I have noticed a direct correlation between my desire to make a good impression and my inability to relax and be myself. Pablo Neruda, one of my favorite poets, eloquently describes this phenomenon in the verse below from his poem, “We are Many”
When everything seems to be set
to show me off as a man of intelligence,
the fool I keep concealed on my person
takes over my talk and occupies my mouth.
On other occasions, I am dozing in the midst
of people of some distinction,
and when I summon my courageous self,
a coward completely unknown to me
swaddles my poor skeleton
in a thousand tiny reservations.
Usually my experience isn’t quite as dramatic as Neruda describes, but when it happens I have developed a simple technique that has worked for me to regain some calm. I want to share it with you.
Sometimes when I care so much about making a good impression I start worrying about whether I am good enough, whether I chose the right outfit, whether I am interesting, funny, pretty, or smart enough. While the critic in me is noticing all my shortcomings it is already far too late to change any of those things, and therefore just a total waste of time to think about them. The worst part about this habit is that while I am busy thinking negative thoughts in my head, I have less mental space available to be in the moment that is happening outside my head---the moment I actually care so much about.
I can sometimes catch myself in a moment of internal criticism, and reign myself in with a simple formula. I notice the negative anxious thoughts, and I label them for what they are. “Oh, you are really worried about what they think because you care a lot about what happens here now. It is okay to care a lot about this, there is nothing wrong with caring a lot.” And then I try to be kind to myself as I would be to a nervous or anxious friend, “Take some deep breaths. You can’t change any of those things right now. You are enough. You got this.” Then I take some deep breaths. It is that simple, just some kindness and correctly labeling my feelings as, “worry because I care” often allows me to calm my inner critic. Try it sometime when you really want access to your “courageous self.”