That’s right. I said, ‘Teach Yourself’. Just because you have a face and positive emotions doesn’t mean you have a good smile. Don’t believe me? Check out my post, “The Problem With Your Face!” When I realized that my habitual smile looked more like a scowl than anything else I realized I needed to fix it. Here are a few steps I recommend to get you started:
STEP 1: EVALUATE YOUR ‘REAL’ SMILE.
First, it’s important for you to get a good, solid evaluation of your smile. I’m not talking about the pasted smile you put on when you are taking a picture. I’m talking about the smile you use every day at home, work, in the store, etc. You’ll need input from more than yourself too. This will require a good dose of humility on your part.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Look in the Mirror
As long as you aren’t embarrassed being with yourself too much, this one is really easy. The next time you are alone in the bathroom spend some time smiling at yourself. The best way to do this is to just ‘pretend’ you are in different scenario’s and smile like you would at those times. While doing this, ask yourself, “Is this what I want people to see?” The first time I did this I became very frustrated. I found that I didn’t really know how to smile except when I was getting my picture taken or was laughing. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with my facial muscles and worked on retraining them.
But don’t stop there. Just because YOU like your smile doesn’t mean others do!
- Ask Someone You Trust
This means you have to admit that you might have a problem and need help. I know enough about us leaders that this one hurdle may be bigger than the smile itself. Assuming you can get over whatever pride you may be carrying, find someone you trust to give honest feedback. You’re not looking for someone who is afraid to hurt your feelings. That’s totally counter-productive. Find someone who will honestly evaluate your natural smile and ask them their opinion and thoughts. Then, as they give you feedback, just listen, ask clarifying questions and resist the impulse to defend yourself if the evaluation you receive is less than you expected.
- Ask a Stranger
OK. Maybe that’s going a little too far. You’ll have to decide. But consider this, your most trusted friends are used to seeing your face every week. It’s possible they will not be capable of giving you an objective opinion. So ask a stranger. Next time you are sitting in a waiting room or standing in a line, humble yourself and ask the person next to you for some feedback. You might start by simply smiling at the person before saying something like this: “Excuse me. I know this might sound really weird, but I am a public speaker and recently I’ve been wondering what kinds of first impressions I make when I smile. If it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, could you just rate your impression of my smile just a moment ago as well as right now while I’m talking on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being that I seem really mean and 5 being that I seem very friendly and approachable? Again, just let me know if you’d rather not. I know it’s a very strange request.”
- Ask a New Acquaintance
Finally, you can ask someone you have recently become acquainted with. Perhaps it’s a pastor or leader from another church, a new attendee in your church, or a next door neighbor. You could use a similar approach as above and solicit their feedback.
STEP 2: DEFINE YOUR NEW SMILE
Next, you need to begin working on your new smile (assuming you need to). This isn’t something you will accomplish in one sitting. It will likely require a concerted effort on your part over a period of days, even weeks before you find the smile you are really looking for. Here are more suggestions:
- Focus on Your Muscles
Ask yourself what muscles you are using when you are truly smiling. There are over 50 muscles in your face. It’s highly likely that there are some that you almost never use and don’t even know are there. In fact, a good 20 minutes of ‘smiling’ could leave your facial muscles feeling sore. That’s a good thing. Find and consciously discover the new muscles you are using. You’ll need that knowledge later when you want to smile but don’t have a mirror in front of you to make sure you’re doing it right!
A lot of research has shown that great smiles use the orbicularis oculi muscle. This is the muscle that surrounds your eyes. Good smiles will produce a slight squint in your eyes that help transform the smile from a ‘fake’ smile to a genuine one – sometimes called ‘laugh lines’.
- Ask Yourself How Your Face Feels
This sounds weird but it works for me. I’ve discovered that when I’m smiling properly my cheeks touch the bottoms of my glasses and I can feel a different kind of pressure on the edges of my mouth. Again, that’s great knowledge to have when I’m out and about. About the only time I can genuinely ensure I’m smiling while talking to people is during a Skype call where I can see myself at the same time as the person I’m addressing. Since you and I don’t live on Skype we need some ‘help’ making sure we’re getting it right.
- Get More Feedback
You’ve developed a new smile and you like it. So you begin turning on the charm everywhere you go . . . and people start running. What gives? Try going back to Step 1 and get more input. For all you know, your new ‘smile’ still says things you never intended (and never said before). The last thing you want is for your first impression to be, “I’ve lost my marbles and hope you know where they are!”
STEP 3: PRACTICE
You spent most of your adult life perfecting that grumpy look. I guarantee you won’t ‘fix’ it in just a couple of weeks or even months. They say it takes 21 days to build a new habit, but in this case I suspect we’re talking more like 6 months. Practice, practice, practice. Check out your smile in front of the mirror often. Look it over every day. Until you know you are representing the ‘real you’ stay on your guard whenever you respond with a smile.