Daily speech offers one of the vast opportunities for eliminating self-consciousness. Everyone should aim here to develop definiteness of idea, sincerity of expression, and concentration of mind.
Nothing leads so quickly to hesitation and embarrassment in a speaker as mental uncertainty. To speak confidently, they must not guess, or imagine, or take for granted: they must know.
Lack of proper mental equipment is responsible for a large part of the fearfulness of people. People who really know what they’re talking about, and are absolutely sure of it, are likely to be sure of themselves.
It shows itself in their voice, their use of words, their manner, and their entire personality.
The speaker should cultivate sincerity in his conversation. They will avoid formal compliments and empty platitudes. They will not talk like a book. They will not talk just to hear themselves.
They will speak for a purpose, and this will easily enable them to concentrate their mind upon the subject of his conversation. They will listen attentively and get interested to others.
Above all, they will not speak of themselves unless obliged to do so, and then briefly, modestly, and gently.
In what manner, then, shall they speak? Newman’s definition of a good person answers that question well:
“They guard against unseasonable allusions or topics which may irritate; they are seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. They make light of favors when they do them, and seem to be receiving when they are conferring. They never speak of themselves except when compelled, never defend themselves by a mere retort; they have no ears for slander or gossip, are scrupulous in assigning motives to those who interfere with them, and interpret everything for the best.”
This self-discipline begins naturally with deep breathing. Many people don’t realize that the manner in which they breathe affects their attitude of mind. It is altogether too common to use but one half of the breathing capacity.
A man who breathes only with his upper chest lacks the vigor and vitality essential to a high degree of self-confidence. Deep breathing should be practiced daily until it becomes an unconscious habit.
So, what is the remedy for self-consciousness?
It’s mainly a matter of securing control of one’s thoughts and intelligently directing them.
The mind is a machine, which must be made obedient to the owner’s will. When brought under subjection, it will serve man’s highest and best purposes, but left to itself it may run easily to confusion and destruction.
You might say: “But my mind wanders.” Then go after it and bring it back. You say you can’t? Who’s operating your mind? Does it run itself?
What would you think of a train that had no engineer, no conductor, no one to direct it, and was allowed to run just anywhere?
Yet this is what you permit with your train of ideas. Be sensible. Take hold of yourself seriously. Set your will to work. Straighten your spine. Take time today for mental overhauling.
You are about to educate your will and it’s serious business. Procrastination will not do. From this time forward resolve to control and direct your mental powers for definite purposes.
Let it be said here, without attempt to moralize, that wrongdoing will contribute its share to self-consciousness. It may be an injury done another, an unfair advantage in business, or a secret habit; but whatever it may be.
Its mark is seared upon the conscience, and sooner or later finds expression in embarrassment.
What should one do who comes under this classification? Repair the injury, stop every undesirable habit, and resolve hereafter to deal justly with all people.
Constantly hold in your mind a high estimate of yourself, but be sure you have reasons for doing so. It is of little use to say you are well if you are ill.
Don’t deceive yourself. You are no greater than the sum of your thoughts and habits.
Do you have good and sufficient reasons for holding yourself in high esteem? Are you a person of noble impulses? Is your ambition lofty?
Do you have high ideals and do you work persistently to realize them? Are you doing the best you can? Do you have an uncompromising love for truth?
A businessman recently wrote to a teacher, saying:
“I lose control and become embarrassed when I speak even to my own employees, and can’t keep a straight face at any time when meeting strangers. I feel embarrassed, turn red in the face, and otherwise feel uncomfortable when talking to a single individual. If I were called upon to address an audience, I believe I should drop dead.”
This is an illustration of the extremes to which self-consciousness may carry its victim. The mind is a fertile field for the growth of all kinds of thought.
If false and negative ideas are allowed to take root, they, like weeds of an ordinary field, spread with wonderful rapidity, and may easily discourage and overwhelm the owner.
The man to whom we have referred has long neglected his mental field and now finds himself in a bad way.
The remedy for him, and for lots of others, is to patiently root out every obnoxious habit and to substitute strong, healthy, positive thoughts in its place.
They must be content with small victories at first, since they have permitted their mental field and garden to be overrun with these objectionable thought habits. On the other hand, they can comfort themselves with the assurance that in this way they can and will attain success.
Timid people concern themselves too much about what others will think and say. They are constantly studying the impression they are making upon people who probably are not even thinking of them.
Their super sensitiveness causes them to imagine themselves being criticized, slighted, and unfairly condemned by those who all the while are absorbed in their own affairs.
A man may be on the road to success when a single act of timidity may ruin all his chances. People lose confidence in him if he lacks faith in himself.
Courage is admired, fear never is.
Courage is dignified, fear is repulsive. The man of courage is welcomed everywhere, while fear invites itself to a seat in the rear.
The following incident actually occurred in a second-hand bookshop. The salesman had been talking for some time to a customer, when another man who had selected a book for himself mustered up enough courage to say:
“Don’t let me interrupt you, sir, if you are busy with that gentleman—I wanted to get—this book–but I can just as well call in on my way back–I would have to trouble you anyway–to change–a five-dollar bill–and perhaps–you haven’t–the change-so I’ll come back–in a little while–don’t trouble, sir–and then I’ll have the right change with me.”
This sounds exaggerated, but it can be vouched for. What chance, do you think does that man have for advancement or distinction in the world? He is doomed to failure unless he changes his entire mental attitude.
Every person should learn to stand firmly upon his own feet. As themselves they may become great; as an imitator they will amount to little.
“Intellectual intrepidity,” says Samuel Smiles “is one of the vital conditions of independence and self-reliance in character. A man must have the courage to be himself, and not the shadow or the echo of another. He must exercise his own powers, think his own thoughts, and speak his own sentiments. He must elaborate his own opinions, and form his own convictions. It has been said that they who dare not form an opinion must be a coward; they who will not, must be an idler; they who cannot, must be a fool.”
The timid man should take inspiration from the experience of many of the world’s greatest orators and actors. For the most part they at first were self-conscious men.
Demosthenes, Cicero, Curran, Chalmers, Erskine, Pitt, Gladstone, Disraeli, Mirabeau, Patrick Henry, Clay, Gough, Beecher, Salvini, Henry Irving, Richard Mansfield, and many others were subject to “stage-fright.”
But this sensitivity, when at last controlled and intelligently directed, enabled them to reach a foremost place among distinguished men.
It is said of Rufus Choate, the great lawyer that before an important address to a jury looked as nervous and wretched as a criminal about to be hanged.
Probably every public speaker who has amounted to anything could testify to this initial feeling of nervousness or anxiety. But the cure lies in becoming so absorbed in one’s subject, or the welfare of others, as to forget one’s self.
Self-consciousness may arise from self-conceit.
The victim says to himself: “What impression am I making?” “Do I look okay? ” “What are they thinking and saying about me?”
On the other hand, it may be due to extreme humility. Such a man says inwardly: “I am not equal to this,” “I lack so many things,” “If I had only been born right,” “My father was bashful before me,” “I know I’m going to fail.”
Natural humility need not necessarily be a stumbling block to any person. It’s a safeguard against rashness, familiarity, and over-confidence.
The evil of extreme self-consciousness is that it makes a man do so many things they don’t want to do.
It changes his line of conduct a hundred times a day, makes him say “yes” when they would rather say “no,” and, in short, robs him of his power and individuality.
When Thackeray said that sensitivity was a great mistake in a public man, he doubtless meant that super sensitivity by which a man loses initiative, self-reliance, and independence.
A self-conscious man must sooner or later rid himself of this fault if he is to be preeminently successful.