Dropping the Mask: The Four Keys of Charisma

We’ve spent our lives developing a mask. This mask is our idea of how we should interact with others to ensure the highest probability of them liking and/or thinking highly of us.

This mask typically arises in situations where we feel uncomfortable. At work we raise our professional mask. In social and romantic situations we raise our fun, attractive, and cool masks (our idea of what fun, attractive and cool looks like.) We seek ways to “upgrade” these masks.

We listen to that voice in our head that tells us we’re acting in our best interests. Deep down though, we know something is missing. 

Keeping these masks up for significant portions of the day is a huge energy drain. Constantly telling yourself that you need to act in a certain way to be accepted is a huge confidence drain.

We see other individuals acting more freely and unrestrained. They seem to express themselves in a way that’s uniquely their own that seems crafted and honed. Yet, they make it seem effortless. They have extra energy from not holding up a mask all day. They excel at work, are the life of parties, and receive a seemingly endless barrage of romantic looks gracefully.

Being entertaining isn’t the same as being charismatic. An entertaining performer will get some tips. A charismatic performer will have people asking when they can see them again. The elements of charisma may seem confusing, but it’s actually quite simple:

Key 1: Honest Expression

Charisma is rooted in the 100% (or close to it) focus on one’s present experience that we discussed in the previous chapter. The key step then becomes an expression of this instinctual experience with as little filter as possible. The filter I mention is that voice in your brain that second-guesses you, tells you to say it this way or alter your expression to a more “attractive” (watered-down) version.

This becomes a habit until our expression becomes bland and boring. In more intense situations our expression becomes weak and almost apologetic. We believe our attempts to manicure our expression are harmless, but they’re dishonest. There’s how we actually feel. Then there’s a version of that we actually express that obscures the present truth.

The more directly connected to our instinctual experience our words and actions are, the more others will feel them. This is what separates any great performer. When they honestly express themselves from that deeper place of emotion they command the attention of anyone who can see them.

The thing that keeps the average person from dropping the mask and developing their potential charisma is that it requires putting yourself out there vulnerably and making mistakes. Once you start saying the first thing you’re feeling with as little mental filter as possible, you will express yourself awkwardly and inappropriately. Because you’re putting your feelings out there genuinely instead of hiding behind the mask, these mistakes will hurt more.

You will feel shame. That’s okay. That’s how we learn. It’s why people in my workshops are encouraged to make mistakes in a safe place. This should have been learned in childhood when we get more leeway. However, too many of us spent that time developing our masks instead.

This is what “easy” interactions are for. Friends, and other people you’re comfortable with will forgive you because they know the person underneath. Most of us fly on autopilot in these interactions when we could be using them to consciously practice expressing ourselves as honestly as possible. When you make a mistake, apologize and use the lesson to alter your expression in the future.

“Charming” is a word used to describe someone who expresses themselves with unrestrained emotional force, but who also has tempered that expression to dance within the boundaries of social comfort. Again, this can only be developed through making mistakes.

Starting Conversations With Strangers

Individuals seem shocked and frustrated when they struggle to start a conversation with a stranger who intimidates them despite rarely trying to start interactions with those who don’t. This shouldn’t be surprising. If you can’t beat a game on easy mode you’ll get destroyed on harder difficulty settings. 

It can become easier if we don the mask and remove our vulnerable expression from the equation. It feels less like they’re judging us because we’re not fully putting ourselves out there.  This however, only reinforces the disconnecting habits that lead to more dismissive responses.

A far greater challenge is starting conversations with strangers while maintaining a strong presence and expressing our feelings as vulnerably yet tactfully as possible. We must regularly practice and make mistakes with strangers who don’t intimidate us if we ever we’ll have a chance of having a strong presence and being charismatic with those who do. 

At least 51% of the time you feel an above average amount of emotion for anything, share it with whoever is around you until that becomes your habit.

