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Singing, lipstick and your favourite pants – managing our outer and inner persona at this testing time

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius tells his son Laertes to dress well because “apparel oft proclaims the man“.

No doubt that’s what drove Boris Johnson to don a jacket and tie for his ‘I’ve got Corona’ isolation broadcast a few days ago.

Margaret Thatcher’s newly released private papers reveal how aware she was of the power of clothes. She kept a ‘clothing diary’ in which she detailed outfits called ‘Wogan Burgundy’, ‘Pink Chanel Gorbachev’.

Apparently, glamour was part of her approach to ending the cold war. Who knew!

Last Friday, I wore a ‘Virtual Blue’ outfit for my first online training session. It was good to spruce up after a week of, let’s face it, letting myself go. I even wore the new lipstick which I bought from the chemist when they’d run out of paracetamol. The Malaysian Women’s Affairs Ministry would approve. They’re giving advice on how to avoid conflict in the home during this difficult time – dress up and wear make up!!!!!! Shame on them.

Everyone in my session enjoyed being clean and out of their pyjamas, thereby demonstrating that it’s not just about the impression we create but how it makes us feel.

That’s why I propose to my clients that one of the small building blocks of confidence in communications is what we wear. (Personally I find, for a high stakes event, that a brand new pair of knickers does the trick. Puts a spring in my step.)

I passionately believe that confidence on the inside is created by external habits, processes and tools, just as costume/props/posture/prosthetics help actors to inhabit their character’s inner world and personality.

Partly what felt good on Friday was that we’d done something normal – got ready for work. I don’t know about you but it’s routine and normality that I’m missing and craving. They make us feel safe.

Hence why children are being encouraged to get dressed, clean their teeth and brush their hair before starting home schooling. It will have an impact on how they feel.

This relationship between the external and internal (actions and emotions) is the basis of Amy Cuddy’s (power posing) work and also William James, the ‘father of American psychology’. His premise that emotion is created from the outside in –

I don’t sing because I’m happy, I’m happy because I sing

– resonated with me yesterday at the start of my online singing lesson.

I was having a low moment, as we all are from time to time, and couldn’t have felt less like singing. But I did and, guess what, it was absolutely transformational.

Of course sometimes, especially at the moment, it’s hard to force ourselves to do right thing (to exercise, to refuse the second packet of crisps). Many of us are lacking motivation and energy. And it’s important to be kind to ourselves.

Dr Steve Peters in The Chimp Paradox is brilliantly helpful in this area. He explores the difference between motivation and commitment, suggesting that motivation is a feeling based on emotion (which can shift quickly) whereas commitment is from the more logical part of the brain and does not depend on feelings. Commitment means following the plan even if we don’t feel like it. It means doing a session with Joe Wicks even though we’d rather veg on the sofa.

So, I hope that you’re coping with this strange new world, and that you’re finding moments of light in the darkness.

A day at a time, an hour at a time and, when the going gets tough, your very best pants………

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