PRACTICAL EXERCISES FOR OBTAINING POISE
One of the essential conditions of acquiring poise is to familiarize
oneself with the habit of composure.
Timid people know nothing of its advantages. They are always ill at
ease, fearful, devoured by dread of other people's censures, and
completely upset by the idea of the least initiative.
Their mania leads them to exaggerate the smallest incident. A trifle
puts them in a panic, and at the mere notion that strangers have
perceived this they become quite out of countenance and are possest by
but one idea, to avoid by flight the repetition of such unpleasant
A quite useless attempt, for in whatever retirement people who lack
poise may live, they will find themselves certainly the victims of the
small embarrassments of every-day life, which, in their eyes, will soon
take on the guise of disasters.
Composure should, then, be the first achievement in the way of
self-conquest to be aimed at by the man who is desirous of attaining
But, it will be objected, composure is a condition that is not familiar
to everybody. It is a question of temperament and of disposition. Every
one who wishes for it can not attain to it.
This is an error. In order to possess composure, that is to say the
first step in the mastery of self which enables one to judge of the
proportions of things, it must be achieved, or developed, if we happen
to be naturally inclined thereto.
To accomplish this, deep-breathing exercises are often recommended by
the philosophers of the new school.
They advise those who are desirous of cultivating it to make no
resolution, to commit themselves to no impulsive action, without first
withdrawing into themselves and taking five or six deep breaths in the
manner we have described in the preceding chapter.
This has the physical effect of reducing the speed with which the heart
beats and, as a result, of relaxing the mind and quieting one's nerves.
During the two or three minutes thus employed one's enthusiasm wanes and
one's ideas take on a less confused form. In a word, unreasoning
impulses no longer fill the brain to the extent of inhibiting the
entrance of sober second thought.
But this is only an adventitious means of prevention. We will now speak
of those which should become a matter of daily practise and whose
frequent repetition will lead to the poise we seek.
Every one whose profession makes it necessary to cultivate his memory
recognizes the importance of studying at night. Phrases learned just
before going to sleep fix themselves more readily in the mind. They
remain latent in the brain and spring up anew in the morning without
calling for much trouble to revive them.
For this reason it is well to retire to rest in a mental attitude of
deliberate calm, repressing every sort of jerky movement and
constraining oneself to lie perfectly quiet.
At the same time one should keep on repeating these words:
"I am composed. I propose to be composed. I am composed!"
The constant reiteration of these words constitute a species of
suggestion, and peace will steal gradually into our souls and will
permit us to think quietly, without the risk of becoming entangled in
disordered fancies, or, what is far worse, falling a prey to vain and
Those who doubt the efficacy of this proceeding can be readily convinced
by proving to them the tremendous power of mere words.
Certain of these electrify us. Such words as patriotism, revolt, blood,
always produce in us an emotion of enthusiasm or disgust.
Others again are productive of color, and one must admit that the
constant repetition of an assurance ultimately leads to the creation of
the condition that it pictures to us.
But to make the assertion to oneself, "I am composed," is not all that
is necessary. One must prove to oneself that one is not glossing over
The readiest means of accomplishing this, which is open to every one who
has any regular interests, is to mentally review the words and the
actions of the day, and to pass judgment upon them from the point of
view of the quality one is striving to attain.
One should convince oneself as soon as possible of the truth of the fact
that sincerity toward oneself is a large factor in attaining that
firmness of judgment that must be cultivated by the man who is in search
In order to reach this condition nothing is more easy than to pass in
mental review, every evening, the events that have marked the day that
In a word, one should strive to relive it, honestly confessing to
oneself all the mistakes that have crept into it.
Every unfortunate speech should be recalled. One should formulate fresh
replies, that lack of poise did not permit us to make at the time, so
that under similar circumstances we may not be again caught at a
The witty name of "doorstep repartee" has been given to these answers
which one makes as afterthoughts, with the idea of expressing the
embarrassment of the man who can find no arguments until he finds
himself beyond the reach of his opponents. It is after one has gone out,
when one is on the doorstep, that one suddenly recognizes what one ought
to have said, and finds the phrases that one should have used, the exact
retort that one might have hurled at one's antagonist.
The man who has acquired poise should still accustom himself to practise
this force of mental gymnastics when making his daily self-examination.
It will strengthen him for future contests by teaching him just how to
He must be always on his guard against one of the obsessions that too
often afflict the timid--the mania for extremes.
The nature of a timid person is essentially artificial. His character is
He yearns for perfection, yet it is painful for him to meet it in
others. He suffers also because he has failed to acquire it himself.
Sometimes he is his own most severe judge and then on other occasions he
is grossly indulgent to his faults.
