Mind Your Surroundings

In an era of nearly unlimited distractions, the best way to make yourself stand out is to mind your surroundings. Ironically, this should not be that hard to do yet so many people struggle today with keeping their eyes and ears clear of distractions. One of the main reasons for this phenomenon is the fact that technology has rendered us with the ability to avert the need to use our eyes actively in sizing up our environment by focusing instead on flashy advertisements, fluorescent smartphones, and glittering video board. Our eyes are being constantly assaulted by so many visual cues from inanimate objects that we have an increasing amount of trouble focusing on what’s real and what’s in front of us. Not only are our eyes being affected by this distracted kind of living but our ears as well. If you want to see the extent of this, go to any street corner, subway / bus stop, or any public park, instead of listening to nature with the sound of birds chirping and leaves falling, we instead close ourselves off from the natural world with our earphones, headphones, and even earplugs.

Now I’m as guilty as listening to loud music through my earphones and also focusing on my smartphone or a cheesy advertisement as much as the next person, however, I try to be as self-aware as possible in limiting the amount of time I devote my eyesight to screens and my hearing to artificial sounds. What I worry about and what I would encourage you, dear reader, to do is to know the time(s) and the place(s) to put the distractions away for good and to focus on the world around you. You may not think it is important now until something unfortunate or unseemly happens to you because you were not in touch with the immediate environment. Anything can happen in a split second and if you are not prepared for that to occur, especially in public, you may end up regretting your decision to look at your phone or to listen to music when you should have put the ear-pods away. ‘Mind your surroundings’ is a simple wish I have for everyone especially when you are not at home or in a private domicile. When you are in an unfamiliar environment, you have to be much more aware of your surroundings than you would otherwise because it could even mean the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, it’s become well documented especially in recent years with the rise of mobile technology how a few folks have met an early end to their lives because they simply were not paying enough attention to their environment. These terrible accidents and freak of nature incidents could be avoided if people put down their phones, their headphones, and their smart watches to listen and look carefully at where they were going. Unless you have an important call, are lost in an unfamiliar area, or have to look at you watch for the time, it can wait. Minding your surroundings is especially true in public places. You need to be watching out for where you are going, or it could cost you. This is especially true when you are not familiar with the local environment or may not speak the language if you are traveling to a new country. Being able to hear the sound of cars / buses going by, of what pedestrians are doing or saying, and to orient yourself to find out which neighborhood or part of town you’re in, this is absolutely critical to do, and you do not need modern technology in order to do this.

While it’s definitely true that most people have good intentions, this is not always the case. Do not let yourself become an easy target especially when it would only take a few precautionary steps to keep yourself aware of your environment. Multiple people have died from texting while driving, looking at their smartphone as they crossed a busy intersection, or have fallen off a cliff from a ‘selfie’ gone wrong. While we live in an era of technological abundance, let us not also live in a time that is bereft of common sense. You owe it not only to yourself but to your friends and your family to make wise decisions in terms of managing your interactions with the immediate environment. The steps you can take are quite simple, but they take serious discipline which may not be easy.

A few tips that I personally think would make a big difference involve some measure of personal responsibility but are really not that strenuous in terms of total effort. Sitting yourself in a restaurant facing the entrance and exit of a restaurant is key if something unfortunate were to happen or if you would like to have a good idea of what’s going on throughout the place, especially if you’re seated further into the room than right by the entrance. I find this tip to be really underrated when you are with close friends or family members who you want to look out for when they are sitting across from you and facing away from the entrance and/or exit.

Another tip of mine is to put your phone on airplane mode or simply turn it off when you are on the go. If you are walking for a little while, driving in a car (all the time!), or are involved in an activity, which requires serious concentration, you should not tempt yourself to be on your phone, smartwatch, etc. because it may lead to deadly consequences if you are not careful. A public service campaign that I fully support is titled, “It can wait”, which shows how 99% of texts or phone calls can wait a half an hour or even more when you’re busy doing other actions such as driving. Having the discipline to use a hands-free method or to contact the person(s) before you operate a vehicle or other machinery is common sense and saves lives.

Above all, the advice of ‘mind your surroundings’ is also appropriate in terms of being able to assess your environment quickly and accurately. You cannot do this if you are listening to music, texting, or have your eyes peeled to the ground. Maintain your awareness, be vigilant, and be sure to maintain eye contact that is dead ahead. You may not think that these tips are important now, but you do not want to regret being distracted if it comes to backfiring on you in the future. Whether you are at a movie theater, the beach, in your car, hiking a mountain, kayaking in the lake, you need to be able to be aware of who and what is around you at all times. If you’re lying in bed or relaxing on the couch, then I would say it’s not bad to let your guard down. However, in public, especially when you’re traveling to a new area, city, country, etc., you need to put the distractions away, mind your surroundings, and pay careful attention to what is going on around you. Unfortunately, this needs to be said in today’s world where every minute, our senses are absorbed all of the time especially in urban environments.

