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Title: Poise: How to Attain It
Author: Starke, D.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Poise: How to Attain It" ***

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Mental Efficiency Series




Translated by Francis Medhurst, D.Litt.




All efforts directed toward the correcting of temperamental or mental
blemishes or defects and nervous conditions are of benefit to humanity.
In producing this book the Author's purpose was to help mankind to
overcome these weaknesses, which are a serious impediment to mental
development, and hinder personal advancement and general progress. The
aim of the Publishers in issuing this translation is to put into the
hands of those who wish to overcome their failings, become masters of
themselves, and command the attention and respect of others, a work that
has been thoroughly tested abroad and one that will be found of
exceptional service in attaining the end in view--the securing of a
perfect balance.

This book is written in two parts. The first points to the need of Poise
in daily life, indicates the obstacles to be overcome, and discusses the
effects of Poise on personal efficiency. The second instructs the reader
how to secure that evenness of temperament which is the chief
characteristic of Poise. It includes, in addition, a series of practical
physical exercises to be used in acquiring Poise.

If such a work as this is to do good, if the reader really wishes to
benefit by the advice that it gives him, it must be read thoughtfully
and diligently, not fitfully and forgetfully, and the reader most
steadfastly keep before him the maxim of the Author--"Poise is a power
derived from the Mastery of Self."





    I. The Need of Poise in Life
   II. The Enemies of Poise
  III. War on Timidity


    I. Modesty and Effrontery Contrasted
   II. Physical Exercises to Acquire Poise
  III. Four Series of Physical Exercises
   IV. Practical Exercises for Obtaining Poise
    V. The Supreme Achievement





Lack of poise has always been an obstacle to those who are imbued with
the desire to succeed.

In every age the awkwardness born of timidity has served to keep back
those who suffered from it, but this defect has never been so great a
drawback as in the life of to-day.

The celebrated phrase of the ancient Roman writer who said, "Fortune
smiles on the brave," could very well serve as our motto nowadays, with
this slight alteration: "Fortune smiles on those who are possest of

At this point let us attempt an exact definition of poise.

It is a quality which enables us to judge of our own value, and which,
in revealing to us the knowledge of the things of which we are really
capable, gives us at the same time the desire to accomplish them.

It is not a quality wholly simple. On the contrary, it is a composite of
many others all of which take part in the molding of that totality which
bears the name of poise.

It may be well to pass in review the principal qualities of which it is
composed, that one may characterize as follows:



Knowledge of one's own value.

Correctness of judgment.

Sincerity toward oneself.

The power of resisting the appeals of self-love.

Contempt of adverse criticism.

Pride that is free from vanity.

A definite and clearly conceived ambition.

Will, as is well known, is the pivot of all our resolutions, whether the
question for the moment be how to form them or how to keep them when

A man without will-power is a straw, blown about by every wind and
carried, whether he will or no, into situations in which he has no valid
reason for finding himself.

Without the will-power which enables us to take a firm hold of ourselves
and to get a grip upon our impressions, they will remain vague and
nebulous without presenting to us characters of sufficient definiteness
to enable us to direct them readily into the proper channels.

It is will-power which gives us the force to maintain a resolution which
will lead us to the hoped-for goal of success.

It is will-power also which enables us to correct the faults which stand
in the way of the acquiring of poise.

We are not now speaking of those idle fancies which are no more than
manifestations of nervousness. We have in mind rather that controlled
and enduring purpose which arms the heart against the assaults of the
emotions by giving it the strength to overcome them.

There are many cases even in which will-power has led to their entire

This happens more particularly in the case of those artificial emotions
that the man of resolution ignores completely, but which cause agony to
the timid who do not know how to escape them, and exaggerate them to

This abnormal development of their personalities is the peculiarity of
the timid, which their fitful efforts of will only heighten, alienating
from them the sympathy which might be of assistance to them.

They take refuge in a species of mischievous and fruitless activity,
leaving the field open to the development of all sorts of imaginary ills
that argument does not serve to combat.

Their ego, whose importance is in no way counterbalanced by their
appreciation of the friends they keep at a distance, fills their entire
existence to such an extent that they have no doubt whatever that, when
they are in public, every eye is, of necessity, fixt upon them.

Their negative will leaves them at the mercy of every sort of emotion,
which, in arousing in them the necessity of a reaction they feel
themselves powerless to realize, reduces them to a state of inferiority
that, when it becomes known, is the source of grave embarrassment to

The power of will which sustains those who wish to acquire the habit of
poise is, then, the capacity to accomplish acts solely because one has
the ardent desire to achieve them.

We are now speaking, understand, neither of extreme heroism or of

Another point presents itself here. Willpower, in order to preserve its
energy, must be sustained and fixt. At this price alone can we achieve
poise. We must, therefore, thoroughly saturate ourselves with this
principle: Reasoning-power is an essential element in the upbuilding of

It is reasoning-power which teaches us to distinguish between those
things that we must be careful to avoid and those which are part and
parcel of the domain of exaggeration and fantasy.

It is also by means of reasoning that we arrive at the proper
appreciation of the just mean that we must observe. It is by its aid
that we are enabled to disentangle those impulses that will prove
profitable from a chaos of useless risks.

It is always by virtue of deductions depending upon reason that we are
able to adopt a resolution or to maintain an attitude that we believe to
be correct, while preserving our self-possession under circumstances in
which persons of a timorous disposition would certainly lose their

Those who know how to reason never expose themselves to the possibility
of being unhorsed by fate for lack of good reasons for strengthening
themselves in their chosen course.

They adhere, in the very heat of discussion and in spite of the
onslaughts of destiny, to the line of conduct that sage reflection has
taught them to adopt and are more than careful never to abandon it
except for the most valid reasons.

They never stray into the byways in which the timid and the shrinking
constantly wander without sufficient thought of the goal toward which
they are journeying.

They know where they are going, and if, now and again, they ask for
information about the road that remains to be traveled, it is with no
intention of changing their course, but simply so as not to miss the
short cuts and to lose nothing of the pleasures of the scenes through
which they may pass.

Reasoning-power is the trade-mark of superior minds. Mediocre natures
take no interest in it and, as we have seen, the timid are incapable of
it, except in so far as it follows the beaten path.

True poise never is guided by anything but reason. Certain risks can
never be undertaken save after ripe deliberation.

Confusion is never the fate of those who are resolved on a definite line
of conduct.

Such people are careful to plumb the questions with which they have to
grapple and to weigh the inconveniences and the advantages of the acts
they have the desire to accomplish.

When their decision is once made, however, nothing will prevent the
completion of the work they have begun. Such people are ripe for

The knowledge of one's real worth is a quality doubly precious when
contrasted with the fact that the majority of people are more than
indulgent to their own failings. Of many of them it may be said, in the
words of the Arab proverb, couched in the language of imagery: "This man
has no money, but in his pocket everything turns to gold."

This saying, divested of the language of hyperbole, means simply that
the man in question is so obsessed with the greatness of his own
personal value that he exaggerates the importance of everything that
concerns him.

This condition is a much more common one than one might at first
believe. Many an occurrence which, when it happens to some one else,
seems to us quite devoid of interest, becomes, when it directly affects
us, a matter to compel the attention of others, to the extent that we
find ourselves chilled and disappointed when we discover that we are the
victims of that indifference which we were prepared to exhibit toward
other people under similar circumstances.

The consciousness of our own worth must not be confounded with that
adoration of self which transforms poise into egotism.

It is a good thing to know one's own powers sufficiently well to
undertake only such tasks as are certainly within the scope of one's

To believe oneself more capable than one really is, is a fault that is
far too common. It is, nevertheless, less harmful in the long run than
the failing which is its exact antithesis. Lack of confidence in one's
own powers is the source of every kind of feebleness and of all

It is for this reason that poise never can exist without another
quality, that correctness of judgment which, in giving us the breadth of
mind to know exactly how much we are capable of, permits us to undertake
our tasks without boasting and without hesitation.

Soundness of judgment is the faculty of being able to appreciate the
merits of our neighbors without cherishing any illusions as to our own,
and of being able to do this so exactly that we can with assurance carry
out to its end any undertaking, knowing that the result must be, barring
accidents, precisely what we have foreseen.

This being the case, what possible reason can we have for depreciating
ourselves or for lacking poise?

Timid people suffer without recognizing their own defects in the matter
of insight.

They torture themselves by building their judgments upon indications and
not upon facts.

If the perception of a man of resolution causes him to understand at
once the emptiness of criticisms based on envy or spleen, the timid man,
always ready to seize upon anything that can be possibly construed into
an appearance of ridicule directed against himself, will give up a
project that he hears criticized without stopping to weigh the value of
the arguments advanced.

Far from arguing the question out, or attempting a rebuttal, he never
even dreams of it. The very thought of a contest, however courteously it
may be conducted, frightening him to such an extent that he loses all
his ideas.

The unfortunate shrinking which characterizes him makes him an easy prey
for people of exaggerated enthusiasms as well as to quick

A token of apparent sympathy touches him so profoundly that he does not
wait to estimate its value and to decide whether it be sincere or not.

He passes in a moment from careless gaiety to the blackest despair if he
imagines that he has observed even the appearance of an unsympathetic

He does not need to be sure, to be miserable. It is enough for him if
the circumstances that he thought favorable become seemingly hostile and

How utterly different is the attitude of the man who is endowed with

His firmness of soul saves him from unconsidered enthusiasms and he
jealously preserves his control in the presence of excessive
protestations as well as when confronting indications of aimless

How can such a man as this possibly fail to form a correct judgment and
to benefit by all the qualities that depend upon it?

Absolute sincerity toward oneself is one of the forms of sound judgment.

Without indulging in excessive modesty, it is a good thing to endeavor
to become intimately acquainted with one's aptitudes and one's failings,
and to admit the latter with the utmost frankness in order to set about
the work of correcting them.

It is also necessary to know exactly what sort of territory it is in
which one is taking one's risks.

The world of affairs, whatever these last may happen to be, may be
likened to a vast preserve containing traps for wild beasts.

The man who wishes to walk in such a place without coming to harm will,
first of all, make a careful study of the ground for the purpose of
avoiding the traps and pitfalls that may engulf him or wound him as he

Just as soon as he has located these dangers his step becomes firm and
he can advance with a tranquil gait and head upraised along the paths
which he knows do not conceal any dangerous surprizes.

These are the pitfalls that most frequently threaten that daring that we
sometimes find in the timid.

Their very defects preventing them from making proper comparisons, they
are altogether too prone to ignore their faults and to magnify their
virtues and so fall an easy prey to the designer and the sharper.

Their very carelessness in estimating other people becomes the
foundation of an involuntary partiality the moment they are called upon
to judge their own actions.

It is not deliberate self-indulgence that drives them to act in this
way, but their inexperience, which gives rise in them to the desire for
perfection, and this necessarily provokes, simultaneously with the
despair caused by their failure to attain it, a fear of having this
failure remarked or commented upon.

The man who possesses poise is too familiar with the realities of life
not to be aware that the search for such an ideal is a Utopian dream.

But he is also aware that, if actual perfection does not exist, it is
the bounden duty of man to struggle always in pursuit of good and to
show appreciation of it in whatsoever form it may manifest itself.

Sincerity toward himself thus becomes for him an easy matter indeed, and
for the very reason that his poise leaves him absolutely free to form a
correct estimate of others.

Serious self-examination throws a clear light for him upon those merits
of which he has a right to be proud, while revealing to him at the same
time the faults to which he is most likely to yield.

The habit of estimating himself and his own qualities without fear or
favor gives him great facility for gaging the motives of other people.

He thus avoids the pitfalls that a biased viewpoint spreads before the
feet of the foolish, and at the same time represses that feeling of
vanity which might lead him to believe that he is altogether too clever
to fall into them.

He watches himself constantly to avoid getting into the bypaths which he
sees with sorrow that others are following, and does not fail to
estimate accurately the value of the victories he achieves over himself
as well as over the duplicity of most of the people who surround him.

And this superiority is what makes certain his poise. More difficult
perhaps than anything else to acquire is the power to resist the appeals
of one's own self-love.

We will explain this later at greater length. Lack of poise is often due
to nothing so much as an excess of vanity which throws one back upon
oneself from the fear of not being able to shine in the front rank.

Such a person does not say to himself: "I will conquer this place by
sheer merit." He contents himself with envying those who occupy it,
quite neglecting to put forth the efforts which would place him there
beside them.

There is nothing worse than yielding to an exaggerated tenderness toward
ourselves, which, by magnifying our merits in our own eyes, frequently
leads us to make attempts which result in failure and expose us to

This is a most frequent cause of making an inveterate coward of one who
is subject to occasional attacks of timidity.

To know one's limitations exactly and never to allow oneself to exceed
them--this is the part of wisdom, the act of a man who, as the saying
goes, knows what he is about.

There is in every effort a necessary limit that it is not wise to

"Never force your talents," says a very pithy proverb. Never undertake
to do a thing that is beyond your powers.

Never allow yourself to be drawn into a discussion on a subject which is
beyond your intellectual depth. To do so is to take the risk of making
mistakes that will render you ridiculous.

But if you are quite convinced that you can come out victorious, never
hesitate to enter a trial of wits that may serve as an occasion for
demonstrating the fact that you are sure of your subject.

