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Just Keep Writing!

Just Keep Writing!
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    I get to write a lot.  Fortunately, I like it because it is an important part of my job.  I also find that writing helps me organize jumbled messes of thought.  Here are notes on writing, which you should do daily no matter your occupation.

    1. “Writing is research” (James Buchanan).  This is the wisdom of 1986 Nobel Laureate James Buchanan, one of the most prolific and original economists of the twentieth century.  Buchanan pointed out that getting something on paper helps you clarify your thinking.  As Duke University political scientist Michael Munger has said, everyone’s unwritten ideas are brilliant.  Taking the time to try to communicate them to an audience, or to yourself, can help you identify your ideas that really are brilliant, those that need some work, and those that need a visit from the delete key.

    2. “Fluency can be achieved through grit” (Deirdre McCloskey).  Some people have a real way with words, but readable, influential, clear prose is not something that comes naturally even to the best writers among us.  Writing something that is readable takes a lot of time, effort, and revision.  And this is the really hard part.  It’s easy to hammer out rough drafts, but to turn those rough drafts into something readable and useful is another matter entirely.

    3. “Put a stamp on it” (various).  That said, don’t obsess endlessly over your work.  There are a lot of brilliant people who were denied tenure or advancement because they didn’t have enough scholarly output. Here’s Buchanan again: “don’t get it right, get it written.”
    This is not to say that you should be sloppy in your work–far from it.  I have several projects that have been awaiting careful revision, but I’ve put it off while I’ve worked on other things.  Nonetheless, it is important to realize that unless you are exceptionally brilliant you are very unlikely to develop a Grand Unification Theory of the physical sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.  As a grad school friend once put it, “grad students shouldn’t write unification papers.”  Be ambitious, but think about the intermediate steps needed for long-run success.  Here is Buchanan again: what are you working on that people will be reading in 100 years?  Have that as an end in mind with respect to the projects you undertake.

    4. Invest your time wisely. At a conference at the Foundation for Economic Education in 2003, Peter J. Boettke advised a room full of graduate students not to write about methodology, suggesting that we should first do economics and then write about it.  I was working for 1993 Nobel Laureate Douglass C. North at the time, and I realized that people cared about what he had to say about methodology.  He had a distinguished career and a Nobel Prize.  I had just finished my second year of graduate school.  North has a claim on people’s attention if he wants to write about the methodology of economics.  I didn’t then and don’t now.  Concentrate on areas where you can make a contribution, do so, and then build on your success.

    5.  Do not be afraid. I blogged for a while in graduate school and then stopped writing for the public for a while.  This was a very poor strategy: while I didn’t want to be branded a firebrand or an ideologue while I was on the job market, I wasted a lot of time because I closed off an outlet for something I really enjoyed doing and which is a complement to rather than a substitute for my teaching and research.  Both suffered as a result of the fact that I didn’t write or publish as much as I should have.  I accumulated a lot of drafts, but they mostly collected dust until I finally revised them and sent them out in June.
    I was ultimately convinced to re-join the blogosphere by a podcast featuring George Mason University’s Tyler Cowen, who is one of the co-founders of marginalrevolution.com.  He argued that every economist should blog, and I now agree.  It is a way to extend the conversation, to refine teaching and communication skills, and to share research ideas.  I find that my professional writing has improved dramatically since I started blogging and writing op-eds again.

    6.  Know when to end it. Brevity is indeed the soul of wit, and it is much harder to write a good 800 word article than it is to write a bad 1500 word article.  Your readers’ time is very valuable, so they don’t have time to read long digressions or poorly organized, meandering prose.

    Good writing encourages clear thinking, and good writing comes with a lot of practice.  The benefits, though, are enormous.  So get to it!

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    Art Carden

    Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

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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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