What’s Up With Your Face

Recently a trainer at the gym handed me a super-heavy barbell and told me to lift it. Over my head, nonetheless.

Intimidated, I dug deep. I closed my eyes, scrunched my cheeks, and tightened every muscle on my face. Just like this guy…


Well…close enough.

The barbell made it about halfway up before it just…stuck there. As I struggled to get it the rest of the way the trainer said three simple words…

“Change your face.”

At first it felt like a completely offensive command, but soon enough I got the lesson.

So here it is.

We are capable of amazing things…as leaders, as professionals, as human beings.

The problem is that our minds get in the way of our progress, convincing us that some things are just too challenging to achieve…or to bother with. And if we do bother, our mind tells us, it’s going to be really, really hard. So we’d better get ready for a struggle.

In short, the mind psyches us out. Which gives us an attitude going in. Which makes us less successful.

And what’s the telltale sign that we’re doing this to ourselves?

We make a face.

We might not do it publicly, or even know we’re doing it, but it happens all the time, in all kinds of situations:

  • When we need to have an uncomfortable talk with our boss, staff or peers
  • When we have a big interview for a job we really want
  • When we taste a new kind of food that others swear is so much more delicious than it looks…

…When we must get our favorite pickles out of that tightly sealed jar.

guy pickle jar

We decide – even before we begin – that the challenge will be so difficult or uncomfortable that we must prepare for a huge struggle.

And we prepare by making a face. We scrunch up. We might squint our eyes or clench our teeth. Perhaps we arch an eyebrow sarcastically or even snarl a bit.

And it makes things worse.

To be clear, this is not a blog about non-verbals, about how we appear to other people when dealing with challenges.

This is about how we ourselves deal with them.  Our face is a clear reflection about our attitude, a direct indicator as to when we’re psyching ourselves out…getting ready for a fight that might not even be real.

The great thing? You can change your face.


You don’t have to get all happy and smiles, but you can recognize what you’re doing and smooth out your expression…unclench…un-squint.

I’ve tested this out ever since my little gym moment and I swear it helps. It sends a sign back to my mind that I’ve got this. That I’m going to give it a good try. No lousy attitudes here.

I’ve also paid attention to great leaders, and realized that the calm and confidence they wear on their faces isn’t just about how they want to appear to us. It’s also about how they themselves choose to take stuff on.

Don’t believe it? Give it a go next time you find yourself stressed and making a face, and just see what happens.

Think you don’t make a face when you’re stressed? Check yourself – for real – before making that decision.

That’s what I did. And that stupid, heavy barbell I was struggling so hard to lift?

Got a guess as to what happened when I changed my face? I was just like this guy…

barbell over head

Well…close enough.

This week…

Feeling stressed? Psyching yourself out?

Notice if you’re making it worse by making a face.

Then change it. See what happens.

And know that no matter what happens after that you went into the challenge at your best.

Which, in the end, is all any of us can really do.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

14 thoughts on “What’s Up With Your Face

  1. Mary Gross says:

    Great article and so true. The only thing I would add to this is to also change your breathing. Breathe deeper. Thanks, Deirdre.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Excellent point, Mary…completely agree! Thanks for the comment…

  2. Kay says:

    Hi Deirdre,

    Agreed! We have the ability to change energy and changing your face is a easy way to do this. Never heard someone say it this way but mind over matter and the face changes everything.


    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Thanks, Kay! I’d never heard it either until- the trainer said it. Since then I’ve found it really works…and also realized how much I actually make that expression in all kinds of situations!

  3. Jackie says:

    True, but sometimes the expressions we make are unconsiously thats why the nonverbal speaks so much louder than what we say verbally. But we need to be aware of the faces we make and allow God to shine through us in every situation.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      I hear you for sure, Jackie…I think the first thing we need to do is actually become AWARE of just when we’re making it…before we can even focus on changing it. It takes some constant attention, but seems to help in the end…thanks for giving this a read!

  4. Rick O. says:

    Great point, Deidre, and a valuable reminder that each day we have the choice to be either our own best supporter or worst enemy.

    At least for today, I consciously choose my expression and my self-talk to accomplish good things.

    1. Rick O. says:

      I’m sorry about misspelling your name. I needed to read my comment one more time before I posted. :)

    2. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Good for you – and I’m with you, Rick! Thanks for taking the time to comment…

      1. Deirdre Maloney says:

        :) Oh my friend, please don’t worry. It happens all the time because my name is a tricky one, so I just answer to anything close!

  5. Michele says:

    Agreed! I found the same to be true when putting on make up.
    It is not a requirement to make the ‘Scream Mask’ Face when applying mascara!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      That is so true! I hadn’t even thought of that one, Michele, but you better believe I’m making an extremely creepy face in the mirror at myself each morning…especially when I get to the lower eyelid :)

  6. Patty Costa says:

    I love it! Thanks Deirdre for making me aware of being aware!. And awareness is the beginning of changing my attitude. And attitude is where it’s at.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      My pleasure – and you’re so right about how attitude begins with awareness! Thanks for the nice comment Patty…

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