What's Up With Your Face

10/23/2013 03:30 pm 15:30:55 | Updated Dec 23, 2013

Recently a trainer at the gym handed me a super-heavy barbell and told me to lift it. Over my head, nonetheless.

Intimidated, I dug deep. I closed my eyes, scrunched my cheeks and tightened every muscle on my face. Not especially attractive, I'll admit, but it felt necessary.

The barbell made it about halfway up before it just... stuck there. As I struggled to get it the rest of the way the trainer said three simple words:

"Change your face."

At first it felt like a completely offensive command, but soon enough I got the lesson.

So here it is"

We are capable of amazing things as leaders, as professionals, as human beings.

The problem is that our minds get in the way of our progress, convincing us that some things are just too challenging to achieve, or to bother with. And if we do bother, our mind tells us, it's going to be really, really hard. So we'd better get ready for a struggle.

In short, the mind psyches us out. Which gives us an attitude going in. Which makes us less successful.

And what's the telltale sign that we're doing this to ourselves?

We make a face.

We might not do it publicly, or even know we're doing it, but it happens all the time, in all kinds of situations:

  • When we need to have an uncomfortable talk with our boss, staff or peers
  • When we taste a new kind of food that others swear is so much more delicious than it looks
  • When we must get our favorite pickles out of that tightly sealed jar

We decide -- even before we begin -- that the challenge will be so difficult or uncomfortable that we must prepare for a huge struggle.

And we prepare by making a face. We scrunch up. We might squint our eyes, or clench our teeth. Perhaps we arch an eyebrow sarcastically or even snarl a bit.

And it makes things worse.

To be clear, this is not a blog about non-verbals, about how we appear to other people when dealing with challenges.

This is about how we ourselves deal with them. Our face is a clear reflection about our attitude, a direct indicator as to when we're psyching ourselves out -- getting ready for a fight that might not even be real.

The great thing? You can change your face.

You don't have to get all happy and smiles, but you can recognize what you're doing and smooth out your expression... unclench... un-squint.

I've tested this out ever since my little gym moment, and I swear it helps. It sends a sign back to my mind that I've got this. That I'm going to give it a good try. No lousy attitudes here.

I've also paid attention to great leaders, and realized that the calm and confidence they wear on their faces isn't just about how they want to appear to us. It's also about how they themselves choose to take stuff on.

Don't believe it? Give it a go next time you find yourself stressed and making a face, and just see what happens.

Think you don't make a face when you're stressed? Check yourself -- for real -- before making that decision.

That's what I did. And that stupid, heavy barbell I was struggling so hard to lift?

I changed my face and got it over my head.

For a second, anyway.

This week:

Feeling stressed? Psyching yourself out?

Notice if you're making it worse by making a face.

Then change it. See what happens.

And know that no matter what happens after that you went into the challenge at your best.

Which, in the end, is all any of us can really do.