One of the essential conditions of acquiring poise is to familiarize

oneself with the habit of composure.

Timid people know nothing of its advantages. They are always ill at

ease, fearful, devoured by dread of other people's censures, and

completely upset by the idea of the least initiative.

Their mania leads them to exaggerate the smallest incident. A trifle
/> puts them in a panic, and at the mere notion that strangers have

perceived this they become quite out of countenance and are possest by

but one idea, to avoid by flight the repetition of such unpleasant


A quite useless attempt, for in whatever retirement people who lack

poise may live, they will find themselves certainly the victims of the

small embarrassments of every-day life, which, in their eyes, will soon

take on the guise of disasters.

Composure should, then, be the first achievement in the way of

self-conquest to be aimed at by the man who is desirous of attaining


But, it will be objected, composure is a condition that is not familiar

to everybody. It is a question of temperament and of disposition. Every

one who wishes for it can not attain to it.

This is an error. In order to possess composure, that is to say the

first step in the mastery of self which enables one to judge of the

proportions of things, it must be achieved, or developed, if we happen

to be naturally inclined thereto.

To accomplish this, deep-breathing exercises are often recommended by

the philosophers of the new school.

They advise those who are desirous of cultivating it to make no

resolution, to commit themselves to no impulsive action, without first

withdrawing into themselves and taking five or six deep breaths in the

manner we have described in the preceding chapter.

This has the physical effect of reducing the speed with which the heart

beats and, as a result, of relaxing the mind and quieting one's nerves.

During the two or three minutes thus employed one's enthusiasm wanes and

one's ideas take on a less confused form. In a word, unreasoning

impulses no longer fill the brain to the extent of inhibiting the

entrance of sober second thought.

But this is only an adventitious means of prevention. We will now speak

of those which should become a matter of daily practise and whose

frequent repetition will lead to the poise we seek.

Every one whose profession makes it necessary to cultivate his memory

recognizes the importance of studying at night. Phrases learned just

before going to sleep fix themselves more readily in the mind. They

remain latent in the brain and spring up anew in the morning without

calling for much trouble to revive them.

For this reason it is well to retire to rest in a mental attitude of

deliberate calm, repressing every sort of jerky movement and

constraining oneself to lie perfectly quiet.

At the same time one should keep on repeating these words:

"I am composed. I propose to be composed. I am composed!"

The constant reiteration of these words constitute a species of

suggestion, and peace will steal gradually into our souls and will

permit us to think quietly, without the risk of becoming entangled in

disordered fancies, or, what is far worse, falling a prey to vain and

unavailing regrets.

Those who doubt the efficacy of this proceeding can be readily convinced

by proving to them the tremendous power of mere words.

Certain of these electrify us. Such words as patriotism, revolt, blood,

always produce in us an emotion of enthusiasm or disgust.

Others again are productive of color, and one must admit that the

constant repetition of an assurance ultimately leads to the creation of

the condition that it pictures to us.

But to make the assertion to oneself, "I am composed," is not all that

is necessary. One must prove to oneself that one is not glossing over

the truth.

The readiest means of accomplishing this, which is open to every one who

has any regular interests, is to mentally review the words and the

actions of the day, and to pass judgment upon them from the point of

view of the quality one is striving to attain.


One should convince oneself as soon as possible of the truth of the fact

that sincerity toward oneself is a large factor in attaining that

firmness of judgment that must be cultivated by the man who is in search

of poise.

In order to reach this condition nothing is more easy than to pass in

mental review, every evening, the events that have marked the day that

has passed.

In a word, one should strive to relive it, honestly confessing to

oneself all the mistakes that have crept into it.

Every unfortunate speech should be recalled. One should formulate fresh

replies, that lack of poise did not permit us to make at the time, so

that under similar circumstances we may not be again caught at a


The witty name of "doorstep repartee" has been given to these answers

which one makes as afterthoughts, with the idea of expressing the

embarrassment of the man who can find no arguments until he finds

himself beyond the reach of his opponents. It is after one has gone out,

when one is on the doorstep, that one suddenly recognizes what one ought

to have said, and finds the phrases that one should have used, the exact

retort that one might have hurled at one's antagonist.

The man who has acquired poise should still accustom himself to practise

this force of mental gymnastics when making his daily self-examination.

It will strengthen him for future contests by teaching him just how to

conduct himself.

He must be always on his guard against one of the obsessions that too

often afflict the timid--the mania for extremes.

The nature of a timid person is essentially artificial. His character is


He yearns for perfection, yet it is painful for him to meet it in

others. He suffers also because he has failed to acquire it himself.

Sometimes he is his own most severe judge and then on other occasions he

is grossly indulgent to his faults.

