The Wonder Woman Pose

“And so I want to say to you, don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.” -Amy Cuddy’s TED talk entitled Your body language shapes who you are (Filmed June 2012)

Imagine that you are on a bus or train or any other public transportation that involves close contact with others. There is a window seat, which you snatch up, and the vehicle slowly gets more and more crowded. Someone takes the seat next to you, a man (it is usually a man who does this, to you, a woman) who sits with his legs far apart, his arms stretched out. The contact makes you uncomfortable, so you attempt to scrunch yourself a little more towards the window. He uses that opportunity to take up more space. You, too polite and hating confrontation, simply stay in your awkward hunched pose and try to ignore it, but you feel small and sort of insignificant.

Whether consciously or not, taking up more space is a power play, a way of asserting dominance.

Take a moment to watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about how body language affects how powerful you feel. It is worth the time to realize that something as simple as how you sit, how you present yourself to others in your posture can affect how you feel about yourself.

I tend to slouch and make myself smaller when I sit. Crossed legs and arms. Hands kept closely to my body. I easily give way on buses when someone sits next to me and attempts to stretch out. I did not realize, until I watched that video, that when I shrink physically, it also happens mentally. It is as if I am backing away, going into protection mode, feeling unimportant instead of powerful and confident.

Cuddy suggests that a simple change can improve confidence. Stand with your hands on hips, feet apart, chin up. That is called the Wonder Woman pose after the superhero. It’s as simple as that. If you do not want to do it in front of others, go to the restroom and, just for a few minutes, stand in the pose. It is feels a bit strange at first, but it makes a difference.

After I first watched the video, I did this for a few minutes each day, but then I stopped and sunk back into a lack of confidence. I felt like an imposter. I felt like I did not deserve to feel so confident. I wanted to shrink back into myself. Change is such a nebulous concept that it can take a few tries to really get it. I want to be the one in class who gives a brilliant comment, like the student Cuddy talked about, instead of the one who says nothing and is invisible. Saying that is what you want to be is easy. Making the faking a habit is the hard part.

Whatever your goals, fake it until you become it. And each day it will get a little easier until it is a part of who you are.

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Self-care

Craig: Has anyone ever told you that you’re a bit… weird?

The Doctor: They never really stop.

Doctor Who, “The Lodger” (Season 5, Episode 11)

Signs that you are a highly sensitive introvert:

  1. You hear, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” at least once per day.
  2. People are always trying to “get you out of your shell” at a big party, but the sounds and crowd make you feel too overwhelmed.
  3. In fact, you feel quite content within the rich inner life of your shell. No breaking out needed, thank you very much.
  4. You say that you have other plans when friends want to go out somewhere loud. Those plans involve ice cream and a new book. You do not regret it.
  5. Quiet time is not optional. It is a necessity for keeping you functioning properly.

Elaine Aron outlines more specifically what it means to be a highly sensitive person, including a test and reassurance that this is a perfectly normal personality trait, though it is not common enough to be well understood and appreciated.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, it is no longer necessary to feel alone or like an outsider because of your personality. There are enough resources to become self-aware, to understand what is going on inside, and to find more like-minded people who get you much better, sometimes, than those who think they know you well.

I have been fighting, for a while, the idea of categorizing myself, but sometimes it is necessary to stop myself from trying to fit into majority boxes like extrovert or into no boxes at all. Putting the components of yourself into neat little spaces is sometimes difficult, and, as a highly sensitive person, I become easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data available. And it is readily available. A quick search for “highly sensitive person” turns up over ten million results. Perhaps overwhelming is an understatement. It is an avalanche of information that buries me before I have time to begin processing it.

Some days, I wish life was as easy as jumping into the TARDIS with The Doctor. Instant adventure and personal growth, facilitated by someone wise, someone who has seen the future. But how can you really know that there aren’t Daleks on the other side of the jump? You can’t, of course, and that is part of being an adult. I can’t remember where I read it, but someone once said, “Only children think that grown-ups stop growing.” Sometimes, you have to move forward, even when you are afraid of what the future holds.