The man who cultivates poise will never let pass such opportunities as
this for exhibiting himself in a favorable light.

Conscious of the soundness of his own judgment, and filled with a real
sincerity toward himself, he will not allow himself to be carried away
by a possible chance of success. Rather will he gather himself together,
collect his forces, and wait until he can achieve a real effect upon the
minds of those whom he wishes to impress.

Similarly the result of unsuccess in such a venture is obvious. It has
the effect of developing a distrust of oneself and of destroying the
superb assurance of those people of whom it is often said: "Oh, he! He
is sailing with the wind at his back!"

People generally fail to add in these cases that such persons have left
nothing undone to accomplish this result and are more than careful not
to weigh anchor when the wind is not favorable.

It is true enough that there can be no actual shelter from a storm, but
the mariner who is prepared is able to ride it out without appreciable
damage, while those who are not prepared generally founder on account of
their poor seamanship.

Disregard of calumny is always the index of a noble spirit.

The man who wastes time over such indignities and who allows himself to
be affected by them is not of the stature that insures victory in the

Minds of large caliber disdain these manifestations of futile jealousy.

People of obscurity are never vilified. Only those whose merits have
placed them in the limelight are the targets for the attacks of envy and
for the slanders of falsehood.

A precept that has often been enunciated, and can not be too often
repeated, which should, indeed, be inscribed in letters of gold over the
doors of every institution where men meet together, runs as follows:
"Envy and malice are nothing more than homage rendered to superiority."

Only those who occupy an enviable position can become objects of

Such calumny is always the work of the unworthy, who think to advertise
their own merits by denying those of better men.

Men of resolution under such circumstances simply shrug their shoulders
and pass by.

The rest, those who are enslaved by timidity, become confused.

Their ego, which they cultivated in a fashion at once obscure and
absolute, becomes so profoundly affected that they lack all courage to
openly defend it.

Moreover, that instinctive need of sympathy, which is so marked a
characteristic of the timid, is deeply wounded, while their chronic fear
of disapprobation is strengthened by the criticisms spread abroad.

The illogicality of these sentiments is obvious. The man who is timid
shuns society, yet nevertheless the judgments of this same society are
for him a question of absorbing interest. Timidity is, in effect, a
disease of many forms, every one of which is founded upon illogicality.

It is always a mental weakness. It is sometimes vanity, but never pride,
that reasonable pride that a philosophy now abandoned once numbered as
one of the principal vices, and which, if rightly estimated, can be
considered as the motive power of every noble action.

Pride is a force. It is therefore a virtue which must of necessity be
one of the components of poise, so long as it contains within it no
seeds of vanity. Under such circumstances it is a primal condition of
success in the achievement of poise. Pride must, however, be free from
vanity, otherwise it ceases to be a force and becomes a cause of

As a matter of fact, those who are conceited are always the dupes of
their own desire to bulk largely in the minds of others, and at the mere
thought that they will not shine as they have hoped to do the majority
of them are put entirely out of countenance and are quite at a loss for
means of expression.

The inevitable result of this tendency is to drive them into association
with mediocrity. In such a society alone will the vain find themselves
at their ease. But the very moment that they find themselves in the
presence of those who are their superiors, the fear of not being able to
occupy the front rank throws them into such a state of mental disarray
that they entirely lose their assurance and that appearance of poise by
whose aid they are often able to deceive others.

Finally, one of the most solid elements of poise is, without doubt, a
well-defined ambition, that is to say, one that is divested of the
drawbacks of frivolity and directly winged toward the goal of one's

The man who possesses ambition of this kind is certainly destined to
acquire, if he has not already acquired it, that poise which is
absolutely necessary to him in order to make his way in the world.

He will neither be pretentious nor timorous, exaggerated nor fearful. He
will go forward without hesitation toward the goal which he knows to be
before him, and will make, without any apologies, those detours which
seem to him necessary to the success of his undertaking, without paying
any attention to the fruitless distractions that make victims of the

He will not have to put up with the affront of being refused, for he
will ask aid only of those persons who, for various reasons, he is
practically sure will be of assistance to him. The knowledge of his own
deserts, while keeping him in the position he has attained, will prevent
him from being satisfied in commonplace surroundings, and his will-power
will always maintain him at the level he has reached, permitting him no
latitude save that of exceeding it.

Such is true poise, not that whose spirit one violates by merely
associating it with the incapable, the pretentious, or the extravagant,
but that which is at once the motive power and the inspiration of all
the actions of those who, in their determination to force their way
through the great modern struggle for existence, perseveringly follow a
line of conduct that they have worked out for themselves in advance.

Ignoring such enterprises as they know to be unworthy of their powers,
those who are possest of real poise (and not of that foolish temerity
colloquially known as _bluff_) will devote themselves solely to such
tasks as a well-ordered judgment and an accurate knowledge of their own
potentialities indicate to them to be fitting.

Does this mean that they will succeed in every case?

Unfortunately, no! But such of them as have met with temporary failure,
if they are able to assure themselves that their lack of success has
been due neither to a failure of will-power nor a fear of ridicule, will
return to the charge, once more prepared to make headway against
circumstances which they have the poise to foresee, and which they will
at least render incapable of harming them, even if they lack the
necessary force to dominate them completely to their own advantage.



The enemies of poise are many and of different origins, both of feeling
and of impulse.

They all tend, however, toward the same result, the cessation of effort
under pretexts more or less specious.

It is of no use deceiving ourselves. Lack of poise has its roots deep in
all the faults which are caused by apathy and purposeless variety.

We have learned in the previous chapter how greatly the vice of lack of
confidence in oneself can retard the development of the quality we are

Balanced between the desire to succeed and the fear of failure, the
timid man leads a miserable existence, tortured by unavailing regrets
and by no less useless aspirations, which torment him like the worm that
dieth not.

Little by little the habit of physical inaction engenders a moral
inertia and the victim learns to fly from every opportunity of escaping
from his bondage.

Very soon an habitual state of idleness takes possession of him and
causes him to avoid everything that tends to make action necessary.

The dread of responsibility that might devolve upon him turns him aside
from every sort of endeavor, and he passes his life in a hopeless and
sluggish inaction, from a fear of drawing down upon himself reproaches
to which he might have to make answer or of being compelled to take part
in discussions which would involve the disturbing of his indolent

Are we to suppose then that he finds real happiness in such a state of

Certainly not, for this negative existence weighs upon him with all the
burden of a monotony that he feels powerless to throw off. His own
mediocrity enrages him while the success of others fills him with

Nevertheless his weakness of character allows the hate of action to
speak more loudly to him than legitimate ambition, and keeps him in a
state of obvious inferiority that of itself gives birth to numberless
new enemies, who end by destroying him utterly.

He is first attacked by slowness of comprehension, the inevitable
consequence of that idleness that causes the cowardly to shun the

Rather than combat influences from without he allows them daily to
assume a more prominent and a more definite place in his thoughts.

His hatred of action says no to all initiative and he considers that he
has accomplished his whole duty toward society and toward himself when
he says: "What's the use of undertaking this or that? I haven't a chance
of succeeding and it is therefore idle to invite defeat!"

So quickly does the change work that his mind, from lack of proper
exercise, rapidly reaches the condition where it can not voluntarily
comprehend any but the most simple affairs and goes to pieces when
confronted with occasions that call for reflection or reasoning, which
he considers as the hardest kind of work.

It is hardly a matter for astonishment, therefore, that under these
conditions effeminacy should take possession of a soul that has become
the sport of all the weaknesses that are born of a desire to avoid

We do not care to draw the picture of that case too often encountered in
which this moral defeat becomes changed into envy, the feeling of
bitterness against all men, the veritable hell of the man who has not
the power to make the effort that shall free him.

Mental instability is the inevitable consequence of this state of

All brain-activity being regarded as a useless toil, the man of timidity
never understands the depth of the questions he has not the courage to
discuss. If he does talk of them, it is with a bias rendered all the
more prejudiced by the fact that, instead of expressing his ideas, he
takes refuge in fortifying his heresies with arguments of which the
smallest discussion would demonstrate the worthlessness.

This unwillingness to discuss conditions gives rise among people who are
deficient in poise to a special form of reasoning, which causes them to
summarize in the most hurried fashion even the gravest events, upon the
sole consideration that they are not asked to take part in them. If, by
any chance, they are forced to be actors in these events the least
little incident assumes for them the most formidable proportions.

It seems probable that this tendency to exaggerate everything with which
they come in contact is due solely to egoism. It is certain at any rate
that egoism plays a large part in it, but some portion of it is due to
the lack of observation that characterizes all people of timidity.

The mental idleness and the instability of mind that we have already
considered render such people less inclined to consider with any degree
of care those things which do not touch them directly.

At this stage, it is no longer possible for them to feign ignorance in
order to avoid the trouble of thinking, and they are only touched, even
by the most personal matters, to the extent that circumstances impose
upon them the necessity of thinking or of acting with reference to the
subject under consideration.

The idea that they can no longer avoid the resolutions which must be
made and their fear of the consequences which may result from these
affect them to such a profound extent that the most insignificant of
occurrences immediately assumes for them an altogether incommensurate

This state of mind is a notable foe of poise. It is practically
impossible for a person under such conditions to believe that any
considerable effort he has made can have passed unperceived.

This propensity to assign an exaggerated importance to personal affairs
develops egoism, the avowed enemy of poise. An egoist necessarily
assumes that the rest of the world attributes to his acts the importance
he himself assigns to them.

This preoccupation does not fail to upset him. It increases his
embarrassment and the fear of not appearing in the light in which he
wishes to be seen paralyzes him, while the dread of what other people
may think prevents him from being himself.

To this cause many otherwise inexplicable defeats must be assigned, the
result of which is a renewed resentment against the world at large and
an ardent desire to avoid any further exposure to the chance of failure.

A case in point is the man who becomes nervous while making a speech,
starts to stammer, and makes a lamentable failure of what began well
enough, because he imagines that persons in the audience are making fun
of him.

He has overheard a word, or surprized a look, neither of which had any
relation to him, but so great is his egoism that he does not dream that
any one in the audience can be so lacking in taste as to be concerned
with anything but himself.

Had this man, in spite of his egoism, been endowed with poise, he would
have gone along calmly, simply forcing himself to ignore all criticism
and to impress his very critics by his attitude and his eloquence. But
his distrust of himself, his mental instability, his habitual weakness
of reasoning, all these enemies of poise league themselves together to
inflict upon him a defeat, of which the memory will only aggravate his
nervousness and his desire never to repeat such an unpleasant

For the man who has no poise there is no snatching victory from defeat.
His feeble will-power is completely routed, and the effort involved in
stemming the tide of adverse opinion is to him an impossibility.

From dread of being carried away by the current, and feeling himself
incapable of struggling against it, he prefers to hide himself in the
caves along the shore, rather than to make one desperate effort to cross
the stream.

But the very isolation he seeks, in depriving him of moral support,
increases his embarrassment.

"It is not good for man to be alone," says Holy Writ. It is certainly
deplorable, for one who desires to make his way, to find himself without
a prop, without a counselor, and without a guide.

This is the case of those timid persons who do not understand how to
make friends for themselves.

Poise, on the other hand, invites sympathy. It aids men to expand. It
creates friends when needed, and weaves the bonds of comradeship and of
protection without which our social fabric could not hold together.

Educators should seek for inspiration in the lessons that the exigencies
of modern life offer to the view of the observer. Excessive modesty,
sworn enemy of poise, is, socially speaking, a fault from which young
minds should be carefully guarded.

It is the open door to all the feeblenesses which interfere with the
development of poise.

It is a mistake that it has so long been considered as a virtue.

In any case, the day of extreme humility is past. This detachment from
oneself is contrary to all the laws of progress.

It is opposed to all the principles of evolution and of growth which
should be the study of all our contemporaries, whatever their station or
the class to which they may happen to belong.

No man has the right to withdraw himself from the battle and to shirk
his duties, while watching other people fighting to maintain the social
equilibrium and seeking to achieve the position to which their talents
and their attainments render them worthy to aspire.

That which is too easily honored with the title of modesty is generally
nothing more than a screen behind which conscious ineptitude conceals

It is a very easy thing to strike a disdainful attitude and to exclaim:
"I didn't care to compete!"

Do not forget that a defeat after a sanguinary combat is infinitely more
honorable than a retreat in which not a blow is struck.

Moreover, the combats of the mind temper the soul, just as those of the
body fortify the flesh, by making both fit for the victory that is to

It is then against the enemies of poise that we must go forth to war.

Cowardice must be hunted down, wherever we encounter it, because its
victims are thrown into the struggle of life burdened with an undeniable

Even if they are worth while no one will be found to observe it, since
their lack of poise always turns them back upon themselves, and very few
people have the wit to discover what is so sedulously concealed.

Deception is the necessary corollary of this, and one that very soon
becomes changed into spite. The disappointment of being misunderstood
must inevitably lead us to condemn those who do not comprehend us. Our
shyness will be increased at this and we shall end by disbelieving
ourselves in the qualities that we find other people ignoring in us.

From this condition of discouragement to that of mental inertia it is
but a step, and many worthy people who lack poise have rapidly traveled
this road to plunge themselves into the obscurity of renunciation.

