Two sisters (religious order, not biological relation, as far as I know) live in one of the condos across from us. They are very nice, older ladies, warm and pleasant, always ready with a kind word and a smile as they see others in the complex come and go. They seem, at least on casual observation, to lead very busy lives. They rise early, heading out to do whatever it is sisters do in the world nowadays. One drives a minivan, one a small, nondescript sedan. All pretty ordinary, I suppose, except for one thing that always strikes me about one of them.
Sister gets up early most mornings. She almost always beats me out of the parking lot, and I’m an early riser and starter myself. When she exits her front door, she heads for her minivan, parked about fifty feet away if that, with the speed of a sprinter and the determination and conviction (again, at least as I perceive it) of a person who is going to change the world. She is diminutive, casually dressed, doesn’t stand out, but she is driven to get to her vehicle and start the day. She walks determined, rapidly, not wasting a moment of her early morning time. If I am leaving at the same time and she sees me, she will offer a cheery hello and a wave. Then she is off.
Now, come with me to my office a little later in the morning. We walk up the clinic hallway to the waiting room up front, open the door, and call out a name. The patient is in her mid-twenties, somewhat disheveled, is chewing gum, and has earphones in her ears connected to an oversized phone. She saunters to the door from the couch on the far side of the room. She is wearing dark sunglasses, which she does not remove.
I have never met this young woman, so I welcome her, introduce myself, and thank her for coming to see me. She makes no eye contact, looks straight past me, does not acknowledge my greeting, and continues her slow roll through the door and into the hallway. We stroll, no other word for it, down the hall to my office at the far end of the building. As I begin my usual interview questions, she looks at me blankly, shades still hiding her eyes, offers one-word answers, and looks quite bored. This young lady does not appear to be the least bit interested in being here, in acknowledging me, or in moving the process along toward any definable goal.
What would you say about these two women, knowing only what I have told you? Granted, we acknowledge that there is a lot more about both of them, their stories, their motivations, that we do not know. However, I am being intentionally superficial in my description of them for the purpose of this post.
What do physical gait, movement, and apparent drive tell us about each other?
Of these two women, who do you feel is most likely to have set a goal, or multiple goals, for herself for the day? Which of them is more likely looking towards accomplishing something measurable before lunchtime? Of the two, which one knows what she is trying to achieve by being in the physical place she occupies this morning?
We telegraph our demeanor, our intentions, our plans, our desires, and our energy levels to others all the time. Without saying a word, we look motivated, driven and highly focused on whatever is coming next, or we appear tired, bored, lackadaisical and aimless.
How will you present yourself to your coworkers, your boss, your spouse, your friends and to strangers today?
Will they see you as leaning into the day, full of energy and vigor, ready to accept whatever challenge comes your way?
Or, will they see you as someone who has no plans, no energy, no spark, and no reason to move any faster?
Greg Smith is a psychiatrist who blogs at gregsmithmd.
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