Developing poise is a question of developing confidence in one’s personality. Look at all the people who lack this confidence. The noisy are unsure of themselves and trying to attract attention. The awkward are over-anxious, worrying about the impression they are making. The clumsy are self-conscious, scared of disapproval. Some people lack poise because it requires ability to wait for people and things to come to you, rather than straining after them. This action demands a degree of self-confidence which they have not managed to acquire.
The first essential to poise is a sense of well-being. It is difficult to be poised if you are suffering from poor health; so many things are apt to upset you. One should try to be as fit as possible by living and eating wisely, having sufficient rest, and by getting proper treatment when something is wrong. A second necessary part of the sense of well-being is scrupulous cleanliness and freshness with regard to oneself and one’s person.
Allied to this is appearance. You must look and feel that you look your best. It is not necessary to spend a lot of money on clothes, but it is vital that you should think you look smart, and that your clothes should be so comfortable that you can forget about them.
Now behavior comes in, including the way we walk and carry ourselves, sit down, stand up, and move around. The body should be upright and well-balanced, head up, shoulders back, tail tucked in. We should aim to look alert and interested, to walk easily from the hips, neither mincing along in short tight little steps nor striding. We should study the way we sit down and rise to our feet. We should place a chair in front of a long mirror and see how well- or how badly- we do it, asking a sympathetic friend or a family member to criticize. It is mostly a matter of how we carry ourselves. We should watch the way we open and close doors and cupboards. We should learn to sit well back on a chair instead of perching on its edge.
By far the most important part of good manners is consideration for others- putting people at their ease, making them welcome, seeing that they are comfortable and have what they need, stepping into the background to give them a chance to shine. We should always practice unfailing courtesy.
There is also a matter of the way we talk. A pleasant speaking voice gives its owner tremendous self-confidence. Every now and then, as a check, we should listen to ourselves talking. Nervousness may be making us gabble, or on the other hand, slowing us down until we seem pompous. Or we may be pitching our voices too high or too low.
Because poise is primarily a question of self-confidence, we must have a sense of personal worth- the feeling that we are wanted and have something to give the world. A feeling that we are unwanted and that the world would be better off without us gives rise to a reaction to avoid people or to become aggressive towards them.
Financial insecurity, job worries, dull routine work that seems important, work that others take for granted, or anything that encourages us to believe that we are of no account destroys our sense of personal worth and with it our self-confidence. It is hard to feel at ease with people when we are resenting being “made” to feel “inferior.” There is also an unpleasant sensation of being “out of things” and “not belonging” which, in our minds at least, sets us apart from other people and causes us to be anxious about the impression we are making.
Students and adolescents generally are difficult to “reach” and to “get at,” as we say, because they are so uncertain of themselves and their future. They are gauche and touchy because they feel insecure. To develop poise we have to find value in ourselves and meaning to life. In plain words, we have to do a job that strikes us as being worthwhile and useful, and acquire the skill which this implies.
To achieve real poise, one must be careful about people. They are remarkable for their unpredictability, which means in terms of practical living that it is unwise to depend on them too much. Like us, they are swayed by their moods and feelings. If we often surprise and horrify ourselves, why should we be hurt or angry when others react in ways equally surprising?
We have to learn to be self-sufficient in the sense of being able to stand aloof, relying on ourselves when necessary for our happiness. This is not difficult if we have a sense of personal worth and satisfying interests. We should avoid becoming emotionally involved in other people’s quarrels, prejudices, dislikes, and arguments. If we are forced to take part, we may try to be a calming influence.