They are like paralytics. Like these poor creatures they have limbs
which are of no service to them and which from habitual lack of
functioning end by becoming permanently useless.

If their nature is a bad one they will have still more reason to
complain of this lack of poise, with its train of inconveniences of
which we have been treating, that will leave them weakened and a prey to
all sorts of mental excesses which will be the more serious in their
effects for the fact that their existence is known to no one but the

Instead of admitting that their lack of poise-due to the various faults
of character we have been discussing--is the sole cause of the apparent
ostracism from which they suffer, they indulge in accusations against
fate, against the world, against circumstances, and grow to hate all
those who have succeeded, without being willing to acknowledge that they
have never seriously made the attempt themselves.

Only those return home with the spoils who have taken part in the
battle, have paid with their blood and risked their lives.

The man who remains in hiding behind the walls of his house can hardly
be astonished that such honors do not come his way.

Life is a battle, and victory is always to the strong. The timid are
never called upon to take their share of the booty. It becomes the
property of those who have had the force to win it, either by sheer
courage or by cautious strategy, for real bravery is not always that
which calls for the easy applause of the crowd.

It is found just as much among those who have the will-power to keep
silent as to their plans and to resist the temptation to actions which,
while satisfying their desire for energetic measures may destroy the
edifice that they have so carefully constructed.

It is for this reason that enthusiasm may be considered with justice as
an enemy of poise.

Those who act under the domination of an impulse born of a too-vivid
impression are rarely in a state of mind that can be depended upon to
judge sanely and impartially. They nearly always overshoot the mark at
which they aim. They are like runners dashing forward at such a high
speed that they can not bring themselves to a sudden stop. Habitual
enthusiasm is also the enemy of reflection. It is an obstacle to that
reason from which proceed strong resolves, and one is often impelled, in
observing people who are fired with too great an ardor, to thoughts of
the fable of the burning straw.

A teacher, who inclined to the methods that consist of object lessons,
one day asked two children to make a choice between two piles, one of
straw, the other of wood. It is hardly necessary to add that while the
size of the pile of straw was great that of the wood was hardly
one-tenth of the volume.

The first child, when told to make his choice, took the mass of straw,
which he set on fire easily enough, warming himself first from a
respectful distance and then at close range, in proportion as the heat
of the fire grew less.

In so doing he made great sport of his companion, who struggled
meanwhile to set alight the pile of wood. But what was the outcome?

The huge mass of straw was soon burned out, while the wood, once lit,
furnished a tranquil and steady flame, which the first child watched
with envy while seated by the mass of cinders that alone remained of the
vanished pile that he had chosen.

The man of real poise is like the child who, disclaiming the transitory
blaze of the straw, prefers to work patiently at building a fire whose
moderate heat will afford him a durable and useful warmth.

Let us then beware of sudden unreasoning enthusiasms. After the
ephemeral flame of their first ardor has burned itself out we shall but
find ourselves seated by the mass of ashes formed of our mistakes and
our dead energies.

The rock on which so many abortive attempts are wrecked in the effort to
achieve poise is a type of sentimentality peculiar to certain natures.

This state of mind is characterized by a craving for expansion, which is
all the more irritating since the timidity of the person concerned
prevents it from being satisfied.

In place of relying upon themselves, feeling their disabilities and the
lack of poise which prevents them from proper expression, such people
try to make themselves understood by those who do not appreciate their
feelings, without stopping to think that they have done nothing to make
clear what they really need.

Such a chaotic state of mind, based on errors of judgment, is a very
serious obstacle to the acquisition of poise.

This anxiety to communicate their feelings, always rendered ineffective
by the difficulty of making the effort involved, gives rise in the long
run to a species of misanthropy.

It is a matter of common knowledge that misanthropy urges those who
suffer from it to fall back upon themselves, and from this state to that
of active hostility toward others the road is short, and timid people
are rarely able to pull up before they have traversed it.

There comes to them from this intellectual solitude an unhappiness so
profound that they are glad to be able to attribute to the mental
inferiority of others the condition of moral isolation in which they

To insist that they are misunderstood, and to pride themselves upon the
fact, is the inevitable fate of those who never can summon up courage to
undertake a battle against themselves.

It seems to them a thousand times easier to say: "These minds are too
gross to comprehend mine," than to seek for a means of establishing an
understanding with those whom they tax with ignorance and insensibility.

They might, perhaps, be convinced of the utility to them of divulging
their feelings, could they be forced into a position where they had to
defend their ideas or were compelled to put up a fight on behalf of
their convictions.

In the ranks of the enemies of poise sullenness most certainly finds a

It is the fault of the feeble-spirited who have not the energy to affirm
their sentiments or to make a plain statement of their convictions that
they become incensed with those who oppose them.

In their case a good deal of false pride is present. They know
themselves to be beaten and to be incapable of fighting, yet they are
too vain to accept defeat. They refuse the sympathy that wounds them,
and suffer the more from their inability to yield themselves to that
good-will which would aid and comfort them.

From this mental conflict is born an irritation that manifests itself in
the form of obstinate sullenness.

In other cases the same state of mind may produce radically different

Always obsessed by the fear of appearing ridiculous and by the no less
vivid dread of seeming to be an object of sympathy, such people are
often driven through lack of poise into extreme boastfulness.

No man who has poise will ever fall a victim to this misfortune.

He knows exactly what his capabilities are and he has no need to
exaggerate his own abilities to impress his friends.

Poise calls for action, when this becomes necessary; but the man of
resolve, being always prepared to do what is needful, considers mere
boasting and bravado as something quite unworthy of him.

There are, however, certain extenuating circumstances in the cases of
those timid people who take refuge in boasting. They are almost
invariably the dupes of their own fancies, and for the moment really
believe themselves to be capable of endeavors beset by difficulties, of
the surmounting of which they understand nothing.

Nothing looks easier to duplicate than certain movements which are
performed with apparent ease by experts.

Which of us has not been profoundly astonished at the enormous
difficulty experienced in accomplishing some simple act of manual toil
that we see performed without the least effort by a workman trained to
this particular task?

What looks easier, for instance, than to plane a piece of wood or to dig
up the ground?

Is it possible that the laborer, wheeling a barrow, really has to be
possest of skill or strength?

It hardly seems so. And yet the man who takes a plane in his hands for
the first time will be astounded at the difficulty he experiences in
approximating to the regularity and lightness of stroke that comes
naturally to the carpenter.

The man who essays to dig a piece of ground or to wheel a barrow, will
find himself making irregular ditches and traveling in zigzags, and all
this at the expense of a hundred times the energy put forth by the
workman who is accustomed to these particular forms of labor.

The person of timidity who boasts of his remarkable exploits is
actuated, as a general rule, by sheer lack of experience.

His peculiar fault keeps him always in the background and prevents him
from accomplishing any public action, and for this reason those efforts
appear easy to him that he has never thought of attempting.

Further than this, aided by his false pride, he considers that his
merits are easily greater than those of the people who are not able to
understand him, and he is acting in perfect good faith when he professes
to be able to accomplish what they can not.

Is it necessary to add that the ironical reception given to such
exhibitions of boastfulness rouse in him a feeling of irritation which
is all the greater for the fact that he does not openly show it?

The man of resolve will never experience these unpleasant emotions.

He knows exactly what he wants and what he can do. So we see him
marching ahead steadily, his eyes fixt upon the goal he has worked out
for himself, paying no heed whatever to misleading suggestions, which
cripple his breadth of soul and would in the end deprive him of that
essential energy which is vital to him if he would preserve his even
poise, the foundation of mental balance and the source of every real
success in life.



One can not be too insistent in asserting how harmful the lack of poise
can be, and when once this weakness has reached the stage of timidity it
may produce the most tragic consequences not only so far as the daily
routine of our lives is concerned, but also with reference to our moral
and physical equilibrium.

So, when the nervous system is constantly set on edge by the emotions to
which this fault gives rise, it necessarily follows that all the
faculties suffer in their turn.

This is particularly true of those who are constantly haunted by the
fear of finding themselves in a condition of mental unpreparedness, to
the extent that they prefer to remain in solitude and silence rather
than to mingle in a world which really has too many other things to
think of to concern itself with their acts or their opinions.

This morbid dread of becoming the subject of ridicule ends by creating a
peculiar condition of mind of which, as we have already pointed out,
egoism is the pivot.

In this way it is a common occurrence to see people of timidity paying
exaggerated attention to the slightest changes in the condition of their

Such people by shutting themselves out from the world have reduced it to
the circumference of their own personalities and everything which
touches them necessarily assumes gigantic importance in their eyes.

The slightest opposition becomes for them a catastrophe. The smallest
unpleasantness presents itself to them in the light of a tragic

For this reason the lives of the timid become a succession of boredoms
and of pains.

Even in those cases where no really unfortunate incident occurs, these
people so exaggerate what actually does happen to them that the least
little emotion causes them the most profound unhappiness.

On those days when nothing in particular happens they spend their time
anticipating all sorts of disasters, including those which are not the
least likely to happen. To them the tiniest cloud is an omen of a
devastating storm.

When the sun is shining their timidity prevents them from exposing
themselves to the heat of its rays.

The timid man, in his moral isolation, is like the hare, who, crouched
in its form, sleeps with one eye open in constant terror of the
passer-by or of the hunter.

It may be well to add that worry about oneself is invariably an
accompaniment of all these troubles. People without poise are, with very
few exceptions, egotists who exaggerate their own importance.

Moreover, they suffer keenly from the obscurity into which their defects
have forced them as well as from dread of the alternatives presented to
them, the making of an effort to escape this fate, an idea that fills
them with horror, or the continuing to live in the unhappy condition
that has spoiled existence for them through their own faults.

It is hardly then a matter for surprize that so many people who are thus
mentally out of balance end by becoming neurotics or become a prey to
those cerebral disorders that are, unfortunately, all too frequent.

This condition of solitude, at once deplored and self-imposed, has the
still more serious disadvantage of leaving the mind, for lack of proper
control, to the domination of the most false and exaggerated ideas.

It is a well-known fact that any force of exaggeration, however obvious,
becomes less noticeable to us in proportion as it becomes more familiar.

It exists, in the last analysis, only by its comparative relation to
other things.

It is certain that a child ten years old would seem very large if he
were five feet high, whereas a man of that stature is considered a

Among Oriental races a woman is generally classed as a blonde whose hair
is not absolutely black.

Things only take their real appearance from a comparison with others of
the same kind.

For all his science, an ethnologist, placed in front of a man of an
unknown tribe, would be unable to say whether this man's stature were
normal or below the average in relation to others of his race, since no
information would be forthcoming as to this people's height or
characteristics. It is, therefore, no matter for surprize that the timid
man, shut in upon himself and having no other horizon than the limited
field of his own observations, is disposed to picture them in colors
whose truth he can not verify, since the terms of comparison, vital to
the accomplishment of his end, are not available to him.

It is, therefore, impossible for such a man not to become accustomed to
the idea as it presents itself to him, to such an extent that he is
quite unconscious of its successive changes in character.

Do we notice the growth of a child who is constantly with us until he
reaches man's estate?

Can we measure the development of a blossom into the perfect flower?

Assuredly not, if we have lived daily in the company of the child and
have glanced several times an hour at the blossom.

Both the one and the other will reach maturity without being sensibly
conscious of the fact that they are changing.

But if we go away from the child for a few months, if, in the interval,
we see other children, we can form an estimate of his growth and can
compare him mentally with the other children we have met.

The same is true of the flower. If other duties call us away for the
moment from contemplating it, we will notice the progress of its
unfolding and we will also be able to tell whether, in relation to that
of other plants, it is quick, slow, or merely normal.

The man who is timid, be he never so observant, will derive no benefit
from these observations, for he is quite unable to generalize and refers
them all to a point of view which cramps them hopelessly and gives them
a color that is, entirely false.

So, from the habit of thinking without any opposition, little by little
he allows his ideas to become changed and distorted without any one's
being able to advise him of the misconceptions which he keeps closely to

It is for this reason that all timid people have a marked tendency to
distort facts and to acquire false ideas.

It is often with perfect good faith that they affirm a thing which they
believe sincerely, not having had the opportunity to control the
successive changes which have transformed it absolutely from what it was
at the outset.

It is a lucky day for timid people of this class when fate prevents them
from entering into competition with those who are possest of poise.

Were these latter a hundred times weaker than they are they would still
end by triumphing over their feeble antagonists.

It is above all in the affairs of ordinary every-day life that poise
renders the most valuable service.

If it becomes a question of presenting or discussing a matter of
business, the timid man, embarrassed by his own personality, begins to
stammer, becomes confused, and can not recall a single argument. He
finally abandons all the gain that he dreamed of making in order to put
an end to the torments from which he suffers.

He is to be considered lucky if under the domination of the troubles in
which he finds himself, he does not lose all faculty of speech.

This failing, so common among the timid, is a further cause of confusion
to the victim.

At the bare idea that he may become the prey of such a calamity he
unconsciously closes his lips and lowers the tones of his voice.

The man of poise, on the other hand, feels himself the more impelled to
redouble his efforts in proportion to the need his cause has for being
well defended.