His isolation causes him to construct ideals that can not possibly be

realized in ordinary life. But he is more than ready to blame those who

fall short of them, while making no effort to duplicate their struggles.

He makes the sad mistake, as we have seen in the chapter on effrontery,

of taking all his chimeras for realities and is angry at his inability

to make other people see them in the same light.

He is, moreover, of a very trustful disposition and prone to the making

of confidences. But when he attempts them his infirmity prevents him and

he suffers under the inhibition.

All his mental processes, as we have seen, tend toward hypochondria,

unless his sense of truth can be called into play.

One can easily see then that this daily self-examination can be made

quite a difficult affair by all these conflicting tendencies.

It is for this very reason that it is so necessary that this examination

should be rigorously undertaken every day and with all the good faith of

which we are possest.

It is because they do not ignore their own weaknesses that the men

endowed with poise become what one has psychologically termed "forces,"

that is to say people who are masters of a power that renders them

superior to the rest of the world.


After as minute and as honest an examination as we can make of our own

actions, it will be of great benefit to make definite resolutions for

the morrow.

This is a matter of great importance.

The timid man, by seriously resolving to perform the actions that he

ought and by planning the accomplishment of some definite step, will

unconsciously strengthen his own will-power.

He will increase it still more by making up his mind to leave no stone

unturned to conquer himself.

For instance, he proposes to make a certain journey, or to pay a certain

call, which he dreads very much, and falls asleep while repeating to

himself: "To-morrow I will go there! I will carry the thing through with


Conceding the magnetic power of words, the acquisition of courage and of

confidence are necessary corollaries.

Ideas imprest upon the mind at the moment that one is falling asleep

develop during the night by a species of incubation, and on the morrow

present themselves to us quite naturally in the guise of a duty much

less hard to perform than we had imagined.

In the case where such a resolution awakens an unpleasant emotion in the

hearts of the timid, they should repeat earnestly the sentences that

tend to composure and should seek the aid of the means we have indicated

for attaining it.


In order to strengthen one's resolution it is a good thing every morning

to map out one's day, for the purpose of acquiring poise.

All one's combinations should be worked out with this valuable conquest

in mind.

After having committed oneself to a definite plan, one should analyze

each one of the proposed steps, carefully taking into account all the

peculiarities that are likely to characterize them.

If one is to have an interview, one should carefully prepare one's

introductory remarks, paying particular attention to one's line of

action, to one's method of presentation, and the words upon which one

relies to obtain an affirmative reply to one's request.

One should take the precaution to have one's speeches mentally prepared

in advance, so as to be able to deliver them in such a speedy and

convincing fashion that one does not find oneself in a state of

embarrassment fatal to recollecting them.

It is better to make them as short as possible. One is then much less

likely to become confused and will not be so much in dread of stammering

or stuttering, which are always accompaniments of the fear of being left

without an idea of what to say next.

Besides this, long speeches are always irritating, and it is a sign of

great lack of address to allow oneself to acquire the reputation of

being a bore.

To make sure of one's facial expression and gestures it may be well to

repeat one's speeches in front of a mirror.

One can then enact one's entry into the room in such a way as to foresee

even the most insignificant details, so that the fear of making a

failure at the start will no longer have a bad effect upon one.

We have heard of a man who was so lacking in poise that he lost his

situation because, when summoned by his chief, he became so confused

that he forgot to leave his streaming umbrella in the outer office.

It was an extremely wet day, and the unfortunate man, instead of being

able to plead his cause effectively, became hopelessly embarrassed at

perceiving his mistake, the results of which, it is needless to state,

were by no means to the benefit of the floor.

His despair at the sight of the rivulets that, running from his

umbrella, spread themselves over the polished surface of the wood,

prevented him from thinking of anything but his unpardonable stupidity.

His native awkwardness became all the worse at this and, utterly unable

to proffer any but the most confused excuses, he fled from the office of

his chief leaving the latter in a high state of irritation.

He was replaced by some one else at the first opportunity, on the

pretext that the direction of important affairs could no longer be left

in the hands of a man of such notorious incapacity.

It should be added that this man was more than ordinarily intelligent

and that his successor was by no means his equal.

It is, therefore, absolutely necessary for those who are lacking in

presence of mind to accustom themselves to a species of rehearsal before

undertaking any really important step.

Does this imply that they must think of nothing but weighty affairs and

neglect occasions for social meetings?

By no means. To those who are distrustful of themselves every occasion

is a pretext for avoiding action.

They should, therefore, take pains to seek every possible opportunity of

cultivating poise.

The entering of a theater; the walking into a drawing-room; the

acknowledging of a woman's bow; every one of these things should be for

them a subject of careful study, and if, when evening comes, the daily

self-examination leaves them satisfied with themselves, it will be a

cause of much encouragement to them.

