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The Most Important Art You Must Learn

The Most Important Art You Must Learn

Is Love an art? It requires knowledge and effort. Or is Love a pleasant sensation, which to experience is a matter of chance, something one “falls into” if one is lucky? A little book is based on the former premise, while the majority of people today believe in the latter.

Reading this passage from Erich Fromm’s book, The Art of Loving (Harper and Row, 1956), would make those who barely know him and his books think he wrote it in recent years. Surprisingly, the book was published in 1956. After 58 years the book still rings timeless wisdom on how Love is the most important art everyone must learn.

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Here are some thought-provoking insights that will help you understand how to live Love as an art:

“BEING LOVED” vs. “LOVING”

Erich Fromm points out that many people tend to think Love is about being loved by someone. To be loved by the perfect person, you need to be perfect in all aspects of your personality. That is just too stressful, for no one can live up to the perfection of others. To learn Love as an art is to know “one’s capacity for Loving.” And that is learned first by understanding this problem:

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The problem of OBJECT vs. FACULTY

Because people think they have to wait or search for the perfect object of Love who can give them Love they need, they do not think Love is a problem of faculty. Faculty refers to our capacities of not just thinking but also feeling, contemplation, intuition, imagination, understanding and decision-making.

Sadly, our notion of Love points out just one special romantic object and a specific romantic relationship that ultimately we miss the whole point of the art of Loving itself, which is:

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Love is an ATTITUDE

Erich Fromm emphasizes that Love cannot be just for a single object or person while excluding all others. The art of Loving is about actively developing an attitude that you Love the humanity in every person as you express your Love to a particular person. Anyone can practice this art by having this profound attention and interest in knowing oneself, the other and the world, and there are simple practices to do it:

Love is a practice of KNOWLEDGE

Erich Fromm reminds firmly that Love is about knowing oneself as well as the other. He writes: “Love is the only way of knowledge…” He compares this to the ancient motto know thyself, believed to be quoted by Socrates. Knowledge of oneself is fundamental to knowing, caring, respecting and responding to others, the elements by which Love becomes possible.

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Love is a practice of CONCENTRATION

Erich Fromm suggests concentration is a very challenging practice. What he meant by concentration is about three concentration practices: meditation, listening and paying attention to the present moment. We never thought of this, but for those who meditate in whatever form, their practice has led them somehow in also mastering listening and paying attention. Love as an art is no different from these three practices, and you’ll learn for yourself how the nature of Love can be so profound and so practical at the same time.

Love is a practice of HAVING FAITH in ONESELF

It’s not surprising in the Internet age we have read so much about sense of purpose, sense of meaning, self-compassion, self-acceptance, following one’s heart, and many others that point out to what Erich Fromm calls the practice of faith. And he points out this is not about blind faith, which he thinks is irrational, but having a rational faith, or being firm of one’s conviction. If you have faith in yourself that you can do great, you can make a difference, then you are practicing this art.

Love as an art, according to Erich Fromm, is primarily an “inner activity,” the “power of the soul.” You learn Love then you Love. Ultimately, you live Love both as a learning and as an action. This is as much true as it was when Erich Fromm’s book was published. This makes it a truly important art that we must learn in our lives.

Featured photo credit: Love/las initially via flickr.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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