He knows how to arrange his arguments, and to foresee those of his
adversary, and, if he finds himself face to face with a statement which
he can not refute, he will seek some means of softening the defeat or of
changing the ground of the debate in such a way as to avoid confusion to

In any event, such an occurrence will have no profound effect upon him.
Vanquished on one point, he will find the presence of mind to at once
change the character of the discussion to questions which are at once
familiar and favorable to him.

He who goes forth into life armed with poise has also the marked
advantage over the timid that comes from superior health.

This phrase should not be the occasion for a smile. Timidity is a
chronic cause of poor health in those who suffer from it.

Pushed to extremes, it is the source of a thousand nervous defects.

We have already touched upon stammering.

Unreasonable blushing is another misfortune of the timid. In drawing the
attention of one's opponents it betrays at once one's ideas and one's

Fear of this uncomfortable blushing inhibits many people from making the
most of themselves or from properly protecting their own interests.

The shame they feel on account of this inferiority leads them, as we
have seen, to seek isolation in which hypochondria slowly grows upon
them, sure forerunner of that terrible neurasthenia of which the effects
are so diverse and so disconcerting.

The man who was at the outset no more than timid, easily becomes
transformed first into a misanthrope, then into a monomaniac tortured by
a thousand physical inhibitions, such as the inability to hold a pen, to
walk unaccompanied across an open space, to ride in a public conveyance,
etc., etc.

It must not be forgotten that these crises of embarrassments always
produce extreme emotion accompanied by palpitations whose frequent
recurrence may lead to actual heart trouble.

All these disadvantages increase the sullenness of the timid, who are
overcome by the sense of their own physical weakness, which they know
has its origin in a condition of mind that they lack the power either to
change or to abolish.

All these causes of physical inferiority are unknown to the man who
appreciates the value of poise and puts it into practise.

Such a man has no fear of embarrassment in speaking. He is a stranger to
the misery of aimless blushing. If he does not always emerge victorious
from the oratorical combats in which he engages he at least has the
satisfaction of acknowledging to himself that he has not been beaten
easily or without a struggle. In short, misanthropy, neurasthenia, and
all their attendant ills, are for him unknown ailments.

One can not be too watchful against the attacks of timidity, which, like
a contaminated spring, poisons the entire existence of those who are
unable to dam up its flow.

Among the martyrdoms which are caused by it must be counted indecision,
which is one of its most frequent and most unhappy results.

The timid man can not stop at any point.

He vacillates unceasingly and takes turn by turn the most opposing

It is only fair to add that he rejects them all almost as soon as he has
formed them.

His state of mind being always one of distrust of his own powers, it is
impossible for him not to be afraid that he has made a mistake, if he is
left to do his own thinking.

We have seen how his craving for sympathy, never satisfied, since he
does not make it known, drives him ever into impotent rage, which throws
him back upon himself in scarcely concealed irritation, that alienates
him from all sympathy and precludes all confidences.

It is rarely, therefore, that the timid person does not find himself
isolated when facing the decisions of greater or less gravity that daily
life makes necessary.

In terror of making a mistake that may lead to some change of course or
give rise to the necessity of taking some definite action, he hesitates

If, driven into a corner by circumstances, he ends by making some
decision, we may be sure that he will at once regret it and that, if the
time still remains to him, he will modify it in some way, only to revert
to it again a moment later.

His will is like a ball continually thrown to and fro by children. No
sooner is it tossed in one direction than it is suddenly sent flying in
another, to return finally to its starting-place at the moment when the
players' weariness causes it to fall to the ground.

This particular state of mind is primarily due to two causes:

The desire for perfection that haunts all timid people.

The fear of making a mistake that arises from the habit of continually
mistrusting one's own judgment.

There are many other causes, the analysis of which is far beyond the
scope of this work, but every one of these can be referred to the two
main issues we have defined. The desire for perfection is at once the
result and the cause of most timidity.

While the man of resolve, relying upon his experience, is able to
perform his part in those normal exigencies that he is able to conceive
of, the timid man, shut off by his defects from all practical knowledge
of life, comes to grief by discovering something amiss with every course
that he considers.

A familiar proverb tells us that everything has its good and its bad

The timid see only the latter when making the decisions that fate
imposes upon them.

They fall into despair at their inability to see the other side of
things and their feeble will drives against solid obstacles like a car
colliding with a block of granite.

The man of resolution, instead of yielding to despair, seeks to surmount
such a difficulty by turning his car in another direction; but, if the
new road shows him nothing but dangerous pitfalls, he will choose to go
around the block and continue his journey, remembering it as a landmark
for his return.

For this reason we shall find him well on his way toward his journey's
end while the victim of timidity continues to exhaust himself by vain
efforts, thankful enough if he is not permanently mired in some of the
bogs into which he has imprudently ventured. This is a state of affairs
of much more frequent occurrence than one might suppose. Timidity, as we
have seen, often unites the boldest conceptions with complete
inexperience, which does not permit of accurate judgment as to

This lack of knowledge of life is also the cause of a continual fear of
making mistakes.

The man of resolution never suffers from this complaint.

Having taught himself the value of a ripened judgment, he is quick to
recognize the advantage to be derived from any project. He weighs
alternatives carefully and only makes his decisions on well-thought-out
grounds, after sufficient reasoned reflection to make sure that he will
have no cause for future regret.

We have already remarked that such forms of irresolution constituted a
martyrdom. The word is by no means too strong. They are never-ending
occasions for physical and moral torture.

They are to be met with in the most trivial details of every-day life.

The mere crossing of a street becomes, for the nervous man, an
ever-recurring source of torment.

He is afraid to go forward at the proper moment, takes one step ahead
and another back, looks despairingly at the line of vehicles that bars
his way, and, when a momentary opening in this confronts him, takes so
long to make up his mind that the opportunity of crossing is past before
he has seized it.

Or again he may suddenly rush forward, without any regard for the danger
to which he is exposed, hesitating suddenly when in the way of the
vehicles that threaten him, and quite incapable of slipping past them,
or of any quick or dexterous movement by which he may avoid them.

This little picture, despite its commonplace nature, is nevertheless a

In the crossings of life, as well as those of the streets, the man who
is timid is at an immense disadvantage when compared with the man of

The latter does not worry his head about the traffic that blocks his

Aided by his will-power and by confidence in his judgment, he stands
firmly awaiting the moment that affords him an opening. Then, with
muscles tense and wits collected, he starts, and whether he darts ahead
here, or glides adroitly there, he threads his way through the traffic
and reaches his goal without having suffered from accident.

The troubles upon which we have been dwelling are never his. His soul,
dominated by a well-ordered will, by reason, and all the other good
qualities we enumerated in the first chapter, is proof against all
attacks of weakness.

In the event of his not possessing all these virtues, he has the wit to
keep the thought of them always before him and to work hard to acquire
them, so that he may become what, in modern parlance, we call "a force,"
that is to say one whose soul is virile enough to influence not only his
mind, but even to liberate his body from the defects created in it by
distrust of self.

But, it will be claimed, there are people who are born timid and who are
quite unable to achieve the mastery of themselves.

Every human being can win the victory over himself. This we will prove
conclusively in the pages that are to follow, dedicated to those who are
desirous of arming themselves, in the great game of life, with that
master card which is named POISE.





"Never force your talents" a well-known writer has said. One always
feels like crying this to those who, thinking to reach the goal of
poise, fall into excess and develop effrontery and exaggeratedness.

Poise can not exist without coolness. We have seen that this quality is
rarely met with in enthusiasts.

It is never found in those who have effrontery.

Poise does not consist in the species of ostentatious carelessness which
essays to travel through life as a child might wander among hives of
bees without taking any precautions against being stung.

Neither is it that false courage that drives one headlong into a
conflict without any thought as to the blows likely to fall upon the
foolhardy person who has ventured into it.

The principle upon which we must start is this: life is a battle in
which strategy always has the advantage over blind courage.

Unfortunate is he who, by his boasting or his lack of generalship,
decides upon an attack for which he is not really prepared. However
brave he may be he will infallibly find himself vanquished in a struggle
in which everything has combined in advance to defeat him.

Boasting is not courage. Still less is it poise.

Poise is a power derived from the mastery of self. It inhibits all
outward manifestations that are likely to result in giving information
to strangers with regard to our real feelings.

Braggarts can not avoid this stumbling-block. They know nothing of the
delights of contemplation, from which arise ripe resolutions that will
be steadfastly followed.

With the noise of their boastings, with the shouting of their own
braggart ineptitudes, they hypnotize themselves so thoroughly that they
are quite unable to hear the counsel that sane wisdom whispers in their

They are like the man in the eastern fable who was quite unable to
follow a beaten path and was constantly wandering across the fields of
his neighbors.

These detours were in general much longer than the direct road would
have been, and he received a constant stream of abuse, to say nothing of
blows, from the people whose crops he was ruining.

But he seemed quite insensible to assaults and insisted upon following,
across lots, a road which led nowhere.

It would be difficult to paint a more faithful portrait. Like the
peasant in the story, the man of effrontery is always wandering far from
the common road, the tranquil peace of which he despises.

He delights in crossing land that he knows to be forbidden to him, seeks
to force open gates that are closed at his approach, and, if he can not
overcome the opposition of the porter, watches for the moment when an
open window will permit him entrance into a house where he will be
coldly, if not angrily, received.

What is the result of this?

Nothing favorable to his plans, one may be sure. People point him out.
They fly from him, and were he the bearer of the most advantageous
proposition, refuse to put any faith in his assertions as soon as they
get to know him in the least.

Effrontery may sometimes impose upon the innocent. But it is only a
momentary deception, quickly dissipated the moment that time is given to
estimate the emptiness of its claims.

There is another variety of effrontery that is comparable to the form of
courage exhibited by the timorous who sing in a loud voice in order to
lessen their terror and imagine that by so doing they give the illusion
of bravery.

People of this sort talk very loudly, often contradicting themselves,
and pass judgment upon everything, dismissing the most difficult
questions with only a passing thought, but remain silent and are put
completely out of countenance as soon as one insists upon their
listening to reason, or when--in familiar language--they "meet their

The man of effrontery is a passionate devotee of bluff, and not only of
that variety of which Jonathan Dick has said:

"It is a security discounted in advance."

A little further on he adds:

"Bluffers of the right sort are only so when the occasion demands it, in
order to give the impression that the wished-for result has already been

"As soon as their credit is assured and appearances have become
realities that allow them to establish themselves in positions of
security they at once cease the effort to deceive."

Our author concludes:

"Bluff, to be successful, must never be founded upon puerility or brag."

Now these two qualities are always to be met with in the doings of the
man of effrontery, who only achieves by accident the goal he aims at,
and then only in the most insecure way.

Drawbacks differing as to their causes, but equally unlucky as to their
results, are born of the opposite fault--modesty.

It is high time to destroy the leniency shown toward this defect that
old-fashioned educators once decorated with the title of virtue.

Time has forged ahead, taking with it in its rapid course all forms of
progress, which, in its turn, has made giant strides.

Ideas have changed materially. Modern life has to face emergencies
formerly undreamed of, and those who still believe in the virtue of
modesty are their own enemies, as well as those of the people whom they
advise to cultivate it.

The case of this man is similar to that of many others, whose meaning
has been undergoing a gradual change due to the erroneous interpretation
that has deliberately been placed upon it.

Modesty is very frequently nothing more than an evidence of

It has rise in sentiments that the man who would be up to date must
avoid at all hazards--distrust of self and hatred of exertion.

One rarely finds it in the man who is active and who knows his own
worth. To revenge itself, it flourishes among the lazy, who try to save
their pride and to conceal their secret irritation at the successes of
others by assuming an humble attitude and exclaiming:

"Oh! I didn't care to do it!"

Or still more frequently:

"No, I haven't entered the lists. I am absolutely without ambition!"

Under similar circumstances people who are unknown cry out, and with

"Oh! I have a horror of publicity!"

This is simply a roundabout way of informing us that were it not for
their retiring modesty, the hundred mouths of rumor would be shouting
their praise.

Modesty is very rarely what it appears to be. As soon as it exhibits the
form of a wise reserve it must be called by another name: prudence and

The attitude of trying to keep one's actions from becoming known is not
a laudable one, and can only be adopted as the result of a philosophy of

What treasures of knowledge would have remained unknown to us if all the
scientists and all the men of genius had made a practise of modesty!

If our forefathers had been modest, when it was the fashion to be proud
of this quality, our museums would be empty and only a few of the
initiated would know that men of exceptional merit, which they had
sedulously concealed, had written manuscripts which had never been
published. The humility of the writers in such cases could be made to
pay too severe a penalty.

No! Men who have merits are not modest! This false virtue is the
appanage of none but weak and irresolute hearts.

We should congratulate ourselves, while admitting these facts, that our
forefathers were not so constituted, and that their faith in themselves,
by giving them confidence in their own work, made it possible for them
to hand these on to their descendants.

Of what use to us would it be to know that a poem of finer quality and
more splendid fire than any we have ever read had once been written, if
the modesty of its author had led him to keep it always in his pocket
and it had finally vanished into the limbo of ignored and forgotten

It is then actually wrong to sing the praises of modesty, which is no
more than distrust of oneself, egoism, and laziness.

The man who boasts of his modesty will feel no shame at producing
nothing. He hides his ineptitude behind this convenient veil whose
thickness allows him to hint of the existence of things which are
nothing but figments of his imagination.