Not ready for that yet? Then I recommend my “Small Town Charm” exercise. First you attempt to get someone’s attention with your presence. Then you attempt to express genuine human warmth. Repeat with at least 51% of humans you come across. Once you’re getting people’s attention and inspiring positive exchanges at least half the time then expressing your feelings verbally becomes easier.

Social Touching

Social touching is another thing that is completely natural and charismatic when coming from a place of shared instinctual connection. It’s also completely awkward when it’s not. When you’re in tune with the emotional bubble surrounding you and another person instead of the analysis and judgement in your head. You’ll naturally feel compelled to create physical contact at specific times. Practice with friends, or even a coach on the subject, and use basic common sense. 

Feeling compelled to touch someone on the shoulder because they shared something difficult or funny? Cool. Feeling compelled to grab a strangers butt because you feel the desire to do so? Not cool. A more socially refined version of expressing that desire might be telling them that whatever they’re wearing looks amazing on them, quickly glancing down, with full focus on them and your shared instinctual experience. Don’t forget the deep breaths. Just be honest and see if they become more opened or closed. Open means they want to connect more, closed means they don’t for whatever reason. Practice with everyone.

There’s a time and a place for a social touch, and everyone has different comfort levels with it. Learn to read the instinctual experience, practice with friends, and this form of expression will become as natural as breathing.

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Every human being has the fundamental need to express themselves honestly and be acknowledged. Most of us are building habits that directly oppose this need. Today is the perfect day to start building a healthy habit while inspiring others to express themselves more honestly at the same time.

Key 2: Developing Your Personality

Your personality, or your voice, is something that needs to be developed. Otherwise it’s like having this advanced technology with the all the best features disabled. 

The key to developing your voice is your personal sense of enjoyment and amusement. As you practice expressing yourself honestly with everyone, their reaction shouldn’t be the only thing you’re tempering your expression against. Instead, you should also be paying attention to what ways that you enjoy expressing yourself the most. As you practice expressing yourself honestly, you’ll begin to notice things you say or do that amuse you, make you laugh, or just plain feel good. 

As the lamest example I can think of, I say “obvi” (short for “obviously”, obvi) sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, this is not objectively attractive in the slightest. This is not a tip to start saying that more. You probably shouldn’t. But I find it funny, specifically when it’s someone who looks like me who says it. Because I personally find it funny and say it as an expression of personal joy, if someone has a similar personality then they’ll find it funny as well.

Comedians are a better example. Every experienced comedian has their own voice. They all have a distinct combination of speech patterns, mannerisms, and styles that are unique to them. Yes, they’ve all tempered their expression against crowds. The other thing they have in common is that their unique voice is an expression of what they personally find funny, entertaining, amusing, or interesting. If it were simply a matter of crowd reaction, comedians would be far more similar instead of being so wildly unique.

Pay attention to what other people find funny or entertaining. Be just as concerned however, with what you find funny or entertaining and continue to evolve this muscle throughout your life.

Key 3: Interested, Not Interesting

This one is cheating a little because I emphasized it so much in my first book, As You Are. Still, it’s worth emphasizing again.

People will only care about you as much as they perceive you to genuinely care about them. Caring about wanting someone to like you isn’t the same as caring about them.

This is where that near 100% focus on the present experience is important. We need honest expression. But that should simply serve to highlight the deeper, more powerful instinctual experience of emotion happening between you. 

Our expression should never be the star of the show. 

Again, we have to make it a conscious practice to remind ourselves that every single human being is infinitely complex and has something we can learn. Yes, we are naturally more interested in some people than others. Nevertheless, the habits we practice with individuals that we’re less intimidated by will be the habits we repeat when the pressure rises.

When you tap into your instinctual experience there is a natural curiosity for others. We start our workshops with eye gazing exercises to set the tone. After a few minutes of staring at each other in silence I ask them to share what came up with their partners and it’s typically difficult to get them to stop talking! When we ignore the voice in our head and simply focus on our present experience, we always want to know more.

