The Nervous Habits Getting in the Way of Your Success

Body language is, simply put, the way our bodies communicate. You can absorb an unbelievable amount of information just from a person's physical appearance. Are you confident? Are you stressed? Do you have a big secret? Habits and body language go hand in hand, because the mind and body are interdependent. Western medicine has traditionally held the body's symptoms separate from those of the mind. However, Eastern medicine encompasses a holistic approach to diagnosing disorders, seeing the mind and body as one entity. Psychosomatic medicine, for example, specifically studies these fascinating relationships between the mind and body.

A typical example of the mind-body connection is anxiety. When we feel anxious, we often see a variety of physical symptoms. Our hands get sweaty, (galvanic skin response) our heart rate increases, and we sometimes experience nausea. The good news is that with a greater awareness of what's going on in our minds, we can have the ability to control these effects. While an anxiety disorder is an extreme example, we see traces of the mind-body connection in everyday life! These manifest in little tics that we may not even be aware we're doing. Here are some nervous habits that you can avoid by harnessing the mind's power over the body.


The ubiquitous ummm. No, in our case it's not " Om" – the sacred Eastern mantra, but "Um" – our way of letting people know we're thinking hard, don't understand, or are just stalling for time in conversation. Everyone says um, and nobody has perfect speech fluency. According to psychologists, "Um" might actually have a greater meaning after all. It's an important evolutionary process that helps people keep track of who's speaking in a conversation. Science is all good and well, but some of us grossly overuse our allotted ums. Overreliance on the "um" can make us sound slow, incompetent, or just plain unsure of ourselves. So how do we fix it? It's all about awareness. When you're in a conversation, be mindful of how much you're using "um." This also goes for the more millennially popular, "like" – which can be used so much you forget what it even means. Focus on meaning. Pick your words carefully. Speak in clear, decisive sentences. The "um" and the "like" branch out to other patterns of speech that make us sound like we lack confidence such as, "I'm not sure", "It seems", or "I think." Change these into declarative statements such as "There is" and "I will." Following these speech patterns will help us subconsciously eliminate the ums and the likes, and get us feeling more confident in body and mind.

Eye Contact

Did you ever have staring contests as a kid (or adult)? You probably remember it feeling extremely uncomfortable and awkward. Eye contact can often be like that, and whether we're aware of it or not, shifty eyes is a huge no-no. The eyes are the window… (you can finish that thought) – and so they must be clear. When we're unsure, we often drop our gaze to something neutral, like our feet. Dancers and performers are told to look at a judge's forehead rather than eyes. This helps lessen the intimidation factor. However, this trick doesn't work in real life. If we were all going around looking at each other's foreheads instead of eyes, there would be something fundamentally wrong. Eyes reveal emotion, and can also reveal confidence. It's important to get the balance of eye contact just right. You don't want to be severely staring into a stranger's eyes when he or she is simply asking for directions. In the same way, you don't want to be looking around like you're the one who's lost. Remember, eyes = focus. When babies see something new, they look at it for a longer time. Take that formula and apply it to your life. Act as though the person you're looking at is that new and exciting thing.

Feet Shuffling and Foot Tapping

RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) is a real neurological disorder. Many of us think we have it, when we're just in fact displaying somatic symptoms from mental origins. In dance, yoga and acting, there is the concept of the center. This means that we are all grounded to the Earth – by gravity, yes – but also by an internal force. This force makes us feel balanced. To do this, we must engage our core. Tightening our abdominal muscles and planting both feet firmly on the ground helps us achieve this centered state. Many mistakes people make result from interfering with the body's natural positioning. When we cross our legs for example, it limits blood flow and circulation, making it more tempting to tap and fidget. When we're giving a presentation, we often shift from foot to foot when nervous or excited. This is greatly distracting to our audience. We all had that teacher that yelled out from the back of the class, "You're making me seasick!" Please, please, don't make any more people seasick. Being aware and checking in with these habits will give you the strength to control them.

Nail Biting

When it comes to habits, nail biting is probably the most common and classic. According to a study by the Scientific American, nail biting may actually arise from a perfectionistic personality type -- a perfect example of the mind-body connection. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder that involves repeated behaviors and thoughts. Nail biting may be in the same vein as the kind of symptoms that arise from this disorder. However, there are solutions. In terms of body language, someone who is nail biting during a meeting or shakes someone's hand with stubby, raw nails is going to be instantly judged. A simple way to find a solution is to try to replace the habit with something else. This is why we see people try to quit smoking by taking up gum chewing. The goal is to find a positive replacement that will not inhibit success.


Posture, Posture, Posture! You don't have to be a ballerina to appreciate the importance of posture. Posture, like a building's foundation, must be sound in order to support the incredible systems of our bodies. Our spines are resilient structures, yet delicate. They require certain care and respect. Think of any public place – whether it be the train, the coffee shop or the library, most people are slumped over their phones, their books or their laptops. The age of technology has made it increasingly easy to forget about posture, since we're so often buried in our devices. Better posture will make you feel better and be more productive. Standing tall will help you assume an authority that you're incapable of when you're slumped. Also try a power pose. (Use Mad Men for inspiration.) Sitting like you own the place will help increase confidence and be a routine for success!

In Conclusion

Getting ahold of our physical behaviors depends on mindfulness. Mindfulness requires us to step back and focus on the present. Many of these nervous tics present themselves because we're thinking about other things. We live in a world with so many distractions that it's difficult to blot it all out and get back to basics. So seize these habits by the throat and get them out of your life! Pave the way for success!

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