We might add that the man who proclaims his modesty enters the struggle
with a decided handicap against him. The moment he begins to have doubts
about his own powers he will be sure to find himself the prey of an
unfortunate indecision, and that at the very moment when he is called
upon to perform some decisive action.

"One day," says an old writer, "three men, in the course of a climb up a
mountain, found themselves confronted by a crevasse that they must

"One of these was a timid man, another a boaster, and the third was
possest of a reasoned poise.

"The boaster made a jump without stopping to think and without taking
the trouble to measure the gap. He plunged into it.

"The modest man then advanced, looked down into the gulf, then decided
to make use of the irregularities in the surface of the chasm to reduce
the width of the jump.

"He made several attempts to carry this out, but could hardly touch the
edge before an instinctive movement of fear forced him back.

"He worked so hard and so long at this that he was quite tired out when
he at last chose the moment for the decisive attempt. He jumped, indeed,
but in such a half-hearted way that he merely touched the opposite face
of the crevasse and fell to the bottom of the precipice alongside of the

"The third climber, who possest the advantage of poise, had meanwhile
been losing no time. He had mentally gaged the width of the crevasse,
had made a number of trial jumps to test his ability to clear it, and
when, with a firm resolution to succeed, he reached the edge from which
he must leap, his soul, fortified by the knowledge of his powers was
fired with a single idea, the consciousness of his own agility and

"By this means he, alone of the three, was able to cross the gulf in
which his two companions had perished."

Effrontery and boastfulness have often another source. The shyness of
those who suffer from timidity, by isolating them and denying them the
means of expansion, prevents them from obtaining a real control over
their feelings, which undergo a process of deterioration so slow that
they do not notice it.

There are very few things to which we can not easily become accustomed,
to the extent of a complete failure to notice their peculiarities, if
their strangeness is only unfolded to us gradually.

A thousand things which shock us at the first blush take on the guise of
every-day matters when once we have acquired the habit of familiarity
with them.

The timid man, who will not openly acknowledge his feelings, is
practically unable to take cognizance of their gradual transformation.

We may add that he is always prone to dream, and peoples his world
involuntarily with imaginary utopias, which he begins by considering as
desirable, then as possible, and finally as actually existing.

This is the starting-point of boastfulness. It partakes at once of
falsity and of sincerity. The timid man loves to feel himself important,
and he merely pities the people whom he considers incapable of
understanding him. He is, nevertheless, sincere in his bravado, as his
dreams entirely deceive him as to his real self.

In his solitary meditations he deliberately shakes off his own
personality, as a butterfly abandons the shelter of its chrysalis, and,
following the example of that gorgeous insect, he flies away on the
wings of his dreams in the guise of the being that he imagines himself
to have become.

This creature resembles him not at all. It is brave, courageous,
eloquent. It accomplishes the most brilliant feats of daring.

In this way, just so soon as the timid man becomes intermittently a
braggart, he commences to boast of exploits quite impossible of
performance. We must remember, however, that it is not he who speaks,
but merely the idealized ego which he invents because he is chagrined at
being misunderstood.

Moral isolation is the parent of other curious phenomena. It imparts the
gift of seeing things exactly as we would wish them to be, by clothing
them little by little with a character entirely foreign to that which
they really possess.

In "Timidity: How to Overcome It," we are told the following little
personal anecdote of the Japanese philosopher Yoritomo:

"It was my misfortune as a child," says this ancient sage, "to be the
victim of a serious illness which kept me confined to a bed and unable
to move.

"I was not allowed to read and my only distraction was the study of the
objects in my immediate neighborhood.

"The pattern of a screen made a particular impression upon me with its
clusters of flowers and its bouquets of roses.

"I passed hours in the contemplation of it.

"At first I merely followed the outlines with my eye, finding in them no
more than an artistic reproduction of nature. But, little by little, the
clusters of flowers were transformed into gardens, the rose-trees took
on the imposing aspect of forests. In these gardens my dreams created a
princess, and in the forest a company of warriors.

"Then the romance began.

"Every new line I observed became the pretext for creating a new
character. The princess was very soon taken captive by a giant--whom I
saw perfectly--and the warriors undertook the task of rescue.

"Every day a panorama moved before me of changing personalities, who
reenacted the events of the story. Finally the obsession took such a
strong hold of me that I began to talk about it in a manner that aroused
the fears of my parents.

"The screen was banished from my room and when, a few days later, it was
brought back for me to see, I was able to discover nothing more in it
than the designs with which it was adorned."

This example, taken directly from life, shows us better than the most
extended arguments the dangers of moral isolation.

By this we do not mean the isolation that is essential to concentration,
the practise of which always leads to the most fruitful results.

We are speaking solely of the aloofness born of timidity or of
exaggerated pride, which, in depriving us of contrary views, develops in
us the propensity to see things from only one angle, which is always
that which happens to flatter our vanity or please our tastes.

All those persons who suffer from this disease of the will, which
deprives them of the ability of discussing things, may be compared to
runners who have neglected to ascertain the limits of their race.

Like the latter, they keep running round the same track without any
means of discovering when they are nearing the goal.

Instead of stopping, when they have reached it, they keep running
forward and the monotony of their efforts, coupled with the fever-heat
engendered by their exertions, very soon causes them to view the objects
that they keep passing and passing under a deformed and distorted

The man of reason, on the other hand, runs with the single purpose in
his mind of reaching the winning-post. He studiously avoids taking his
eyes off the goal, which he has carefully located in advance, and takes
pains to note the moment when he is nearing it, so as to run no risks of
making his spurt too soon.

It is a matter of frequent observation that timidity often voluntarily
assumes the rôle of effrontery, from very despair of successfully
accomplishing the task it is ambitious to perform.

Illustrious examples of this contention are not lacking. Rousseau, who
was a coward of the greatest hardihood, says in his _Confessions_:

"My foolish and unreasoning fear, that I was quite unable to overcome,
of perpetrating some breach of good manners led me to assume the
attitude of caring nothing for the niceties of life."

A little further on, he adds:

"I was made a cynic by shyness. I posed as a despiser of the politeness
I did not know how to practise."

This is a much more frequent cause than one might think of the
exhibition of an effrontery which is apparently deliberate and

The timid man, feeling himself awkward and clownish when performing the
usual acts of courtesy, assumes the attitude of caring nothing for them
and of avoiding them deliberately, while all the while he is tortured by
the inability to perform them without seeming ridiculous.

But the onlooker is not deceived. The outward appearance of cynicism
often conceals an inward sensitiveness of soul that is quite obvious,
and the actor makes so poor a hand at identifying himself with the
character he would assume that it is clearly evident he is only playing
a part.

The conflict of diametrically opposing forces shows itself plainly in
his attitude which vacillates between the stiffest formality and the
easiest assurance.

The awkwardness that is the bugbear of the timid shows itself even
beneath their work of cynicism, and the very effort accuses them, no
less than their flighty and unreasoning conversation and their gestures,
now exaggerated and now represt, all of which make up a whole that
entirely fails to give an impression of harmony.

And what possible harmony can there be between a soul and a body that
are completely out of accord with each other?

Should it be asked what the difference is between presumption or
effrontery and the poise that we have in mind, this simple illustration
should be illuminating.

Effrontery, bravado, and exaggeration are qualities that are shown by
those who exceed their own capacity without giving the question a

Poise is the virtue which gives us the strength of mind to analyze the
possibilities that are dominant within us, to cultivate them, and to
strengthen them in every possible way before undertaking an enterprise
which is likely to call them into play.

Real poise has no bluster about it. It has a good deal in it of
self-possession, the discretion belonging to which is one of its marked

Repression of our outward movements enables us to achieve that control
over our emotions which makes a perfect cloak for our intentions, and
leaves our opponents in perplexity as to how to attack the fortress that
they wish to conquer.

It is, therefore, between modesty and effrontery, both equally
prejudicial to success, that poise must naturally be placed.

But, it will be objected, all the world does not possess this gift of
poise. Are those who do not share it to be forever denied all chance of

Not so! It is open to all the world to acquire this gift, and if the
chapters following this are read with care it will be seen that it is
something that can be cultivated, so that it can be gradually perfected
and carried about with one as the germ of every sort of success, the
happy issue of which depends upon a thorough realization of one's own
merits and the honorable ambition to accomplish a task that has been
prudently planned and bravely carried to an end.



Before preparing oneself by the exercise of reasoning and will-power for
the acquisition of poise, it is vitally necessary to make oneself
physically fit for the effort to be undertaken.

One should begin with this fundamental principle:

Timidity being a disease one must treat it just as one would any other

Like all other physical maladies it is sure to be the cause of loss of
social prestige to those who suffer from it.

It must then be combated in the same way as any other infirmity of long
standing that threatens to ruin the life of the sufferer.

It is a grave mistake to consider it merely a mental ailment that can be
alleviated by nothing but psychological treatment.

One's nervous condition plays a very large part in the conquest of

We must, therefore, watch most carefully over the good health of the
body before taking any measures whatever to abolish a condition of
affairs that has been engendered by physical weakness and that will be
fostered by it unless such weakness can be eradicated or more or less
dissipated and ameliorated by a thousand little daily acts of care.

It must be understood that we are not now speaking of medical treatment.
We have reference merely to that common-sense hygiene which has become
more or less a part of modern existence, and the daily practise of
which, while firmly establishing the health, has at the same time an
undoubted reflex action upon the mind. It is a well-known fact that
energy is never found in a weakened body, and that people who are
suffering are clearly marked down to become the prey of those wasting
diseases, whose names, all more or less fantastic, may be classed as a
whole under the general heading of "nervous maladies."

To enumerate them is superfluous and unnecessary. Lack of poise gives
rise to all sorts of weaknesses, which are given the names of nervous
diseases and finally become classed in the category of phobias, of which
the starting-point is always a habit of fear due to excess of timidity.
This morbid disposition is the parent of a continual apprehensiveness
which is shown upon all sorts of occasions.

The man who has the space phobia is quite unable to cross an open space
unless he is supported or, at the very least, accompanied.

Claustrophobia is the malady of those who have a horror of close
quarters from which they can not easily make their escape.

Writers' cramp is nothing in the world but one of these exaggerated
nervous terrors.

Erythrophobia, that is to say the habit of inopportune and constant
blushing, is another of the commonest forms of excessive timidity.

Stammering is another of the tortures that people of poise do not
experience, except in those cases where it is caused by a physical

All these maladies attack only the timid.

There are many others, less serious in their nature, such as indecision,
exaggerated scrupulousness, extreme pliability, hypochondria. All of
these should be ruthlessly supprest the moment we become aware of them,
for they are one and all the forerunners of that mentally diseased
condition which gives rise to the phobias of which we have just been

To those who would seriously devote themselves to the cultivation of
poise it is, therefore, a vital necessity to be in a condition of
perfect health. It would be a misfortune, indeed, for them to find
themselves balked in their progress toward acquiring this quality by
anxieties regarding the condition of their bodies.

Any indisposition, not to mention actual diseases, has a tendency to
inhibit all initiative.

There is no room for doubt that a physical ailment by attracting to
itself the attention of the person who is attacked by it, prevents him
from giving the proper amount of energy to whatever he may be engaged

He thinks about nothing but his malady and quite forgets to take the
exercises that would enable him to alter his condition, to change his
actions, and even to make over his thoughts.

His thoughts above all. Physical well-being has an undeniable influence
upon one's mental health.

One very rarely sees a sick person who is happy. Even those who are
endowed with great force of character lose, under the burden of their
sufferings, part of their firmness of soul and of their legitimate

A very scientific force of hygiene is particularly recommended.
Excessive measures of any sort must be avoided for various reasons:

(1) They are antagonistic to the maintenance of a perfect physical

(2) They will inevitably grow to dominate the mind unduly.

When we speak of excesses, we intend to include those undertaken in the
way of work no less than those which are the outcome of the search for

Nevertheless we will hasten to add that these last are much the more to
be feared.

What can be expected, for instance, from a man who has passed a night in

Morning finds him a weakling, good for nothing, and incapable of making
the slightest effort that calls for energy.

He is lucky, indeed, if his excesses have no disastrous results that
will destroy his happiness or his good name.

The fear of complications that may be the outcome of his gross pleasures
soon begins to haunt him and to usurp in his mind the place of nobler
and more useful impulses.

As to his health, it is hardly necessary for us to insist upon the
disorder that such habits must necessarily produce.

The least misfortune that he can look for is a profound lassitude and a
desire for rest which is the enemy of all virile effort.

The same thing is true of the man who indulges too freely in the
pleasures of the table. The work of digestion leaves him in an exhausted
condition and with a craving for repose that very soon results in a
complete lack of moral tone.

Even supposing that his daily routine consists of two principal meals,
and of two others of less importance, it will be easily understood that
the man who loads down his stomach with such a large amount of
continuous work will not be very apt to adapt himself readily to matters
of a wholly different kind.

To avoid pain, to sit inert, like a gorged animal, without attempting to
think, is the sole desire of the gluttons who are wearied by every
repeated excess.

The same reasoning could be applied to the lazy, who suffer in health
from indulgence in their favorite vice.

It can not be disputed that lack of exercise is the cause of ailments
that have a marked effect upon the moral character.