Nobody’s perfect but you really have to adapt yourself to the various locales that you put yourself into. A seasoned traveler, explorer, or observer can tell you that being aware and mindful is a key trait to have that will keep you moving forward. Please do your best to follow some of the tips I have laid out and some of the cautions that I have listed. Keep the texting, calling, and Tweeting to a minimum when you’re on the go and you should be fine. Always mind your surroundings to the best of your ability.

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How to Present Yourself Well

We live in a world where the first impression that we give out to others is a key determining factor into what kind of relationship we have with them and how they see us as human beings. I believe that it is naïve in this day and age still to think that first impressions don’t matter at all because they really do matter and if you don’t know how to present yourself in a positive, mature manner, it may affect your life in various negative ways.

Our culture is based around the individual yet we cannot forget that ultimately, you are still tied to other parts of society such as your family, your local community, and your country. Now, one may not care what others think of them and that is their right to do so but your actions, words, habits, and personal dress have an affect on society whether you like it or not. You are not an island unto yourself where you can do whatever you want and there are no consequences that can come of that. We are all part of an overall society and failure to recognize that fact of life will not change this part of human nature.

Whenever you’re out in public meeting new people for the first time, how you dress, how you act, and how you use your spoken language carries a number of effects as to how people will treat you. You never know what kind of relationship whether personal or professional you’ll be able to build with somebody else if you’re not willing to put in that effort. There are numerous opportunities that the average person can miss out on in their daily interactions if they are not actively thinking about presenting themselves in the right fashion.

The key thing to know is that people are always going to judge you when they first meet you and this always happens very rapidly. There are certain ways that you can make yourself stand out in a positive manner which will benefit you in terms of more people will take you seriously and will respect you more. The opposite of that is also true in that if you fail to present yourself in a respectable manner when you meet other people for the first time, there could be a number of negative consequences for you if you don’t learn to change certain bad habits.

In this day and age where people are becoming more and more addicted to technology, especially the smartphone, you can stand out easily if you know how to present yourself. Basic social skills are not being taught as much whether it’s for young people in school or for adults in the workforce. Just a few generations ago, both men and women were taught at a young age how best to present them so they could be taken seriously as individuals who are part of the collective society. To put it simply, we do not teach these social graces, cues, and skills anymore but I’d like to propose a few tips on how to present oneself for the good of yourself and the good of your society.

  • Clean Appearance and Appropriate Dress

If you want to be taken seriously, you have to look the part. Everyone has the choice to make in terms of how they dress and look everyday but it is important to keep in mind how that will effect others opinions of you. If you go to an interview for a job that you really want, you have to present yourself professionally. You wouldn’t wear a baseball hat, shorts, and a tank top to an important job interview, right? If you don’t dress the part, it’s a certainty that you won’t get to play the part. Obviously, modes of dress in the workplace are flexible.                                                                                                                     

An office worker is going to dress differently than a construction worker but even for both jobs, you want to present yourself with an appearance where you’ll be taken seriously. If you put in the bare minimum and your colleagues are putting more effort into their appearance, who is going to get the benefit of the doubt? Your colleagues. A suit and tie isn’t necessary for most jobs these days but you don’t want to be that one person who shows up in flip flops and jeans when everybody else is putting in the effort. There’s a healthy balance that needs to be struck and you want to make sure that you are following the dress code while even going a bit above and beyond to make yourself stand out.

Your appearance is not just about what you wear but how you wear it. Good-fitting clothes, polished shoes, facial and body hair that has been cut groomed or shaved properly; all of these small actions add up that can help you in both your personal and professional life. If you’re not able to take care of your face and body, what does that say about you as a person? It doesn’t say anything positive because the effort really matters and other people will notice when your appearance is on point. Others will see that if you’re able to take care of your appearance, you’ll be able to manage an important coding project, closing that lucrative business deal, or overseeing the construction of a tall skyscraper. When you’re able to take care of yourself first, you’ll be better able to tackle the big projects that you will come across in your professional life.

If you’re worried about how much money it costs to put into your appearance, it really doesn’t cost too much these days. I’m not going to go into exact figures but some new clothes, a haircut, and a nice pair of shoes as your baseline in terms of appearance would cost about $100 here in the U.S. I believe that the return on investment would be much more on that because the clothes and shoes will last you a while and the haircut will be positively noticed by your peers. While you may put $100-200 per month into your appearance, think about how much use or gains that you can get out of this personal investment. I think most people would find that they get a lot out of dressing and looking well when you do the math.

