We can marvel at, and moan about, how complicated humans are. But really, we are simple animals.
Here is proof. The next time you are in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye and give yourself a great big smile. (Maybe do this when you’re alone. No need to have coworkers and others think that you are more psycho than you actually are.)
What happens as you force a smile? It turns into a real one. At that moment, you might think this is goofy, just grinning at yourself. Then you might find it funny and maybe even laugh. This is the moment your day gets a little better.
Step out of the bathroom with that grin and someone might see it and reflexively smile back. You have improved that person’s day a little. And that radiates out to other people, perhaps endlessly for all we know.
All from a little forced smile.
Why does this happen? Again, we’re animals. The most primitive part of our brain says smiling is happy and bright. Just as it says frowning is unhappy and dark.
I have to tell the amygdala in my limbic brain on a fairly regular basis not to worry and be happy, because it is usually looking for the bad stuff. The limbic system is the primitive part some call the reptilian brain. It contains the amygdala, the seat of basic sensations such as fear and pleasure.
The amygdala senses that your stomach is sour from anxiety about a presentation and interprets that sensation as a threat to your existence. It does not know that the predator is PowerPoint. It just knows that you need run out of the room and hide in a ditch — NOW!
The amygdala also does not recognize that your happy reflections are not real. You are smiling, so you must be happy.
Many of the experts that Publisher Paul Feldman has interviewed have spoken about similar issues. For example, Amy Cuddy, featured in April 2016, is famous for power poses. Basically, stand like a winner, say in a Superman pose, and your body will tell your brain that you are a winner. Again, the amygdala is responding to what you are doing.
Cuddy’s work has since faced strenuous questioning from other scientists but a meta-review of data along with some subsequent studies have replicated Cuddy’s research results. However, you can do your own experiment by giving yourself a smile in the mirror or standing like a cape is fluttering behind you.
You might be thinking that this all seems a little phony. I also thought so until I tried it.
Adjust The Mask
And, after all, what is a person anyway? The word “person” comes from the Latin “persona,” which means “theatrical mask.” We can decide which one to put on.
So, why am I going on about all this? Because of inspiration, the theme of Managing Editor Susan Rupe’s feature article this month. Susan pulled together a compelling story on the advice that people found most inspiring. Even beyond advice from others, the wellspring of inspiration can come from you.
Susan spoke with Tracey Jones, a leadership expert who advised imagining an extra version of yourself. In that case, when you receive advice that might be a little painful, the extra version absorbs it. This creates a distance that prevents hurt and allows you to evaluate the advice itself.
This method is another way of saying that your persona is not the essential you. It is your projection. If people are criticizing it, are you sure that you are projecting what you want into the world? If not, you can adjust your persona.
Here are three things to keep in mind:
» Understand your self-talk
We all call ourselves awful names, things we would never accept from anyone else. That never goes away, even in the most successful people. You can make friends with that voice, though. You can understand that it is your self-preservation screaming at you, a voice formed by your childhood fears. You can reassure your 11-year-old self that you are going to be OK.
» Appreciate what you are doing
Maybe it is a presentation. Perhaps it is just an after-work get-together. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and imagine all the ways something could go wrong, which tempts the self-fulfilling prophesies. Instead, think about why you are doing what you are about to do. If it is a big presentation to a client, it is an opportunity you have earned by doing all the things that led you to that point. You have a right to be there and you have value to deliver. This is what you wanted.
» Show some glow
Yeah, that sounds cheesy. But this goes back to the smile. Try it for a week. Before you go out of the house or leave a bathroom, smile at yourself in the mirror. The person who deserves your kindness more than anyone else is you.
Nothing is easy out in the world. Selling is not easy. Parenting, or just simple adulting, is not easy. And certainly, the constant barrage of lunacy delivered by our electronics is overwhelming.
But one thing you can control is the image in the mirror. No matter how terrible everything is, you can choose something different that changes everything. And that choice can be as simple as a smile.