His isolation causes him to construct ideals that can not possibly be
realized in ordinary life. But he is more than ready to blame those who
fall short of them, while making no effort to duplicate their struggles.
He makes the sad mistake, as we have seen in the chapter on effrontery,
of taking all his chimeras for realities and is angry at his inability
to make other people see them in the same light.
He is, moreover, of a very trustful disposition and prone to the making
of confidences. But when he attempts them his infirmity prevents him and
he suffers under the inhibition.
All his mental processes, as we have seen, tend toward hypochondria,
unless his sense of truth can be called into play.
One can easily see then that this daily self-examination can be made
quite a difficult affair by all these conflicting tendencies.
It is for this very reason that it is so necessary that this examination
should be rigorously undertaken every day and with all the good faith of
which we are possest.
It is because they do not ignore their own weaknesses that the men
endowed with poise become what one has psychologically termed "forces,"
that is to say people who are masters of a power that renders them
superior to the rest of the world.
After as minute and as honest an examination as we can make of our own
actions, it will be of great benefit to make definite resolutions for
This is a matter of great importance.
The timid man, by seriously resolving to perform the actions that he
ought and by planning the accomplishment of some definite step, will
unconsciously strengthen his own will-power.
He will increase it still more by making up his mind to leave no stone
unturned to conquer himself.
For instance, he proposes to make a certain journey, or to pay a certain
call, which he dreads very much, and falls asleep while repeating to
himself: "To-morrow I will go there! I will carry the thing through with
Conceding the magnetic power of words, the acquisition of courage and of
confidence are necessary corollaries.
Ideas imprest upon the mind at the moment that one is falling asleep
develop during the night by a species of incubation, and on the morrow
present themselves to us quite naturally in the guise of a duty much
less hard to perform than we had imagined.
In the case where such a resolution awakens an unpleasant emotion in the
hearts of the timid, they should repeat earnestly the sentences that
tend to composure and should seek the aid of the means we have indicated
for attaining it.
In order to strengthen one's resolution it is a good thing every morning
to map out one's day, for the purpose of acquiring poise.
All one's combinations should be worked out with this valuable conquest
After having committed oneself to a definite plan, one should analyze
each one of the proposed steps, carefully taking into account all the
peculiarities that are likely to characterize them.
If one is to have an interview, one should carefully prepare one's
introductory remarks, paying particular attention to one's line of
action, to one's method of presentation, and the words upon which one
relies to obtain an affirmative reply to one's request.
One should take the precaution to have one's speeches mentally prepared
in advance, so as to be able to deliver them in such a speedy and
convincing fashion that one does not find oneself in a state of
embarrassment fatal to recollecting them.
It is better to make them as short as possible. One is then much less
likely to become confused and will not be so much in dread of stammering
or stuttering, which are always accompaniments of the fear of being left
without an idea of what to say next.
Besides this, long speeches are always irritating, and it is a sign of
great lack of address to allow oneself to acquire the reputation of
being a bore.
To make sure of one's facial expression and gestures it may be well to
repeat one's speeches in front of a mirror.
One can then enact one's entry into the room in such a way as to foresee
even the most insignificant details, so that the fear of making a
failure at the start will no longer have a bad effect upon one.
We have heard of a man who was so lacking in poise that he lost his
situation because, when summoned by his chief, he became so confused
that he forgot to leave his streaming umbrella in the outer office.
It was an extremely wet day, and the unfortunate man, instead of being
able to plead his cause effectively, became hopelessly embarrassed at
perceiving his mistake, the results of which, it is needless to state,
were by no means to the benefit of the floor.
His despair at the sight of the rivulets that, running from his
umbrella, spread themselves over the polished surface of the wood,
prevented him from thinking of anything but his unpardonable stupidity.
His native awkwardness became all the worse at this and, utterly unable
to proffer any but the most confused excuses, he fled from the office of
his chief leaving the latter in a high state of irritation.
He was replaced by some one else at the first opportunity, on the
pretext that the direction of important affairs could no longer be left
in the hands of a man of such notorious incapacity.
It should be added that this man was more than ordinarily intelligent
and that his successor was by no means his equal.
It is, therefore, absolutely necessary for those who are lacking in
presence of mind to accustom themselves to a species of rehearsal before
undertaking any really important step.
Does this imply that they must think of nothing but weighty affairs and
neglect occasions for social meetings?
By no means. To those who are distrustful of themselves every occasion
is a pretext for avoiding action.
They should, therefore, take pains to seek every possible opportunity of
The entering of a theater; the walking into a drawing-room; the
acknowledging of a woman's bow; every one of these things should be for
them a subject of careful study, and if, when evening comes, the daily
self-examination leaves them satisfied with themselves, it will be a
cause of much encouragement to them.