Since physical laziness always goes hand in hand with mental apathy, it
follows that a dread of exerting oneself is always to be found coupled
with a hatred of being forced to think.

It is, therefore, essential for the man who would acquire poise to
fortify himself in advance against physical weaknesses which, by
undermining his will-power, will soon furnish him with the most
plausible reasons for losing interest in the steady application that is
needed for accomplishing his purpose.

In achieving the conquest of poise certain physical exercises, practised
every day, and vigorously followed out, will be found of considerable

Before discussing the practical methods which are at once their
starting-point and their result, we will consider in turn the series of
exercises that must be performed each day in order to keep oneself in
the condition of physical well-being which allows of the accomplishment
of moral reform.




The point of departure for the cultivation of poise, like that of
everything else in fact, must be a well-ordered system of hygiene, far
removed from excess, and insisting only upon the points we have already

Without wishing to fall into the well-known error of so many modern
teachers, who assign an exaggerated importance to breathing exercises,
we must, nevertheless, admit the great rôle that respiration plays in
physical balance.

We are now speaking, understand, of methodical breathing, we might
almost term it "reasoned" breathing.

Every one, of course, breathes without being aware of it from the moment
of his birth to the hour of his death, but very few people are aware how
to increase the power and to enlarge the capacity of their lungs.

Nevertheless, upon these conditions it is that activity depends, as well
as the health and the energy that enables us to consecrate ourselves to
the pursuit of a definite aim.

Without having to lay claim to a vast knowledge of medicine one can
discover that all repeated exercise tends to strengthen the organ that
is employed.

Thus, well-directed and carefully practised breathing gives the heart a
stronger beat and facilitates the action of the lungs.

From these arises a general feeling of physical well-being, which tends
to the preservation of good health and stores up the energy we need to
carry out our resolves.

It is, then, advisable to devote several minutes every day to breathing
exercises, not merely automatic, but purposeful and under thorough

To accomplish this there are two methods.

The first, very easy of comprehension, is to lie down on one's back and
to breathe deeply with the mouth closed and the nostrils dilated.

As much air as can be held must be taken into the lungs, then the mouth
must be opened and the air must be allowed to escape gradually.

During this operation one should pay particular attention to expanding
the walls of the chest, while flattening the stomach.

About twenty deep respirations are required to accomplish the desired

Little by little the lungs will dilate and one will unconsciously
increase the length of the inspiration and the slowness with which the
air is expelled.

The second method consists in standing erect, with the head thrown
slightly back. The lungs should then be filled with air and one should
count mentally up to five or even ten before exhaling the air that has
been breathed in.

It is advisable that when exhaling one should utter a continuous hum,
which must be absolutely free from trembling when one has practised it

People who have practised this exercise have often stated that this
method of breathing has been of great help to them when much fatigued as
well as a first-class stimulus in moments when all their physical powers
were to be called into play.

A well-known college professor has assured us that every day, before
giving his lectures, he makes use of this exercise. He claims that he
has thus gained a freedom of breathing the good effects of which are
manifest in the facility with which he is able to give his lecture and
in his general feeling of ease. Rendered quite free from any suspicion
of nervousness, he feels that he is completely master of himself and in
a fit state of moral and physical health to employ the poise that is
essential to the man who has to instruct and to convince others.

Deep breathing has the further advantage of developing the lungs, of
strengthening them, and at the same time of making their ordinary
functioning more regular.

The man who practises this exercise will have much less propensity to
get out of breath. This will be a great assistance to those timid people
who are disconcerted by trifles and who, at the least little occurrence,
become so much affected by emotion that they experience a sensible
acceleration of the action of the heart.

Palpitation can not take place without causing us physical discomfort,
and this condition is a serious stumbling-block in the way of the
acquisition of poise, for, in view of the great stress the man of
timidity lays upon the opinion of others, he will be apprehensive of
giving them any inkling of his distress, and yet his difficulty in
breathing will be bound to reveal it.

The exercise of which we have been speaking should be performed with
care twice a day.

For those whose leisure hours are few it can be accomplished without
losing any of the time which is already preempted by other things.

It is merely a question of remembering it as soon as one wakes in the
morning and of never forgetting it before one falls asleep at night.

The few minutes between the moment that one wakes and the time one gets
out of bed can be most profitably employed in this way.

The same thing is true at night.

If the occupations of the day and of the evening leave us no time to
devote to this exercise, we can always go through it in the moments
between retiring to bed and falling asleep.

It will thus be seen that there is really no valid excuse for not
undertaking this practise, whose effects will certainly be most


But our physical efforts must not stop here.

It is more than necessary that we should make others feel the effects of
the mastery that we are slowly acquiring over ourselves.

The eye is an invaluable assistant to the man who is studying to acquire

It is not necessary here, in connection with the magnetic properties of
the eye, to enter into a digression too extensive for the scope of this
book, but we can not neglect this one more-than-important factor

We are speaking now not only of the power in the gaze of others but of
that of our own eyes in relation to our associates.

We must do our best, in fine, to develop the power of our gaze, while
studying to fortify ourselves against the influence brought to bear upon
us in this direction by others.

One frequently notices, especially in the case of people who are timid,
a propensity to lose their powers of resistance with those who are able
to fix them with a steady stare.

One has often seen people who lack will-power emerging completely upset
from the grueling of an interview in which they have admitted everything
that they had most fervently resolved never to disclose.

A superior force has dominated them to such an extent that they have
found it impossible to conduct the discussion in the way they had
planned to do it.

The man who is in earnest about acquiring poise must, then, be on his
guard against betraying himself under the magnetism of some one else's

At the same time he must cultivate his own powers of the eye, so that
he, too, can possess that ability against which, in others, he must be
careful to protect himself, and can utilize it for his own ends.

The first principle is to avoid looking directly into the pupils of
one's interlocutor.

This is the only way in which a beginner can avoid being affected by the
magnetism of the gaze.

By this word magnetism we have in mind nothing verging in the least upon
the supernatural.

We have reference only to the well-known physical discomfort experienced
by those who have not yet become masters of poise when meeting a steady

Its effect is so strong that, in the majority of cases, the timid are
quite unable to endure it. They stammer, lose their presence of mind,
and finally reveal everything they are asked to tell, if only to escape
from the tyranny of the gaze which seems to go right through them and to
dictate the words that they must utter.

One must be careful, then, not to allow oneself to become swayed by the
gaze of another. But since it would seem ridiculous to keep one's eyes
constantly lowered, and is impolite to allow them to wander from the
face of the person with whom one is speaking, one can escape the
magnetic effect of his pupils by looking steadily at the bridge of his
nose directly between his eyes.

When first practising this one must be careful not to look too fixedly,
for the eye has not yet acquired the necessary muscular power, and one
will quickly find oneself fascinated instead of dominating.

But this method is an absolute safeguard, if one does not stare too

It must not be forgotten that this spot is known as the "magnetic

In the case of those who have made no study of the power of the eye, and
particularly of those who are lacking in poise, this method of looking
steadily at the bridge of the other's nose, while not having any marked
effect upon him, will save them from becoming the tools of his will.

Certain easy exercises will be found most useful in arriving at the
possession of the first notions of this art, so indispensable in the
ordinary applications of poise.

One good way is to look steadily, for several seconds at first and later
on for several minutes at a time, at some object so small that the eye
can remain fixt upon it without discomfort.

For the latter reason it is better to choose something dark. A brilliant
object will much more readily cause fatigue and dizziness.

We have said for several seconds to begin with. It will be found a
matter of sufficient difficulty to keep one's gaze fixt for much longer
than this, when one is unaccustomed to this sort of exercise.

One should endeavor to keep the two eyes open without winking. One
should not open them too wide nor yet close them. The head should be
kept steady and the pupils motionless.

If this attempt causes the least wandering of the gaze or the slightest
winking of the eyes, it must be begun over again.

It is for this reason that at the start it will be found difficult to
keep it up for more than a few seconds.

After resting awhile one should repeat the exercise afresh, until the
time comes when one can concentrate one's gaze in this way for at least
four or five minutes of perfect fixity.

In order to keep count of the time that is passing, as well as to keep
control of one's will-power, it is advisable to count aloud in such a
way that approximately one second elapses between the naming of every
two numbers.

When once fixity of gaze has been acquired, one can essay various other
exercises, such as concentrating the eyes on an object and turning the
head slowly to one side and the other without removing one's gaze from
this point for a moment.

It is not until one is very certain that the muscles of the eye have
been thoroughly trained that one should undertake the mirror test.

To do this, one must take up a position in front of a glass and fix
one's gaze upon one's own pupils for a time. Then one must transfer it
to the bridge of the nose, between the two eyes, and must strive to keep
it there immovably.

At first this exercise will not be found as easy as one might suppose.
The magnetic power of the pupils is great and one will experience some
slight difficulty in breaking away from it.

For this reason it is a good plan to count out loud slowly up to a
predetermined number, at which point the gaze should be at once
transferred to the bridge of the nose.

These exercises of the eye will be found particularly beneficial for
people who are desirous of acquiring poise, as aside from the advantages
we have specified, they have the effect of strengthening the will-power,
which will be found to have materially gained by this means.

When the desired result appears to have been accomplished and one feels
oneself strong enough to meet or to avoid another person's eye, while at
the same time one is conscious that one can dominate with one's own, it
will be well to experiment upon the people with whom one is closely

One can thus become accustomed, little by little, to control one's gaze,
to force an estimate of its influence, and to neutralize the effect of
that of other people.


Another highly important point in the conquest of poise is the struggle
against awkwardness, which is at once the parent and the offspring of

Let us make ourselves clear.

Many people only lack poise because they fear ridicule of their obvious
embarrassment and of the awkward hesitation of their movements.

Others fall into this embarrassment as the result of exhibitions of
clumsiness in which they cover themselves with ridicule. The terror of
renewing their moments of torture drives them into a reserve, from which
they only emerge with a constraint so evident that it is reflected in
their gestures, the evidences of a deplorable awkwardness.

It is exceedingly simple to find a remedy for these unpleasant
conditions. One must make up one's mind to combat their exhibitions of
weakness by determining to acquire ease of movement.

We have all noticed that awkwardness occurs only in public.

The most embarrassed person in the world carries himself, when alone, in
a fashion quite foreign to that which is the regret of his friends.

It may happen, however, that awkwardness too long allowed to become a
habit will have a disastrous effect upon our daily actions, and that the
person who is lacking in poise will end by keeping up, even in private,
the awkward gestures and uncouth movements that cause him eternal shame
at his own expense.

In such a case a cure will be a little more difficult to effect, but it
can be arrived at, without a shadow of doubt, if our advice is
faithfully followed out.

It is an obvious truth that the repetition of any act diminishes the
emotion it gave rise to in us at the first performance.

Physical exercises are then in order, to achieve for us suppleness of
movement and to extend its scope.

Every morning, after our breathing exercises (which can be performed in
bed between the moment of waking and that of getting up, according to
our advice to those whose time is limited) it is absolutely necessary to
devote five minutes to bodily exercises, the object of which is the
acquirement of an easy carriage from the frequent repetition of certain

For instance, one should endeavor to expand the chest as far as
possible, while throwing back the head and extending the arms, not by
jerky movements but by a wide and rhythmical sweep, which should be
every day made a little more extended.

While doing this one should hollow the back so that it becomes a perfect

Then one should walk up and down the room, endeavoring to keep one's
steps of even length and one's body erect.

One should never allow these daily exercises to go unperformed on the
pretext of lack of time.

Five minutes of deep breathing and five minutes to practise the other
movements advised will be sufficient, if one performs these tasks every
day with regularity and conscientiousness.

The speaking exercises, to which we shall now refer can be carried out
while we are dressing.

Choose a phrase, a short one to start with, and longer as you progress,
and repeat it in front of the glass while observing yourself carefully,
to be sure that your face shows no sign of embarrassment and that you do
not stammer or hesitate in any way.

If the words do not come out clearly, you must make an immediate stop
and go doggedly back to the beginning of your phrase, until you are able
to enunciate it with mechanical accuracy and without a single sign of

You must study to avoid all the jerky and abrupt movements which
disfigure the address of the timid and deprive them of all the assurance
that they should possess, for the reason that they can not help paying
attention to their own lack of composure.

Finally, from the moment of rising, as well as when brushing his hair,
tying his necktie, or putting on his clothes, the man who desires to
acquire poise will watch himself narrowly, with a view to making his
movements more supple and to invest them with grace.

Once in the street, he will not forget to carry his head erect, without
exaggerating the pose, and will always walk with a firm step without
looking directly ahead of him.

If this attitude is a difficult one for him when commencing, he can, at
the start, assign a certain time for observing this position, and
gradually increase its length, until he feels no further inconvenience.

The feeling of obvious awkwardness is a large factor in the lack of

It is then a matter of great importance to modify one's outward
carriage, while at the same time applying oneself to the conquest of
one's soul, so as to achieve the object not only of actually becoming a
man who must be reckoned with, but of impressing every one with what one
is, and what one is worth.


Is it really necessary to point out what a weight readiness of speech
has in bringing about the success of any undertaking?

The man who can make a clever and forceful speech will always convince
his hearers, whatever may be the cause he pleads.

Do we not see criminals acquitted every day solely because of the
eloquence of their lawyers?