If, on the other hand, they have received a rebuff due to their lack of

poise, they should carefully examine into the reasons for this, in order

to guard against such an occurrence in the future.

A good preparatory exercise is to choose those of our friends whose

homes are unpretentious and who have few callers.

Let us make up our minds to pay them a visit, which, in view of the

quietude of its associations, is not likely to awaken in us any grave


To carry this off well we should make all our preparations in advance.

One should say to oneself: "I will enter like this," while rehearsing

one's entrance, so as not to be caught napping at the outset.

One should go on to plan one's opening remarks, an easy enough matter

since one will be speaking to people one knows very well.

One should then decide as to the length of one's call.

One makes up one's mind, for instance, to get up and say good-by at the

end of a quarter of an hour.

One should foresee the rejoinder of one's host, whether sincere or

merely polite, which will urge one to prolong one's visit, and for this

purpose should have ready a plausible excuse, such as work to do or a

business engagement, and one should prepare beforehand the phrase

explaining this.

Finally, one should study to make one's good-bys gracefully.

It might be as well, while we are at it, to prepare a subject of


Generally speaking, the events of the day form the topic of discussion

on such visits, whose good-will does not always prevent a certain amount

of boredom.

It will be, then, an easy matter to prepare a few remarks on the

happenings of the day, on the plays that are running, or on the salient

occurrences of the week.

It should be added that these remarks should express opinions of such a

nature as not to wound anybody's feelings.

The man who seeks the conquest of poise will not expose himself to the

risk of being involved in a discussion in which he will be compelled

either to remain silent or to make an exhibition of himself.

To do this would be to strike a serious blow at his resolution to


The one idea of the aspirant to poise should be above all things never

to risk a failure.

Such a check will rarely be a partial one. It will have a marked effect

upon his proposed plan of educating his will-power by again giving rise

to that confusion which is always lurking in the background of the

thoughts of the timid and which is, moreover, the source of all their


Another wise precaution consists in foreseeing objections and in

preparing such answers as will enable one to refute them.

Eloquence is one of the most useful achievements of poise; it is also

the gift that best aids one to acquire it.

It is, therefore, indispensable to train oneself to speak in a refined

and correct manner.

The man who is sure of his oratorical powers will never be at a loss. He

will find conviction growing while he seeks to create it.

We spoke in the preceding chapter of the mechanical exercises necessary

to make speaking an easy matter.

We must not forget, however, that before one can speak one has to think.

Words will spring of themselves to our lips the moment we have a

definite conception of the idea they serve to present. As a proof of

this contention one has only to cite the case of those persons who,

while ordinarily experiencing great difficulty in expressing themselves,

become suddenly clear, persuasive, and even eloquent when it comes to

discussing a subject in which they are deeply interested.

The study of the art of speaking will become, then, for people of

timidity, over and above the mechanical exercises that we have

prescribed in a former chapter, a profound analysis of the subject upon

which they are likely to be called upon to express themselves.

One should strive to describe things in short sentences as elegantly

phrased as possible.

When the idea we wish to convey seems to be exprest in a confused

fashion, one should not hesitate to seek for a change of phraseology

that will make it more concise and clear.

But above all--above all, we must pull ourselves up short and begin over

again if any tendency to stammer, to hesitate, or to become confused,

begins to manifest itself.

Just as soon as one feels more at one's ease one can seek to put in

practise all these special studies.

Nothing is quite so disconcerting as the idea of stammering or stopping


For this reason it is imperative that one should begin all over again

the moment such an accident occurs.

This is what prevents timid people from accomplishing anything. From the

moment of the first failure they become panic-stricken and can no longer

go on speaking connectedly.

Those who would acquire poise must act quite otherwise.

Instead of avoiding occasions of speaking in public, they should seek

for them. But first of all they must make some trials upon audiences who

are in sympathy with them.

They should experiment upon their own families and should never fail to

enlarge upon their theme. If need be, they can prepare the matter for a

short address or a friendly argument.

If they find themselves stammering or panic-stricken, they must strive

to recall the phrase that caused the trouble and endeavor to repeat it

very emphatically without stuttering.

For the rest, it is always a dangerous thing to talk too fast. Words

that are pronounced more slowly are always much better articulated, and

in speaking leisurely one is more likely to avoid the embarrassment in

talking that attacks those whose education in the direction of the

acquiring of poise is not yet complete.

One of the most important exercises in the search for poise consists in

accustoming oneself to speak slowly and very distinctly.

If one stammers in the least degree, especially if this fault is due to

nervousness, one should begin again at the word which caused the

trouble, pronouncing each syllable slowly and distinctly. Then one

should incorporate it in one or two sentences and should not cease to

utter it until one can enunciate it clearly and without any trouble.

