Brené Brown says that the opposite of belonging is fitting in.
If you belong with your friends, family, or work place, and you feel a deep sense of belonging, then you probably feel like you can be who you truly are. You know you’re accepted for that person, with no need for disguise.
However, when we don’t feel accepted, we try fitting in.
We shift the parts of ourselves we present to people in order to match those around us. We hope they will allow us to be part of their group or that they’ll be more accepting of our ideas. We do exactly what we’ve seen heroes in comic books do for decades—we hide our true Superman self in favor of a socially accepted Clark Kent disguise.
But there’s a power in being our most true and best selves regardless of our surroundings. We can own our presence, find a better sense of self, and be more confident in our everyday actions.
Here are a few first steps to swapping out your suit for a cape:
1: Acknowledge That Your ‘Clark Kent Disguise’ Is Conditioned
All children stand with their feet shoulder-width apart, their sternum nicely lifted in tremendous posture.
This is positive and empowering posture, but toddlers aren’t doing it to pump themselves before a speaking engagement. They’re doing it so they don’t fall over.
If you stand with really good posture, it allows you to stay balanced and then suddenly you find your way forward in the world. But when we experience years of dealing with the harsh realities of adult life where we’re rejected over and over again, we lose that stance—physically and figuratively.
What we may find ourselves doing is going into a meeting and standing in a slumped posture, making limp gestures in an attempt to show people that we don’t really care about the idea that we’re saying.
We’re trying to protect ourselves from the pain of rejection.
However, that body language and vocal tone inevitably leads to the idea being more likely to get rejected, less likely to be promoted, less likely to be heard.
This, for me, comes back to a question of, if you’re not going to stand up for your ideas, then who will?
2: Learn How To Channel Your ‘Superman Self’
The way I describe the “Superman self” is you lift your posture back to your natural state, so that you are taking up the space you deserve and you speak up for your ideas with a firm and clear voice.
You’re using all the qualities of your posture and your voice that you were born with—the true versions of them that you aren’t hiding behind a Clark Kent disguise. What makes it difficult is that after years of avoiding doing this, you may have developed habits that feel so much like being yourself—slumping down, speaking without expression, barely gesturing—that they’ve become muscle memory.
This is something I saw during my three years in acting school in London. One of the most humiliating activities I remember had to do with body language.
I was asked to walk around the room, and all of my classmates were asked to follow behind me and mimic what I was doing, gradually exaggerating it.
Then I was called away from the line to see what everyone was doing. And I saw that my classmates were all walking with their head down, feet scuffing the floor. They looked depressed.
I was humiliated because I looked at them and immediately thought, “That’s me.” It’s a more exaggerated version of me, but that’s what people see from my posture.
The key to becoming your Superman self and getting rid of your Clark Kent Disguise is to realize that your habits are not you.
They’re just barriers you’ve built up for protection and that have been there for so long, you don’t even realize they’re happening. So it’s really important simply to return to the way that you were born to speak—through using your posture, your gestures, and your voice in the way you were naturally meant to do so.
3: Remember: Superman Habits Take Practice
Our mindset works from the ‘outside in’ and the ‘inside out’.
If you are standing and speaking in a position that you would naturally associate with confidence, your mind starts to think, “I must be confident. I would only stand this way and speak this way if I was confident.”
It’s good to have a confident mind, and it’s important that you are well practiced to know what you’re saying for an event, in order to have a genuine worthwhile foundation of confidence.
But it works both ways, so it’s equally important to have confident body language.
If you are standing or sitting in position where you’re slumped over, and you’re speaking quietly, your mind will think, “I must feel like my ideas are going to get rejected. I would only stand, sit or speak in this way if that was how I felt.”
So, I encourage people to find a new muscle memory. If you learn how to play a musical instrument, learn a sport, or how to drive a car, you have to practice until those actions become a reflex. You need to do the same with your communication style – go back to the way you were born to speak, and practice that until you create a new habit.
If all else fails, you can do a simple physical exercise with your body to inspire a sense of confidence in your mind. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Reach your arms up to the sky, look toward the ceiling and lift up from your sternum for a few seconds. Then, when you stay up on your tiptoes, you gradually bring your hands down. Then bring your heels down, and finally, bring your head down.
You should find you’re now re-aligned in a very uplifted kind of posture—just like Superman would stand on the cover of a book. If you do this before an important event you will feel and appear to be a more confident version of yourself and gain more of the reactions and results you deserve.