If, on the other hand, they have received a rebuff due to their lack of
poise, they should carefully examine into the reasons for this, in order
to guard against such an occurrence in the future.
A good preparatory exercise is to choose those of our friends whose
homes are unpretentious and who have few callers.
Let us make up our minds to pay them a visit, which, in view of the
quietude of its associations, is not likely to awaken in us any grave
To carry this off well we should make all our preparations in advance.
One should say to oneself: "I will enter like this," while rehearsing
one's entrance, so as not to be caught napping at the outset.
One should go on to plan one's opening remarks, an easy enough matter
since one will be speaking to people one knows very well.
One should then decide as to the length of one's call.
One makes up one's mind, for instance, to get up and say good-by at the
end of a quarter of an hour.
One should foresee the rejoinder of one's host, whether sincere or
merely polite, which will urge one to prolong one's visit, and for this
purpose should have ready a plausible excuse, such as work to do or a
business engagement, and one should prepare beforehand the phrase
Finally, one should study to make one's good-bys gracefully.
It might be as well, while we are at it, to prepare a subject of
Generally speaking, the events of the day form the topic of discussion
on such visits, whose good-will does not always prevent a certain amount
It will be, then, an easy matter to prepare a few remarks on the
happenings of the day, on the plays that are running, or on the salient
occurrences of the week.
It should be added that these remarks should express opinions of such a
nature as not to wound anybody's feelings.
The man who seeks the conquest of poise will not expose himself to the
risk of being involved in a discussion in which he will be compelled
either to remain silent or to make an exhibition of himself.
To do this would be to strike a serious blow at his resolution to
The one idea of the aspirant to poise should be above all things never
to risk a failure.
Such a check will rarely be a partial one. It will have a marked effect
upon his proposed plan of educating his will-power by again giving rise
to that confusion which is always lurking in the background of the
thoughts of the timid and which is, moreover, the source of all their
Another wise precaution consists in foreseeing objections and in
preparing such answers as will enable one to refute them.
Eloquence is one of the most useful achievements of poise; it is also
the gift that best aids one to acquire it.
It is, therefore, indispensable to train oneself to speak in a refined
and correct manner.
The man who is sure of his oratorical powers will never be at a loss. He
will find conviction growing while he seeks to create it.
We spoke in the preceding chapter of the mechanical exercises necessary
to make speaking an easy matter.
We must not forget, however, that before one can speak one has to think.
Words will spring of themselves to our lips the moment we have a
definite conception of the idea they serve to present. As a proof of
this contention one has only to cite the case of those persons who,
while ordinarily experiencing great difficulty in expressing themselves,
become suddenly clear, persuasive, and even eloquent when it comes to
discussing a subject in which they are deeply interested.
The study of the art of speaking will become, then, for people of
timidity, over and above the mechanical exercises that we have
prescribed in a former chapter, a profound analysis of the subject upon
which they are likely to be called upon to express themselves.
One should strive to describe things in short sentences as elegantly
phrased as possible.
When the idea we wish to convey seems to be exprest in a confused
fashion, one should not hesitate to seek for a change of phraseology
that will make it more concise and clear.
But above all--above all, we must pull ourselves up short and begin over
again if any tendency to stammer, to hesitate, or to become confused,
begins to manifest itself.
Just as soon as one feels more at one's ease one can seek to put in
practise all these special studies.
Nothing is quite so disconcerting as the idea of stammering or stopping
For this reason it is imperative that one should begin all over again
the moment such an accident occurs.
This is what prevents timid people from accomplishing anything. From the
moment of the first failure they become panic-stricken and can no longer
go on speaking connectedly.
Those who would acquire poise must act quite otherwise.
Instead of avoiding occasions of speaking in public, they should seek
for them. But first of all they must make some trials upon audiences who
are in sympathy with them.
They should experiment upon their own families and should never fail to
enlarge upon their theme. If need be, they can prepare the matter for a
short address or a friendly argument.
If they find themselves stammering or panic-stricken, they must strive
to recall the phrase that caused the trouble and endeavor to repeat it
very emphatically without stuttering.
For the rest, it is always a dangerous thing to talk too fast. Words
that are pronounced more slowly are always much better articulated, and
in speaking leisurely one is more likely to avoid the embarrassment in
talking that attacks those whose education in the direction of the
acquiring of poise is not yet complete.
One of the most important exercises in the search for poise consists in
accustoming oneself to speak slowly and very distinctly.
If one stammers in the least degree, especially if this fault is due to
nervousness, one should begin again at the word which caused the
trouble, pronouncing each syllable slowly and distinctly. Then one
should incorporate it in one or two sentences and should not cease to
utter it until one can enunciate it clearly and without any trouble.
