes. It is exhausting, and slowing down will not remove your workload—if it could do that, I’d be marketing it as magic—but it will make it more manageable and more easy to handle when something inevitably does fly off the handle.

Slowing down doesn’t have to be a big thing: I started off by simply spending thirty seconds before work just preparing myself (tucking away iPod headphones, straightening my shirt, all that jazz) so that when I walked in, I didn’t look like a total klutz who had just nearly spilt a hot drink down himself while trying to get said headphones untangled. After a while, though, taking a minute or two out for composure started to be pretty good; I got to relax for a bit before work started, even finish a song on my iPod and think about the day ahead. I was more prepared, calmer and more at ease with everything that was going on.

Just try it if you don’t believe me: next time you’re at work or stuck in traffic or at home, just consciously decide to go a bit more slowly. Even if it means you’re an extra five minutes in the shower or in the supermarket, slowing down forces you to become more conscious of what you’re doing. We’ve all been there where we’re rushing around and we end up with the wrong orders, doing the wrong thing—you get what I mean. Take things a bit slower on the other hand and you’re much less likely to burn your hand on the toaster or pick up regular milk for your lactose-intolerant buddy.

I’m not even saying you have to do it all the time. It’s unrealistic and unreasonable—we’re not all living in zones of serenity and zen twenty-four hours a day—but even if you do it for an hour, or even thirty minutes, chances are those thirty minutes will be a haven of peace and calm for you; a time when you’ll feel like you can take on the world without breaking stride or even sweating.

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Rule no. 3 – Be Grateful and Gracious

The final, and perhaps most important rule of the whole thing, is this: be grateful. It might seem a strange thing to do but believe me when I say that being grateful for everyone you have in your life and then reflecting that outwards will be not only a fantastic step for all those around you, it’ll make you graceful.

Not that I’m saying you’re not an awesome, considerate person—you probably are—but when your inner monologue is running around at full speed, full of caffeine-fuelled panic and anger, it’s so easy to lose track of the big picture when someone cuts in front of you at the coffee shop or you get soaked by a driver while walking past a puddle. Things that annoy the hell out of you and ruin your day.

The instant reaction? Fury. Annoyance. Frustration. Sadness. Resentment. And a lot of time it is truly, truly justified: if someone does something truly terrible to you, then go ahead and call them out on doing that thing. Loudly. Angrily. But when its the little annoyances, the ones that, while not affecting your body, mind or spirit, just make your day a little less bright and awesome, it might be worth dealing with them by accepting that things could, simply, be worse.

Being grateful isn’t just looking on the bright side of life—it’s knowing that right now in the moment, you are exactly where you’re meant to be and accepting that while things right now might not be fantastic, you’re gonna be fine. The most graceful people in the world are the ones who are centred in the moment and able to be grateful for what is going on in your life.

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Think of how Audrey Hepburn acted during her tumultuous personal years: she had bad marriages, a miscarriage, and other personal problems, but always managed to be graceful by being aware of all the good things she had in her life: her children and her friends and her talent.

 

In the end, being graceful is more than just being kind or chilled out or happy or all the time. Being graceful, or adopting a graceful attitude, is about both dealing with anything life can and will throw at you, and dealing with it with the best tools available to you: kindness to yourself and to others, taking time to be conscious and in the moment, being aware of the good in your life, and choosing to act with that in mind.

Practising these rules on a daily basis is tricky. Some days I’m angry and unfocused and some days I don’t want to be graceful, but I want to keep on trying to be a better person, for myself and my friends and my family, and if practising gracefulness in its truest form helps me do that, I’m more than happy to try.

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Chris Haigh

Writer, baker, co-host of "Good Evening Podcast" and "North By Nerdwest".

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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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