Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ~ Ian Maclaren
Last week I mentioned one of the traits I’ve struggled with in my duties as CEO is being an introvert. By observing and learning from my extroverted friend Barry (to whom I introduced you), I’ve come up with a few “drills” I now routinely practice in an effort to improve in this regard. I thought I’d share them with you over this and the next few blogs with the caveat that they are not “expert approved.” That is to say, these are homegrown techniques that may or may not work for you and may, in fact, do exactly the opposite when you encounter difficulties on the way.
Now, before I begin, if you happen to rely on substances (e.g. alcohol) to survive social situations, I’d strongly encourage finding another way. Personal experience has taught me that if you reach for that bottle whenever you’re feeling uncomfortable around others, it’s only a matter of time before you reach for it when you’re feeling uncomfortable around yourself. And that, my friends, is a road you don’t want to head down because, without help, it can be awfully hard to turn around.
With that out of the way, I call today’s drill “smile therapy.” I hesitate mentioning it because let’s face it, it sounds absolutely fucking stupid. But I’m telling you, practiced over time it really works and, in addition to helping with introversion, is guaranteed to make the world a better place.
Basically, all smile therapy entails is to put a sincere smile on your face when you encounter people in the morning and pass along a cheery greeting. You can of course practice this any time of day but I prefer doing it in the mornings because it tends to really piss certain kinds of people off – the kinds of people who desperately need smile therapy but don’t realize it (Republicans?).
Now, if you smiling in the morning is a decidedly unnatural version of you, do not – I repeat – do not jump in and start practicing this at work. Trust me when I say that if sullen-you suddenly shows up to work all smiley-happy, people on the receiving end are going to get very jumpy.
I started this practice years ago when I swam laps in the morning. By the time I arrived at the gym around 6 AM there were already folks rushing off to work having completed their own workouts. I observed that most of these people didn’t seem very chipper cheery. Indeed, it’s because of this experience that now, whenever I meet one of those super-focused, type-A professional types who loves to talk about the workout they banged out before heading to the office (to make those of us taking care of our kids feel guilty about being such schlubs), I cannot help but think these are people who are in desperate need of therapy.
And what kind of therapy you might be wondering? You guessed it, smile therapy.
Because I typically encountered the same people at the pool every morning I was able to see the full range of emotions when I plied my craft.
Annoyance – Why are you bothering me?
Fear – You some kind of weirdo?
Surprise – People can speak this early in the morning?
Anger – You say good morning to me again and I’m going to club you like a baby seal (Sigh…Republicans).
Confusion – Huh? (Sigh…Democrats).
Love – Truth be told, not an emotion I witnessed that early in the morning. (Presumably because the Bernie Sanders supporters were still asleep.)
Over time and with repetition, the bulk of the people hurrying out would return a smile/greeting and genuinely seem happier for having done so. And as others started feeling happier, so too did I.
I then tried it out while dropping my son off at school in the morning. In contrast to folks I encountered at the gym, most of the parents I engaged with were already primed to reciprocate despite the fact they too were in a hurry to get to work. There is something to be said about being around kids and families that put things in perspective and convince one that life is filled with blessings and far too short to be a jilted grump.
Of course, I should acknowledge I have not experienced a 100 percent success rate. One particular parent, despite months of effort, proved to be difficult to coax a smile from, so I tried something else, “fist bump therapy.” Ummm….don’t do that.
Eventually I progressed my practice to work where today I make it a habit to greet everyone with a heartfelt smile.
And what has all this smile therapy bought me? Aside from the happiness that comes along for the ride, as an introvert it has served as a foundation upon which I can engage people who I don’t know. So, if like me, you find new social situations a bit unnerving, instead of reaching for a bottle to bring you out of your shell, consider a smile.
And if that doesn’t work, there is always music.
Today I’m going to leave you with the song “Survive” off of Dr. Dog’s newest release Abandoned Mansion. I hope you like it – in case you do, I’ll be sure to add it to our Manufacturing Peace of Mind™ Spotify playlist.
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