  • Positive Attitude and Good Manners

Presenting yourself doesn’t end in terms of taking care of your dress and your grooming. It extends greatly to how you follow social graces and courtesies that keep our society running smoothly. Even if you have had a bad day and don’t feel like extending these courtesies to strangers, try to see it from their perspective. Being polite, respectful, and minding your behavior is an integral part to how you present yourself in public. While graces, courtesies, and customs vary greatly from culture to culture, I have found in my own travels that you should always say ‘hello, please, and thank you’ to win yourself some points. It doesn’t hurt to say ‘how are you?’ or the equivalent in other languages to strike up a conversation with the person making your coffee, serving your food, or cutting your hair.

While there is a trend of people being on their Smartphone, listening to the music through their earphones, and ignoring the world around them, you can be better than that by making an effort to express pleasantries to the people you rely upon in your day to day activities. Social skills take time to develop and they can atrophy if they are not put to good use. Everyone is guilty of being antisocial every now and then, and that’s okay, but it can be a bad habit if you don’t make the effort.

As human beings, we tend to err towards the negative as a biological impulse but it’s really important to try and stay positive. You may not think of it too much but we are all social creatures and the attitude that we display has a contagious effect on to how others act and behave. If you are negative about life constantly and put on a negative attitude to those around you, you should not be surprised when no one wants to hang out with you or even help you. It’s okay to express frustrations about the stress and anxiety of daily life but you have to keep it in check. Things do get better over time and having a positive attitude about life will help you enormously rather than being negative all the time.

With your manners, you also want to go the extra mile. Helping other people feels good and the easiest way to do that is by having good manners. You could help an old lady cross the street, let the women and children off the elevator first (chivalry is not dead yet, ladies), tip a service worker extra if they did a great job, or even wait to let people off the bus and train first before you get on. These actions all display having good manners and will brighten up someone else’s day causing a ripple effect throughout our society. If everybody observed the golden rule of ‘treat others the way you would like to be treated’, our manners and attitude would shift quite a bit.

Sometimes, we don’t have the right attitude or display good manners but it’s good to be remembered of what they are. Unfortunately, there are no schools or institutions anymore that teach these social graces and courtesies to young men and young women, but I do hope that they make a comeback. Without each member of our society trying their best to display good manners and have a positive attitude, there would immediately be dysfunction, chaos, and a torrent of rudeness.

  • Strong Eye Contact and Confident Body Language

You wouldn’t think about it often but it is the icing on the proverbial cake to be able to present yourself well when it comes to both your eye contact and body language. While these two actions take place subconsciously, if you’re able to be mindful of it at times especially at key moments in your personal and professional life, you will be able to stand out in a great way. Maintaining strong eye contact and confident body language could help you improve your life tremendously. This is especially the case when you are meeting someone for the first time. You want to look them in the eye, keep your head held high, and give them a firm handshake.

Even after you meet them, you want to keep your shoulders back and walk with purpose. I’m not an expert when it comes to body language but I know what not to do in most situations. You want to be keep your legs pointing forward, your head should be at eye level, and you should keep your body open in how you stand and sit. Bad body language like looking down at the floor, having your legs crossed all of the time, folding your arms, and scrunching your shoulders are all bad habits that you are going to be mindful of avoiding. It’s important when presenting yourself to be confident, serious, and even smile a bit to diffuse your own internal stress and anxiety depending on the situation you’re in.

The saying, “Fake it until you make it” is key when it comes to body language. If you practice it enough times, it will eventually be so ingrained in you that you won’t have to act the part anymore. Having strong eye contact and confident body language will set you apart from other people who display the opposite. If you’re looking for that edge in work, business, or aspects of your personal life, you’ll want to be working hard to present yourself well in these two regards.

When you meet strangers for the first time, eye contact and body language are two key things that they’ll notice right off the bat. If you’re not able to create a positive impression with them, it’s likely that you won’t get very far with them professionally or personally. If you have a trustworthy family member or a good friend, it’s beneficial to practice body language and eye contact with them. Once they give you high marks for setting the right tone and finishing it off with a firm handshake, you’ll be able to impress strangers, employers, and even love interests with this overlooked aspect of presenting yourself well.

The main reason why I wrote this article is because I think we have reached the point in society where we pay too little attention to presenting ourselves well. With the absence of rules or standards, society can degrade to a point where it becomes dysfunctional. This comes down to being able to present yourself well to the world in the hopes that it will return the favor to you in one way or another. It’s not just about other people too but it’s about self-respect and doing your best to live up to your own standards and code. Having an overall society made up of individuals who understand that appearances do actually matter but so do manners and body language can help us progress to be fairer, kinder, and more respectful of one another.

Unfortunately, knowing how to present oneself is not taught anymore and hasn’t been for a few generations but I hope with this article that this kind of advice can come back into fashion and spur a good dialogue. How you dress, what you say, and how you act does not stop at you as an individual but ripples out to the rest of your society. If you’re not putting in the effort, why should anyone else do the same? We all have an individual responsibility to present ourselves well because by doing that, the society as a whole can improve in a number of ways by following your example.