In order to combine theory with practise, one should seek opportunities
for entering public assemblies, striving to do so without awkwardness.
One should choose the time when the audience is not yet fully arrived,
since, unless one is very sure of oneself, it is a risky matter to
appear upon the scene when the house is full, or the guests for the most
part assembled. By this means one is much more likely to be able to
emerge victorious from the ordeal of the stares of the curious.
The man endowed with poise enters a gathering politely yet
indifferently, ordering his manner not to suit the particular occasion
but as a matter of instinct. He will go naturally to those whom he
happens to know, will shake hands with them, and will say to each one
the thing that he ought to say.
If a mother he will ask news of her children. He will offer
congratulations to the man who has just been publicly honored. Presence
of mind will not desert him for a moment; he will commit no blunders. He
will avoid the necessity of meeting a former friend with whom he has
fallen out and will pass him without speaking. He will not talk of
deformities to a man who is deformed. In a word, his poise, while
leaving him free to exercise all his faculties, will give him the
opportunity to remember a thousand details, the performance as well as
the omission of which will create much sympathetic feeling toward him
among the people whom he meets.
The man who does not yet possess poise, will be wise if he follows the
recommendations we have made, that is by preparing his speeches to be
made upon entering. In those cases where he is not absolutely sure of
the relationship of people or of the condition of health of the person
to whom he is speaking, he had better avoid these topics. Silence is not
infrequently an indication of poise.
THE THOUGHT OF SUCCESS
But to emerge successfully from all these difficulties, one must believe
that one can do it, banishing absolutely from one's mind the doubt,
that, like leprosy, attacks the most well-made resolutions, transforming
them into hurtful indecision.
The mere thought, "_I will succeed_," is in itself a condition of
success. The man who pronounces these words with absolute belief implies
this sentence: "I will succeed because I will succeed and because I am
determined to employ every legitimate means to that end!"
Avoid also all grieving or melancholy over past failures, or, if you
must be occupied with them, let it be without mingling bitterness with
Say to yourself: "It is true. I failed in that undertaking. But from
this moment I propose to think of it merely to remind myself of the
reasons why I failed.
"I wish to analyze them sincerely, while recognizing where I was in the
wrong, so that under similar circumstances I can avoid the repetition of
the same mistakes."
Fools and knaves are the only people who complain of fate.
The words "I have no luck" should be erased altogether from the
vocabulary of the man who proposes to acquire poise.
It is the excuse in which weaklings and cowards indulge.
Timid people are always complaining of the injustice of fate, without
stopping to think that they have themselves been the direct causes of
their own failures.
The violet has often been quoted--and very improperly--as an example of
shrinking modesty which it would be well to imitate.
It does not in the least trouble the phrase-makers and the followers of
the ideas that they have spread broadcast through the world that the
violet which hides timidly behind its sheltering leaves nearly always
dies unnoticed, and that it is in most cases anemic and faded in color.
The type that wins the admiration of the world is that, which,
disengaging itself from its leafy shield, springs up with a bound above
its green foliage just as men of poise rise triumphantly above the
accidents and the petty details which bury the timid under their heavy
If one were minded to carry out the comparison properly, it is far more
exact to liken the timid to these degenerate flowers, which are indebted
to the shade in which they hide for their puny and abortive appearance.
The timid have then no sort of excuse for complaining of their ill-luck.
To begin with, it is to their own defects solely that their obscurity is
Furthermore, by ceaselessly complaining, they gradually become absorbed
by these ideas of ill-fortune, which grow to be their accomplices in
their detestation of effort and suggest to them the thought of
attempting nothing upon the absurd pretext that nothing they do can
One must add here--and this is extremely important--that in acting in
this way they always manage to provoke the hostile forces that are
dormant in everything and that array themselves the more readily against
such people because of their lack of the resolution to combat them and
the energy to overcome them.
This is the reason why people who are gifted with poise find themselves
better qualified than others to succeed.
Their faith is so beautiful and so convincing that it compels conviction
in others and seems to be able to dominate events.
It is by no means an illusion to believe in the worth of this
confidence. People to whom it is given become of the most wonderful help
to others, their faith aiding and sustaining that of those who have
resolved to make an effort.
However strong the soul of man may be, it is nevertheless subject to
hours of discouragement, to moments of despair, in which some comfort
and sympathy are needed.
The man of resolution will recover from his failures the more easily the
more certain he is that he has created in those about him an atmosphere
of friendliness which will not allow his defeats to be made public.
As mists are dispelled at the approach of the sun, the agony of doubt
will disappear in the genial warmth of the encouragement and the
confidence that his poise and self-reliance have built up in those
around him, and a sure faith will be given to him, the certain and
faithful guide to the road that leads onward to success.