In order to combine theory with practise, one should seek opportunities

for entering public assemblies, striving to do so without awkwardness.

One should choose the time when the audience is not yet fully arrived,

since, unless one is very sure of oneself, it is a risky matter to

appear upon the scene when the house is full, or the guests for the most

part assembled. By this means one is much more likely to be able to

emerge victorious from the ordeal of the stares of the curious.

The man endowed with poise enters a gathering politely yet

indifferently, ordering his manner not to suit the particular occasion

but as a matter of instinct. He will go naturally to those whom he

happens to know, will shake hands with them, and will say to each one

the thing that he ought to say.

If a mother he will ask news of her children. He will offer

congratulations to the man who has just been publicly honored. Presence

of mind will not desert him for a moment; he will commit no blunders. He

will avoid the necessity of meeting a former friend with whom he has

fallen out and will pass him without speaking. He will not talk of

deformities to a man who is deformed. In a word, his poise, while

leaving him free to exercise all his faculties, will give him the

opportunity to remember a thousand details, the performance as well as

the omission of which will create much sympathetic feeling toward him

among the people whom he meets.

The man who does not yet possess poise, will be wise if he follows the

recommendations we have made, that is by preparing his speeches to be

made upon entering. In those cases where he is not absolutely sure of

the relationship of people or of the condition of health of the person

to whom he is speaking, he had better avoid these topics. Silence is not

infrequently an indication of poise.


But to emerge successfully from all these difficulties, one must believe

that one can do it, banishing absolutely from one's mind the doubt,

that, like leprosy, attacks the most well-made resolutions, transforming

them into hurtful indecision.

The mere thought, "_I will succeed_," is in itself a condition of

success. The man who pronounces these words with absolute belief implies

this sentence: "I will succeed because I will succeed and because I am

determined to employ every legitimate means to that end!"

Avoid also all grieving or melancholy over past failures, or, if you

must be occupied with them, let it be without mingling bitterness with

your regrets.

Say to yourself: "It is true. I failed in that undertaking. But from

this moment I propose to think of it merely to remind myself of the

reasons why I failed.

"I wish to analyze them sincerely, while recognizing where I was in the

wrong, so that under similar circumstances I can avoid the repetition of

the same mistakes."

Fools and knaves are the only people who complain of fate.

The words "I have no luck" should be erased altogether from the

vocabulary of the man who proposes to acquire poise.

It is the excuse in which weaklings and cowards indulge.

Timid people are always complaining of the injustice of fate, without

stopping to think that they have themselves been the direct causes of

their own failures.

The violet has often been quoted--and very improperly--as an example of

shrinking modesty which it would be well to imitate.

It does not in the least trouble the phrase-makers and the followers of

the ideas that they have spread broadcast through the world that the

violet which hides timidly behind its sheltering leaves nearly always

dies unnoticed, and that it is in most cases anemic and faded in color.

The type that wins the admiration of the world is that, which,

disengaging itself from its leafy shield, springs up with a bound above

its green foliage just as men of poise rise triumphantly above the

accidents and the petty details which bury the timid under their heavy


If one were minded to carry out the comparison properly, it is far more

exact to liken the timid to these degenerate flowers, which are indebted

to the shade in which they hide for their puny and abortive appearance.

The timid have then no sort of excuse for complaining of their ill-luck.

To begin with, it is to their own defects solely that their obscurity is


Furthermore, by ceaselessly complaining, they gradually become absorbed

by these ideas of ill-fortune, which grow to be their accomplices in

their detestation of effort and suggest to them the thought of

attempting nothing upon the absurd pretext that nothing they do can


One must add here--and this is extremely important--that in acting in

this way they always manage to provoke the hostile forces that are

dormant in everything and that array themselves the more readily against

such people because of their lack of the resolution to combat them and

the energy to overcome them.

This is the reason why people who are gifted with poise find themselves

better qualified than others to succeed.

Their faith is so beautiful and so convincing that it compels conviction

in others and seems to be able to dominate events.

It is by no means an illusion to believe in the worth of this

confidence. People to whom it is given become of the most wonderful help

to others, their faith aiding and sustaining that of those who have

resolved to make an effort.

However strong the soul of man may be, it is nevertheless subject to

hours of discouragement, to moments of despair, in which some comfort

and sympathy are needed.

The man of resolution will recover from his failures the more easily the

more certain he is that he has created in those about him an atmosphere

of friendliness which will not allow his defeats to be made public.

As mists are dispelled at the approach of the sun, the agony of doubt

will disappear in the genial warmth of the encouragement and the

confidence that his poise and self-reliance have built up in those

around him, and a sure faith will be given to him, the certain and

faithful guide to the road that leads onward to success.