Conditioning Yourself to Discomfort: Eye Gazing Edition

The folks over at SPACIOUS recently posted about eye gazing parties and it reminded me of a time when I spent a week practicing eye gazing with total strangers.

Here’s what I wrote:

I love this “eye gazing” exercise suggested by Timothy Ferris in The Four Hour Work Week:

“For the next two days, test gazing into the eyes of others—whether people you pass on the street or conversational partners—until they break contact.

1. Focus on one of their eyes, not both, and be sure to blink occasionally so you don’t look like a psychopath or get your ass kicked. It’s not sustained eye contact, it’s too infrequent blinking, that makes people feel uncomfortable.

2. In conversation, focus on maintaining eye contact when you are speaking. It’s easy to do while listening.

3. Practice with people bigger or more confident than yourself. If a passer-by asks you what the hell you’re staring at, just smile and respond: ‘Sorry about that. I thought you were an old friend of mine.’”

This exercise is part of Tim’s idea that you can, “…condition yourself to discomfort and overcome it.” I love it for its contribution to helping me condition myself to discomfort. (This is a larger project I’ve been working on for years, only recently becoming aware of it. More on this soon!)

I also love it for the unexpected effects I experienced from practicing it.

For one thing, I noticed that it helped me to “focus” my interactions. When I spoke with someone, I looked at them and was less likely to be distracted by other things in my environment. Sometimes I left an interaction with a cashier, at my favorite local café for example, feeling really connected. As if I just had a chat with a good friend when all I did was order a drink. Seeing as how connectedness is a basic human need, it felt awesome to have that need met with minimal effort in an unlikely place.

I also often had the sense that I positively contributed to their experience as well. Maybe this is because people who are in customer service positions are often dealing with folks who are technologically distracted.

“I’ll have a latte. Oh my god, I can’t believe he said that. What? Yeah, tall. No was talking to the cashier guy. What a jerk. No your boyfriend, not the cashier. Oh, to go.”

Even though it seems like a simple thing, ordering coffee or a similar activity, it means a lot more than we think to really be present in doing so. Plus it opens up all kinds of possibilities.

Which was the other thing I found when I incorporated “eye gazing” into my routine human interactions. People, totally strangers, talked to me more and smiled at me more frequently. One woman, for example, just felt comfortable enough to ask me if I thought she’s poured herself about a cup of quinoa from the bulk bin, after I made eye contact with her and excused myself for being in her personal space as I scooped out some nutritional yeast. And there’s that satisfying human connection happening again.

I know it’s just quinoa, but it feels good to talk to people as if you share a friend level of comfort with them. And to feel as if you aren’t just an atomized, insular being zipping through your day, trying not to bump into anyone.

 The final effect was that I projected a sense of confidence that may not have been truly on par with how confident I felt. You know the old saying, “fake it ‘til you make it.” Through practicing “eye gazing” self-confidence started to rise up in me as if from the ether.

Will you take Tim’s challenge? Eye dare you.

 

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