Never let the conversation stay on yourself too long. Yes, share your feelings honestly and vulnerably. Then, always have a “how about you?” ready in your back pocket. Don’t be afraid to drop an, “enough about me, I want to know more about ____.” Consciously tap into your natural curiosity in at least 51% of your interactions and your magnetism will grow.

Key 4: Slooooow Down

This is related to the previous key, but is important enough to highlight on its own. I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve said this during conversational exercises. Almost always, people are surprised by just how much I ask them to slow down. This is especially important when it comes to expressing out sexuality. You can’t be sexy without slow.

Again, the instinctual connection should be the star of the show. I love nerding out with someone. Talking nonstop about every detail of something we mutually find interesting is fun! I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it. I’m just saying that it’s not the same thing as the deeper emotional connection that most of us are starving for.

Let’s say you had a date where you chatted nonstop about a variety of shared interests that had you both engaged and laughing the whole time. Some would consider that a good date, and it is for that enjoyable conversation. However, there’s probably not going to be a second date. This is because — despite being highly entertained — at least one of the participants didn’t feel enough of the more intense emotional experience they were looking for.

A little trick I teach is to take a slow, deep breath whenever the other person finishes speaking. This should take 2-3 seconds (mississippi seconds) and give you a moment to make sure your focus is solid and your head is clear. After you take this slow, deep breath, then express whatever you have to say as honestly as possible. Half the time the other person will start speaking further before you get the chance to interrupt them with whatever you had to share.

Your words should simply serve as vehicles for whatever you’re feeling. When we speak too quickly we lose the ability to transmit emotion in each individual word and they start feeling flat. Whatever you think is slow enough, it’s not. When it starts to feel too slow and “uncomfortable”, now you’re starting to get it. Deep breaths to massage those knots, use that energy. 

Again, nothing wrong with nerding out. But if we want to have connected interactions, it’s a comfort zone we can’t allow ourselves to fall into.

Putting It All Together

Let’s say you’re walking into the grocery store and the smell of freshly baked bread hits your nose from the bakery. Normally you’d simply go about your shopping but today you want to build a new habit. You turn to your left and see another person entering the store next to you. How attractive do you find this person? It doesn’t matter. We’ll go into great detail on that in the next chapter and you need to practice with everyone. 

You’ve been working on your presence so when you look at the other person there’s already a good chance they’re looking back at you. In this particular instance however, they’re in their head and distracted. You then say, “Oh my gosh that bread smells delicious,” with full presence and emotion. 

They might very well stay closed and keep walking after a polite nod. But in this particular instance the other person feels social. They’re inspired by your presence and instinctually honest expression and respond, “I know! It wasn’t on the shopping list but I’m reconsidering.”

You take a deep breath and reflect on doing the same thing and quite naturally your thoughts flow toward what you would do with that bread. “I haven’t had a good sandwich in awhile,” you respond with full emotion and presence.

As you both start heading in the direction of the bakery you think about how long it’s been since you’ve had a good corned beef sandwich and you ask them, “you know anyone that has good corned beef around here?” They respond, “I’m not sure, but I know a really good butcher over on Hopkins Street who might.

You know that butcher and happen to love the place for sourcing from small local farms and for their variety of wild game. You really want to nerd out about it, but you don’t. Instead you take a deep breath and then say, “I love that place! Bill is the best. How long have you been going?”

Did you “lose the football” during this exchange and drop your focus? Or is that bubble maintained as you continue a great new conversation that will greatly enhance both of your shopping experiences (and potentially lead to a new friendship or more?)

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The habits that distance you from others and hurt your confidence have been learned. They can be unlearned. There’s no secret to achieving your social potential. Drop the mask and express yourself honestly, slowly and with interest while developing your personality and presence at least 51% of the time. There’s no secret to magnetism. You just have to practice.