Have we not often been witnesses to the defeat of entirely honest people
who, from lack of ability to put up a good argument, allow themselves to
be convicted of negligence or of carelessness, if of nothing worse?

Eloquence, or at least a certain facility of speech, is one of the gifts
of the man of poise.

One reason for this is that his mind is always fixt upon the object he
wishes to attain by his arguments, which eliminates all wandering of the

But there is another reason, a purely physical one. The emotions
experienced by the timid are quite unknown to him and he is not the
victim of any of the physical inhibitions which, in affecting the
clearness of their powers of speech, tend to reduce them to confusion.

Stammering, stuttering, and all the other ordinary disabilities of the
speaker, can almost without exception be attributed to timidity and to
the nervousness of which it is the cause.

We shall see in the next chapter how these defects can be cured.

In this, which is devoted specially to physical exercises, we will give
the mechanical means for overcoming these grave defects.

Just as soon as the difficulties of utterance have been overcome, and
one is no longer in terror of falling into a laughable blunder, and thus
has no further reason to fear, when undertaking to speak, that one will
be made fun of because the object of disconcerting mockery, one's ideas
will cease to be dammed up by this haunting dread and can take shape in
one's brain just as fast as one expresses them.

Clearness of conception will be reflected in that of what we say, and
poise will soon manifest itself in the manner of the man who no longer
feels himself to be the object of ill-natured laughter.

One should set oneself then every morning to the performance of
exercises consisting of opening the mouth as wide as one possibly can
and then shutting it, to open it once more to its fullest extent, and so
on until one becomes fatigued.

This exercise is designed to cover the well-known difficulty of those
who speak infrequently and which is familiarly known as "heavy jaw."

One should next endeavor to pronounce every consonant with the utmost

If certain consonants, as _s_, for example, or _ch_, are not enunciated
clearly, one should keep at it until one pronounces them satisfactorily.

Now one should construct short sentences containing as many difficult
consonants as possible.

Next we should apply ourselves to declaiming longer sentences.

It will be of help to have these sentences constitute an affirmation of
will-power and of poise.

For example: "I can express myself with the greatest possible facility,
because timidity and embarrassment are complete strangers to me."

Or again: "I am a master of the art of clothing my thoughts in elegant
and illuminating phrases, because stammering, stuttering, and all the
other misfortunes that oppress the timid, are to me unknown quantities."

We can not insist too strongly upon the cumulative effect of words which
are constantly repeated. It is a good thing to impress oneself with
forceful ideas that make for courage and for achievement.

Distrust of self being the principal defect of the timid, the man who
would acquire poise must bend every effort to banishing it from his

The repetition of these sentences, by building up conviction, will
undoubtedly end by creating a confidence in oneself that will at first
be hesitating, but will gradually acquire force. This is a great step in
advance on the road toward poise.

We are discussing, it should be understood, only such cases of
difficulty in speaking as are directly traceable to an inherent

If the inability to speak clearly comes from a physical malformation it
should at once be brought to the attention of a specialist.

It is well recognized that, in the majority of cases, those defects are
the consequences of timidity, when they are not its direct cause.

In combating them, then, with every means at his disposal, the man who
desires to acquire poise will prove the logicality of his mind. It is a
well-known axiom that effects are produced by causes, and _vice versa_.

Thus, in the case we are considering, timidity either causes the
difficulty in speaking or is caused by it. In the first condition as
well as in the second, the disappearance of the one trouble depends upon
the eradication of the other.




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.



One must be most careful not to credit oneself with the possession of
poise while one is unable to encounter reverses without loss of

Every setback of this sort must be judged without bias and the proper
measures must be taken to prevent its recurrence.

Every exuberant gesture, as well as every constrained and abortive
movement, must be the object of redoubled attention.

This is the stumbling-block that brings so many timid people to grief.
They imagine that they have achieved the conquest of poise, while they
are really only deceiving themselves by the idea that they are giving a
good illustration of it. They become the victims of a peculiar type of
delusion akin to that of the cowards who deliberately invite danger
while trembling in every limb.

The very fear of being considered cowards causes them to plunge into it
blindly without taking the trouble to reflect. They always overshoot the
mark, exposing themselves quite uselessly and achieving a result that is
entirely valueless to themselves or any one else.

The man who is really master of himself will avoid such foolish
undertakings, retaining his powers for those that are likely to bear
fruit, whatever the quality of the success may be.

It is an act of folly to deny the possibility of success because one is
discouraged at the very first obstacle.

The greatest triumphs are never achieved without a struggle. The man who
obtains them does so only by virtue of the experience gained by repeated
efforts, none of which bore for him the fruit he desired.

The better is merely a step along the road to the best.

Perfection is, therefore, the result of many half successes.

If one could hope to arrive at one stride at one's desired goal one's
efforts would be of no value, and mediocrity would very soon become the
sole characteristic of those who were possest by this idea. The man who
has had the wit to acquire poise will guard himself carefully from
falling into the error of the timid, who, haunted by an unappeased
longing for perfection, lose their courage at the first attempt.

Does this imply that idealism must be banished from the thoughts of the
man of resolution?

Not at all, if by the word ideal one understands what it actually means.

A false meaning has been given to this word which has warped it from its
original sense.

The ideal is not, as many people seem to think, an impossible dream
indulged in only by poets, and that has no active basis of reality.

Lazy people abuse this word, which to their minds allows them to indulge
without shame in idle dreams that foster their indolence.

The timid drape it about themselves like a curtain, behind which they
take refuge and in whose shadow they conceal themselves, thinking by so
doing to keep the vanity which obsesses them from being wounded.

Devotees of false ideals clothe them too often with the tinsel of fond
illusion, under which guise they make a pretense of worshiping them.

The true ideal, that which every man can carry in his heart, is
something much more tangible and matter of fact.

For one it is worldly success.

For another renown and glory.

For men of action it is the end for which they strive.

The ideal which each man should cultivate and strive after need by no
means be a narrow aim.

It is an aspiration of which the loftiness is in no way affected by the
lowliness of the means employed to realize it.

This word has too often been misused and exaggerated in the effort to
distort it from its philosophical meaning.

In every walk of life, no matter how humble, it is possible to follow an

It is not an aim, to speak exactly, but still less is it a dream. It is
an aspiration toward something better that subordinates all our acts to
this one dominant desire.

Every realization tends to the development of the ideal, which is
increased in beauty by each partial attainment.

We have just said that the ideal of some men is the acquisition of a
fortune. It might be supposed, therefore, that such people, once they
have become rich, will abandon their aspirations for something more.

The man who has this idea is very much in the wrong.

The state of being permanently wealthy is one that opens new horizons,
hitherto closed. The doing of good, charity, the desire to better the
condition of those who still have to struggle, these will constitute a
higher and a no less attractive ideal.

This does not take into consideration the instinct, innate in every
heart--and that the genius of the race has made a part of every one of
us--the desire of progressing.

It is this desire that forms the ideal of fathers of families, building
up the futures of their children, in whom they see not only their
immediate successors, but those who are to continue their race, which
they wish to be a strong and virile one, in obedience to the eternal
desire for perpetuating themselves that haunts the hearts of men.

It is quite evident that each gain has no need of being complete to bear
fruit. The thing to do is to multiply it, to make something more of it,
and to take it home to ourselves, in order to achieve the ultimate
result that is termed success.

The man of resolution appreciates this fact perfectly, rejoicing in
every victory and taking each defeat as a means for gaining experience
that he will be able to use to his advantage when the occasion arises.

The man of timidity, on the other hand, haunted by this desire for
perfection, cut off by his very aloofness from all chance of learning
the lesson of events, will be so thoroughly discouraged at the first
check, that he will draw back from any similar experience, preferring to
take refuge in puerile grumbling against the contrariety of things in

This attitude of mind can not outlast a few minutes of sensible

We wish to convey by the use of this term the idea of a process of
thought quite free from those vague dreams which are the sure
indications of feebleness, reveries in which things appear to us in a
guise which is by no means that which they really possess.

The main characteristic of this state of mind is to exaggerate one's
disappointments while ignoring one's moments of happiness.

It approximates very closely to the old fable of the crumpled rose-leaf
breaking the rest of the sybarite on his couch of silk.

He has no thought of taking satisfaction or pleasure in the luxury that
surrounds him. He does not congratulate himself on his wealth, nor upon
the comforts he possesses and that he values so highly. He thinks of
nothing but the little crumpled petal which causes him imaginary
distress, and all his faculties are absorbed by this petty detail.

The man of resolve will pay no attention to such trifles as this. They
will touch him not at all unless they assume the rôle of the grain of
sand in the working-parts of a machine, which prevents it from running.
He is wise enough to be able to estimate a situation sensibly, taking
account of the drawbacks but at the same time realizing all the
advantages that accrue from it.

At these advantages he will be pleased and will seek to get the maximum
of good out of each one of them. If he thinks of the disadvantages at
all, it will be merely in order to find a way to diminish them and to
rob them of their power to harm him.

Such are the benefits of reflection and of concentration which, when
practised in a rational manner, will do more than anything else to help
one to the attainment of poise.

Weak indulgence toward one's own failings will be rejected by the
strong. To know oneself thoroughly is a good way to improve oneself, and
the knowledge that one is not mistaken as to one's actual merits is of
considerable help in acquiring poise.

It is for this reason that the habit of daily self-examination, that we
recommended in the preceding chapter, develops, in the man who submits
himself to it, faculties of judgment so keen that it is an easy matter
for him to become his own educator in the path to betterment.

One great disadvantage of lack of proper concentration is that it gives
to the subject one is anxious to study an importance greater than it
really has.

Passion is too often an accompaniment of this form of reflection,
emotions are aroused, and the nerves become active factors in distorting
the real meanings and value of the things we are considering.

The remedy in this case is a very simple one. An effort of will, will
readily banish the subject which is causing us too profound emotion by
the simple process of turning the thoughts to some subject that will
cause us no such disturbances.

Later on, when the emotions of the moment have passed, one can return to
the former train of thought, forcing oneself to examine it with

Some amount of practise will be needed to acquire this mastery of one's
thoughts, the parent of poise, which is nothing more than courage based
upon solid reason.

It may happen that the desire to follow a line of thought that causes us
excessive emotion may lead to the inroad of a horde of secondary ideas,
which press one upon the other without any perceptible continuity,
carrying with them neither conviction nor illumination.

Reveries of this sort are dangerous enemies of poise. They lead one
nowhere, and create in us habits which are not controlled by reason or
common sense.

If such thoughts should assail us, the sole means of avoiding injury
from them is to repulse them instantly, the moment one becomes conscious
of them, and to banish the chaos of scattered fancies by devoting one's
whole mind to a single dominant thought that should be associated with
the determination to obtain the mastery over oneself.

We have already suggested to the timid the advantage of foreseeing the
objections that are likely to be made to what they may say. The mere
fact that they have already formulated a mental answer will be a great
assistance to the making of a successful retort.

To avoid still further risks of being confronted by a contradiction that
may put them at a loss they will do well to adopt the following plan.

Let them put themselves in the place of the person to whom they plan to
speak and then ask themselves if, under these circumstances, they will
not find some objection to offer to the proposition concerned.

If they discover by this means that, in his place, they would be likely
to find such and such difficulties, it must be with this fact in their
minds that they devote themselves to the better preparation of their
arguments or, if necessary, to modifying the force if not the content of
the reasoning upon which they rely to carry conviction.

These objections, as we have already advised, should be uttered aloud,
so that we may the better perceive their logic, and also to allow of our
repeating them a second time, the ability to accomplish which will be a
great encouragement to us.

There is no reason, in fact, for believing that we can not repeat on the
morrow, just as perfectly as we have exprest it to-day, a statement that
we have made with clearness both of reasoning and of diction.

Contact with men and with affairs should be sought after by the aspirant
for poise.

He will be the gainer by watching the destruction of his exaggerated
ideas and his false conceptions, which have all arisen from solitary

An essential point is to become accustomed to the necessity for action.

Far from avoiding this, one should seize every occasion to utilize it to
one's advantage.

The determined student should even create opportunity for so doing,
which, in forcing him to break down his reserve, will make it necessary
for him to come to definite decisions and to carry them out.

Every chance to exhibit real and honest activity should be seized by

Between two decisions, equally favorable to him, of which one will leave
him to his peaceful retirement and the other will involve active
measures, he should not hesitate for a moment.

He will make choice of that which will compel him to exhibit physical

It is, however, important that manifestation of purposeless energy
should be rigidly represt. They are always harmful to one's equilibrium
and to the qualities needed for the attainment of poise.

One should never forget the well-known proverb:

"Speech is silver, but silence is golden."

Silence, in a vast number of instances, is the indisputable proof of the
empire that one has over oneself.

To be able to keep quiet and to close one's lips until the moment when
reflection has enabled us to discipline our too-violent emotions, is a
quality that belongs only to those who have obtained the mastery over

The weak become excited, indulge in protests, and expend themselves in
angry denunciations that use up the energy they should retain for active

The man of resolution is most careful not to allow it to be known at
what point he has been wounded. He keeps silence and reflects.

Resolves form within his mind and, when he at last is ready to speak, it
is to utter some firm decision or to put forward arguments that are

To tell the truth, those who instantly and noisily voice their
antagonisms, who, under the sting of a hurt to their vanity indulge in
threats of violence, are actually dangerous.

