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Want to Make Yourself a Gazillion Times More Interesting — and Successful?

Want to Make Yourself a Gazillion Times More Interesting — and Successful?

Something amazing happened in American politics in 1992. A young man, nearly unknown on the national political scene, beat out the entire establishment to become president. One reason voters rallied behind the unproven Bill Clinton: he seemed cool. Commenting on candidate Clinton’s saxophone performance on The Arsenio Hall Show just before the election, comedian Dennis Miller made a brilliant observation: “I think the American people found it refreshing that we finally had a politician who could f#@*ing do something.”

Miller was joking. But he was onto something.

What do you think of when I say “politician?” Let me guess: someone older, probably a man, probably a lawyer, wearing a suit and tie, speaking a string of clichés most likely in a monotone voice. Am I close?

Most politicians don’t do anything besides politics. They make speeches. They campaign. They look the same, sound the same and walk the same. Before running for this office, they held that office. They’re one-dimensional. But not Bill Clinton. That guy plays the sax!

Most of us spend most of our time devoted largely to one pursuit—our career, our business, our art. And that’s great. But what about all of the interests we don’t pursue—adventurous hobbies, intellectual endeavors—because they have little or nothing to do with our primary focus in life? Would these pursuits distract us from our big goals? Or might they actually enhance them?

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Bill Clinton made himself a gazillion times more interesting—and successful—than most politicians in part because showed us he had pursuits outside of politics, pursuits that gave him a fresh perspective, a different way to look at things from the typical political lifer. It worked for Clinton, and it can work for you.

Here are three huge benefits of adding new pursuits to your life.

1. Broadening your interests makes you more interesting.

Have you ever had the experience of working with someone for a while—say, a sales rep at your company—and then later learning about a whole new side to that person? A whole other life they’re living? It makes the person much more interesting, doesn’t it?

Maybe you find out your sales rep is a former state tennis champion, or that he writes songs or studies astronomy in his spare time. The details don’t matter. What matters is, you used to see the rep as a one-dimensional figure. But now he’s a full-fledged person, three-dimensional, interesting.

2. Broadening your interests can make you more successful.

For a while I worked as a writer (first full-time, then as a remote freelancer) for a wonderful software training company called lynda.com. This is one of the most successful startup businesses I’ve ever seen. And I can’t say for sure that hiring well-rounded talent had any direct effect on the company’s success (or even that they were aware they were doing it), but consider these facts about lynda.com when I was working there:

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  • One of the co-founders was also a Hollywood animator, author and teacher. She wasn’t just an entrepreneur.
  • Their CFO held a PhD in Astrophysics. Oh, and she was also the CTO!
  • One of the company’s product managers was a highly accomplished marine biologist.
  • The president was a former professional musician.

And the company’s head of design was also an underwater photographer who traveled the world on diving expeditions, taking photos of real shipwrecks on the ocean floor.

These guys were living the well-rounded-life philosophy. When I was there, just about every employee was able to draw on some unique perspective, some rich experience that I’m sure made them more effective at their jobs than if they did nothing but work and watch TV.

3. Broadening your interests also gives you new insights, new ideas—and opens you up to new opportunities

A good friend of mine, Ben Cardinale, has enjoyed a successful career writing television in Hollywood. He wrote for Family Ties, The Single Guy, Champs and other shows, and he was a story editor on the critics’ favorite Brooklyn Bridge. He’s also sold scripts to DreamWorks and other elite Hollywood players. Ben has succeeded in Hollywood because he’s a damn great writer. His humor and observations relating to family and relationships are spot-on perfect. But why? What’s Ben’s secret?

It should be obvious by now: Ben isn’t only a writer.

Before Hollywood, Ben had a successful accounting practice, specializing in general contractors. Then Ben began to sense that the construction businesses he represented were doing the “real” work, while he was just accounting for it. So he jumped out from behind his desk and started his own construction firm. That’s two—count ‘em, two— careers under his belt before Ben became a writer. That’s a three-dimensional guy.

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Today’s typical wannabe screenwriter most likely graduated from an Ivy League school, where he probably wrote a satire column for the school’s paper, and it was probably pretty funny. He almost certainly hung out in an isolated little clique of other smart, over-achieving writers. All his friends had the same take on life. All had the same experiences and made the same observations. Then they all headed to Hollywood or New York to become writers.

That’s why so many sitcoms look and sound the same. These writers aren’t out there living life; they’re mastering the technique of sitcom writing.

Meanwhile, my friend Ben spent the first part of his professional life working the other side of his brain, crunching numbers as an accountant, gaining all sorts of different experiences from those of the typical would-be writer. After that, Ben built houses. The guy built freakin’ houses!

In other words, Ben lived life. And those experiences meant that when he came to Hollywood, Ben brought with him an authentic eye and ear for human nature. Most writers bring only smug sarcasm and a master’s degree in joke-telling mechanics.

Leonardo da Vinci might be the greatest artist in history. But he was also a great mathematician, who studied human faces obsessively—cataloging the distances between mouth and nose, eyes and chin. He was also a botanist. A geologist. An engineer. Think any of those intellectual pursuits gave him a fresh artistic perspective that helped make his paintings more beautiful and profound?

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Leonardo da Vinci, Ben Cardinale and my former colleagues at lynda.com all found that the more pursuits they added to their lives, the richer they were able to make each pursuit—and the richer life itself became.

I’ll sum up my advice with a quote from the great columnist (and singer… and radio talk-show host…) Mark Steyn. He’s speaking here to journalists, authors and bloggers, but his sentiment could be applied to any endeavor:

“Don’t just write there. Do something!”

Featured photo credit: Dynamic Movement, Free Runners, Waterloo Bridge/Andrew Moreton 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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