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The poet Walt Whitman once said that “we convince by our presence,” and this suggests two important points worth considering:
What Does It Mean To Be Present?
In a literal sense being present means to be physically in attendance, but that’s only a prerequisite, for it is quite possible to be physically present even while being mentally “checked out.” Physical attendance, then, is a necessary requirement for presence, yet at the same time it is not sufficient. After all, we may be lost in worry about what's about to happen next, or ruminating about what just happened. Here, then, are some thoughts on what it means to be present:
To be present is to let go of rumination and worry, letting go of past failures that keep you from progressing in the present while also letting go of past successes that keep you from aiming even higher.
To be present is to plan for your future as if you're going to live forever, while simultaneously playing today as if tomorrow you shall die.
To be present is to be both empty and full. Empty of preconceived notions while being full of expectations to learn and experience something new.
To be present is to lean on your talents even while learning new skills.
To be present is to acknowledge that you are exactly where you should be considering everything you’ve done to get here.
To be present is to remind yourself of your personal agency, that if you don’t like where you are then you don’t have to wait for circumstances to change, for your very presence empowers you to take motivated action to grow beyond your current station.
And if Walt Whitman is correct, then to be present is quite convincing. The question becomes, convincing of what?
What Does Your Presence Imply?
The author Regina Brett offers this insight: “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up.” At first glance we might miss the key to understanding this statement. Notice how “show up” is the last point in her recommendation, whereas the call to “dress up” comes before it. This suggests that we seek to look the part of what we are showing up for, which when done mindfully will demonstrate three respects: self-respect, respect for the others, and respect for the activity and situation itself.
Look The Part
There is a reason why judges where robes, scientists wear lab coats, clowns wear makeup, and skydivers wear parachutes. Wardrobes function as a physical representation of a position, allowing for instant and near-universal recognizability. Uniforms also serve as an anchor for the wearer, putting them in the mindset necessary to complete the task. For example, a 2015 study found that “felt power” can contribute to increased performance in cognitive tasks when participants wear formalwear as opposed to clothes that are less-formal. A separate study observed the same findings and coined the term “enclothed cognition” to describe the psychological influence that clothes can have on wearers.
Scott Barnes, a celebrity make-up artist in the music, television, and film industries, offers insight into this. He says: “Looking good leads to feeling good, feeling good leads to empowerment. When you put your best face forward, it gives you the opportunity to really accelerate in life. Feeling good commands respect. And that’s really empowering.”
The lobbyist Katherine Albrecht once confided that a makeover by Barnes helped her in addressing members of Congress. She believed that looking the part made her more effective in her work because people listen to confidence. The leadership trainer Tyler Tervooren sums it up well: “The clothes you wear and the way you groom yourself will change the way other people hear what you say. It will subconsciously tell them if you’re like them or if you’re different. It will determine whether they listen or ignore. Trust or distrust.”
You will be judged by your presence, and choosing to be enclothed thoughtfully by the design of your position—whether current or aspirational—you will poise yourself to convince with your mindful presence, helping to facilitate positive experiences for yourself and those you serve.
Following Regina Brett’s advice to “dress up and show up” we find credence to Walt Whitman’s suggestion, however there’s more to presence than simply showing up and looking the part. If that’s all it takes to be present then we’d be nothing more than a well-dressed mannequin! To be truly present we also need the first half of Brett’s statement: “No matter how you feel, get up…”
Our presence convinces because effort demonstrates care. Consider this truth: Olympic Gold Medals don’t go to the best athletes in the world; rather, they go to the best athletes who show up to the arena. We live in an age where some races can be won simply by showing up! What’s more, when we’re present even when we don’t feel like it, sufficient evidence is provided to convict us of our commitment and determination. We will always find time to invest in what we genuinely value, and it is in this way that our presence convinces.
When I was a child, gym class more of a course in inadequacy and embarrassment rather than of physical education. I never made it to the top of the rope, I could never run the whole mile, and I couldn’t even execute just one chin-up. Not even one! All I could do was dangle from the rod. In 2014 I set out to change that. Over a span of three years I hiked mountains to build endurance, ran upwards of eight miles a day to lose weight, and lifted weights to build up strength. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I got up, dressed up, and showed up. Showing up everyday “convinced with my presence” when on September 9, 2017, at the age of 34, I finally executed my first chin-up!
How To Convince With Your Presence
To dive deeper, consider the following reflections:
The author Marianne Williamson reminds us: “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others.” By exploring what it means to truly be present in our everyday lives we’ve uncovered a list of practical practices that can be easily implemented to let our light shine and so inspire others to do the same. Moving forward, may your presence always be convincing and always inspire others to pursue their highest good.