Their accusations, dictated by anger and heightened by the sense of
their own inferiority, are always characterized by impotence.

They make people smile, provoke perhaps a little pity, but never cause
any fear.

They are like the toy guns of children, which have the air of being most
deadly weapons, but which are constructed of such fragile materials that
a vigorous blow will cause them to fall to pieces.

The self-control of the man of resolution in the face of insult and
provocation is far more impressive than these idle threats.

His silence is ominous. It is a sort of mechanical calm which produces
decisions from which all passion is excluded.

His answers, well thought out and adapted exactly to the circumstances
of the case, impress one by their coldness and by their tone of
finality. His words are always followed by deeds, and are the more
weighty for the fact that one knows that they are merely preliminary to
the actions that they foretell.

This is one of the marked advantages of those who possess poise, one of
various methods of conquering and dominating the minds of others.

There are other strong points belonging to those who cultivate poise,
which, judiciously employed, unite in giving them an incontestable
superiority over the majority of the people they meet.

The man of poise will not be overgay or too boisterous. Still less will
he be taciturn. Moody people are nearly always those who are convinced
of their own lack of ability and quite certain that the rest of the
world is in a conspiracy to make them miserable.

They lack all pride and make no bones about admitting themselves to be

These, we must admit, are rather difficult conditions in which to effect
anything worth while.

In "Timidity: How to Overcome It," M.B. Dangennes tells us that one day
a party of men agreed to undertake a journey, the object of which was to
attain a most wonderful country.

"There were a great many of them at the start, but only a few days had
passed when their ranks became sensibly depleted.

"Certain members of the party, the timid ones, who were encumbered with
a load of useless scruples, soon succumbed to the weight of their

"Others, the fearful ones, became panic-stricken at the difficulties
they encountered in battling with the earlier stages of the journey.

"The modest, after several days' marching, fell to the rear, from fear
of attracting too much attention, and were very soon lost sight of.

"The careless, wearied by their efforts, took to resting in the ditches
along the road, and ate all their store of provisions for the journey
without worrying at all about the time when they might be hungry.

"The braggarts and the boasters, after exhibiting a temporary
enthusiasm, gave out at the first dangers encountered on the march.

"The curious, instead of striving to maintain the courage of those who
walked at the head of the column, kept leading them into difficulties,
in which many of the foremost were lost.

"The rash were greatly reduced in numbers by their own foolhardiness.

"The final result was that only a handful of men, after many weary days
and nights, reached the Eden that they had set out to attain.

"These men were disciples of energy, those to whom this virtue had given
courage, ambition, the self-control and the self-mastery needed to
vanquish and overcome the perils of the way; those who, by their cool
and courageous bearing, had been able to impress upon their companions,
now become their disciples, the indomitable hardihood with which they
were themselves filled."

We see in this fable how all the qualities of poise worked together for
the accomplishment of the destined end.

First courage, which must not be confounded either with rashness or with

Courage, the perfect manifestation of confidence in oneself.

This quality is at the bottom of all great enterprises, of which all the
risks, however, have been carefully considered in advance.

The man of courage does not deceive himself as to the dangers of the
deeds he has determined to perform. He accepts them bravely. He has
foreseen them all, and he knows how to act in order to turn them to his
own advantage.

The coolness characteristic of all men of poise gives them the power of
estimating wisely how things are likely to turn out.

They do not fail to appreciate the importance of certain circumstances,
to realize their bearing, and to admit the dangers to which they may
give rise. Thus they are ready for the fray and are armed at all points
for a well-considered defense.

Shame on the superficial people who close their eyes in order not to see
the obstacles that their own lack of foresight has prevented them from

Let us press back the timid; declare war on the boasters; show our
contempt for the inveterately modest (who are only so to flatter their
own vanity); express our hatred of the envious, who are always
incapable; distrust the slothful; and arm ourselves with a justifiable
pride, which, by imparting to us a sense of our merits, will enable us
to acquire poise, true index of those who are legitimately sure of
themselves and are conscious of their sterling worth.

But, above all, let us raise in our inmost hearts a temple to reason,
the author of that quiet confidence that makes success a certainty.

This is the work of the man who has achieved the conquest of poise. It
is the one particular evidence of this priceless quality.

Poise, by inspiring its possessor with a belief in his merits, that is
productive of good resolutions, enables him to employ in relation to
himself the fine art of absolutely sincere reasoning.

There are, as is well-known, many ways of looking at things.

Every thing has several sides and, in accordance with the angle at which
we examine it, seems to us more or less favorable.

The superficial man only sees things, and only _wants_ to see them, from
the viewpoint of his own desires.

To the morose man all their contours appear distorted.

The optimist, on the contrary, carefully changes their outlines.

Only to the man who makes a practise of rational thinking comes a true
vision of both the good and the bad that exist in everything.

This science of reasoning is the base of all deductive processes, that,
in strengthening the judgment, aid in the formation of poise.

Without reason the scaffolding of the most splendid resolves falls to
the ground.

Without reason we wander aimlessly in bypaths instead of following the
broad highway.

Without reason, in short, we become guilty of injustice, not only toward
others, but still more toward ourselves, since we can not form a correct
estimate of our own characters.

It is reason which enables us to choose the happy mean that leaves the
country of fear to reach the goal of reserve, and follows it to the
extreme limit of poise without ever encroaching upon the territory of

It is poise alone that enables us to communicate to others the qualities
which we possess.

This has ever been the gift of men of genius, of those who could enforce
their doctrines and impose them upon others by the sheer strength of
their attitude and the way in which they analyzed and reasoned out all
their principles.

What conviction can he hope to carry to his hearers who is not himself
persuaded of the truth of the theories he is presenting?

This is the condition of those timid people who give their advice in the
same tone they would use to ask it.

For this reason they never become expert. They rarely ever taste of
success and usually sink into a state of discontent and envy.

This last fault is nearly always indulged in by the timid, whom it
soothes, not simply because of its maliciousness, but because envy seems
to them to condone their own inertia by giving them an excuse for their
lack of action.

For people of mediocre mentality to deny the intelligence of others is
to bring them down into their own plane and saves them the effort of
climbing to that of their superiors.

And since lack of sincerity toward themselves is always one of the
faults of those who are wanting in poise, they can not help feeling a
sentiment of jealousy toward those who have succeeded where they
themselves have failed.

Instead of doing justice without bitterness to the superiority of others
by a determination to imitate it, they take the simpler course of
envying the good fortune of their neighbors and attribute it all to

Whenever you hear any one expatiating upon what he calls the luck of
some one else, you may be sure that he is a person entirely deficient in
those qualities which could attract what he calls luck, but what is
really, in the majority of cases, merely the result of hard work based
upon a reasoned poise.

Here we may add that this quality is often the key to good fortune,
since it permits the head of a family, who is possest of it to establish
about him sympathetic currents, based upon the confidence that he

It is a matter of common knowledge how courage communicates itself from
one to another.

The man who dreads the idea of doing something will attempt it without
hesitation if he finds himself supported by some one who seems to have
no doubt as to the happy outcome of the enterprise.

It is, therefore, most essential, in order to exercise a beneficent
influence upon his household, that the head of a family should be
possest of poise, which will awaken in them a sense of protection, while
at the same time making them aware of a kindly authority.

It must not be inferred from this that every head of a family should
pose as being infallible.

This would be a most foolish proceeding on his part. It would often
happen that circumstances, by proving his predictions untrue, would
destroy the faith in him that those in his household must possess.

It is only the presumptuous and the egotistical who pride themselves on
their infallibility, as we have pointed out at length in preceding

The man of real poise will be more than careful not to pose as a
prophet, still less as an autocrat.

He will study to establish about him an atmosphere of confidence suited
to the development and the strengthening of the bonds which unite him to
those of his household.

Nothing is more touching than the blind faith shown by some children
toward their parents.

People of timidity will never arouse a feeling of this sort.

However real the affection of children may be for such parents, there
will always be mingled with it a modicum of indulgent pity, caused by
their distrust, if the parents happen to be people of timidity, of what
seem to them mediocre abilities.

They will feel themselves more willingly attracted toward a stranger, if
his attitude toward life appears to be one that may support and assist
their weakness. Their affection for their parents will be in no way
diminished, but they will cease to regard them as being vitally
necessary to the harmony of their existence.

This lack of trust that timidity occasions can result in very serious

In driving a child who seeks for some firm guidance to appeal to others
than his natural protectors, there is always the risk of his following a
method of education that is basically opposed to all the traditions of
the family.

How many children are thrown in this way upon the tender mercies of a
teacher whose views of life, albeit perfectly honorable, are quite
opposed to the plans of the parents.

Such people, instead of complaining of the conduct of the teacher and
crying out about the leading astray of their child, would do better to
question themselves and to ask their own hearts whether their children
have ever found in them the protection that is being given them by

We do not want to overwork the old fable of the oak and the ivy.
Nevertheless, it is to the point to remark that this plant attaches
itself to none but the most solid trunks, disdaining the Weaker saplings
that will bend beneath its weight and will, after a little while, force
it to return to the ground instead of helping it to climb into the air.

The man endowed with poise plays in his own family the rôle of the oak
which lends the strength of its trunk as an aid to weakness, covering
with the shadow of its branches the feeble efforts that too hot a sun or
too violent a storm might easily bring to nothing.

And if the storm should break it is the crest that it presents with
pride to the fury of the elements that will keep it from being itself

It must also be remembered that the instinct of the Ego flourishes in
every one of us, often quite unconsciously, but always with sufficient
force to make it certain that this ego will be developed in the
direction in which it sees chances of support.

We are not speaking here of mere egoism, which is a species of
acknowledgment of weakness that very young children are incapable of
making to themselves, but which those who are older will try to avoid.

But there is no one, even among the most strong, who has not felt at
some time in his life the joy of finding counsel, moral support, or
protection, if only in the form of a hearty and energetic agreement with
his ideas.

One can not wonder, therefore, that people of poise are able to draw to
themselves sympathies and devotion of which the timid are entirely

We should add that poise, in giving one ease, imparts to the slightest
gesture a fittingness that constitutes a special grace, that one can not
always define, but where appearance can never be mistaken.

It might be termed distinction.

People of poise, whether they be homely or handsome, insignificant or
imposing, sickly or radiating health, all possess this enviable gift in
a marked degree.

Distinction is the parent of victory.

It conquers, for those who possess it, the greater part of their
adversaries, who lay down their arms without dreaming of offering

Distinction impresses every one, both those who are deprived of it and
those who are possest of it.

It is the most direct means of influencing others in the direction one
wishes them to take.

It is hardly necessary for us to restate here that there must be no
harmful influence in all this, no abuse of power.

Distinction is only efficacious and only possesses its proper force when
it is the outcome of the qualities we have been endeavoring to inculcate
in this book.

False distinction, that which is based upon effrontery, is like those
mirages of the desert whose appearance troubles the traveler.

At first he rejoices at seeing before him a countryside that seems like
his hoped-for goal, but as he presses forward the picture fades away
little by little and he perceives that he has been the victim of an
empty dream. This is invariably what happens when what appears to be
distinction is founded merely upon bravado and bluff.

The credulous, who are at first deceived by the illusion, very soon
arrive at the point where they perceive their error, and, with the
dissipation of the mirage, comes the contempt of the person who has thus
made them take him seriously. They do not find it an easy matter to
forgive him for having made dupes of them and their anger increases with
the hurt to their wounded pride.

Those people, on the other hand, who possess that distinction that comes
from the qualities inherent in poise, are sure of being able to preserve
it untarnished, because their influence will never be enfeebled by
disappointments they may cause in others.

If they are ever conquered for a moment, it is never because of weakness
or lack of character.

Their defeat can never in any case be considered as decisive. Their
energy will cause them to face the battle anew, armed by the very
defeats of the past, and rendered invincible by their cool

The mere habit of fighting tempers their souls and makes them strong,
while the recollection of past reverses makes them more wary and more
keen to take advantage of the lessons to be learned from events.

Thus they will not be slow in exacting that revenge from fate which will
renew the confidence of all their friends.

They are a power, and under this title they receive the homage of all.
Their existence is held to be a vital thing by all those who would stay
their own weaknesses upon their strength.

Their assistance may not always be effective, but it has the air of
being so, and those who are afraid of failure are always anxious to have
near at hand a force upon which they can rely to keep them from defeat.

Every one who has helped to teach a child to walk has noticed that when
its mother remains beside it and holds it up by the imaginary support of
her hand, it steps out with confidence.

If she should go several paces ahead, the child, left to itself, and
overcome by the fear caused by the withdrawal of her protection, which
he really does not need, hesitates, stumbles, and presently falls down.

Men who are endowed with poise are not only appreciated by the weak of
spirit, they are also esteemed and valued by those who possess qualities
similar to their own. Such people are glad to meet a fortitude that
approximates to theirs.

They are infinitely better fitted than others to escape the pitfalls
with which the journey of life is strewn. If, in spite of everything,
misfortune should attack them, they will meet it so bravely and will
combat it with weapons of such unusual temper that it will hasten to
beat a retreat in order to knock at the door of some timid soul, who
will yield to it without a struggle and will allow it to take possession
of him without a murmur.

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