I am getting used to the idea of forcing myself to take a break. I am fine now with being occasionally overwhelmed, of needing to escape to a dark, quiet room after a party. I know this is what I need to do for myself.

So much of life becomes about self-care. As much as some of us (such as INFP me) want to dedicate our lives to the greater good, to help others, there has to remain a space for taking care of oneself. I can’t fully dedicate myself to anything unless I do things to make my mind as clear and capable as I can.

Look! An introvert!

“Mary, you know I hate parties. My idea of hell is a very large party in a cold room where everybody has to play hockey properly.” –Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

I spent many years of my childhood blissfully unaware of one crucial detail about myself. While I was reading, enjoying time by myself staring out of a window in contemplation, I did not realize that my proclivity towards solitary activities somehow put me in a minority. That doesn’t mean that I hate people. It has to do with scale and a need for recharging after the event. Large parties are a horror that can only be counteracted by hours of quiet.

Hello, I am an introvert. Nice to meet you.

We seem to be a society intent on pigeon-holing everyone and everything into categories. There is a sort of obsession with personal quirks that create Otherness and Sameness. Introvert or extravert. Gay or straight. Male or female. Because of the guidelines in the DSM-V, someone who is shy, eccentric, or lives an untraditional life can be classified as mentally ill. The neatness of these categories creates a landscape where it is difficult to determine gradation. Rather than accepting individual differences, we try to find a way to describe them, a way to figure out if that fits in with traditional views of society, and whether another person is the same or different from us.

The popularity of Susan Cain’s bestseller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is both empowering and problematic. People are all too eager to pick up the banner of introvert and proclaim their need for a quiet moment. In large, this is good. We cannot all be Dale Carnegies in this world. But it also sets up a polarized image of one or the other when there are possibly a great deal of people who fall somewhere in between, neither one nor the other, or who feel different preferences at different points in their lives. Many other aspects of personality receive this same treatment.

I sometimes buy into this line of thinking. For instance, I identify as an INFP on the Myers-Briggs personality test. However, in accepting this label, I have perhaps been limiting myself. I remember first taking the test as a high school student, and, when I got the result, I felt like I had been put into an unemployable box by the artist label. A quick search will turn up many suggested occupations to go along with this type. It is fascinating, in a way, to identify with a group of like-minded people, but isn’t it also cutting off possibilities of who and what I could be?

So, I guess I am an introvert, if I must be labeled. But we are all many things besides the categories we enforce on ourselves. We all have quirks, and they don’t have to be considered in terms of Same or Other.

Finding inner balance

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” –Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

In the process of moving forward, I have spent too much time unwisely looking to the past. I can hear the advice others gave me (“that is where the jobs are” as if they were Lydia Bennet telling me that Brighton is the place to find a husband). There came a point where the roads branched off. I chose a path. The person I was then had other options, could have developed other skills.

Novelist Jonathan Odell says to never get good at what you hate. I have followed that way of thinking pretty much without wavering ever since I became old enough to make my own decisions. Instead of trying to fit into an employable mold or picking a path because it would look more impressive to others, I have instead chosen my own way.

And then I allowed outside noises to goad me into feeling lost and shamed.

If you listen to all of the advice available and try to fit into molds created by other people, it’s inevitable that you will begin to feel as if you have lost your path somewhere. I am still figuring out my own path (hence the blog). However, in really committing myself to figuring out who I am and what I want, I feel like I have more certainty about the present moment and where it leads.

Things I have learned:

  1. It is hard not to feel regret for all of the paths not taken. But there comes a point to realize that you are only answerable to yourself for your choices. Words like disappointed or wasted potential should not come into the conversation. You are not responsible for the feelings of others.
  1. Changing course is natural and completely doable. You can reinvent yourself at your lowest points, using books, using whatever resources you can find. If you discover you have chosen the wrong path, it is never a dead-end. There is always another way around.
  1. Commit to time for recharging. Whether through meditation or reading, crossword puzzles or a quiet dinner with friends, make sure to take time for yourself. There is so much pressure in this world to accomplish everything as quickly as possible that sometimes it can be hard to stand aside and just appreciate the moment.