Help me develop confidence, sprezzatura, nonchalance
December 19, 2009 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Help me develop sprezzatura, the art of "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it." The "zen valedictorian" approach, but applied outside of a school setting. Or old-style Hollywood glamour, but updated for our millennium.

I'd like to develop my ability to be more nonchalant, savoir faire, and cool. I've read a few posts on this (notably, but none of them relate exactly to sprezzatura. I'd like my life to have more confidence, beauty, and glamour.

I've done some pretty cool things, but I seem to do them by the skin of my teeth, grinding to the last minute. Although I'm female, I relate way too much to the main character in 500 Days of Summer, getting involved with people who may or may not want me and losing my cool. In my work life, I'm the one who procrastinates and then pulls all-nighters.

How does one apply sprezzatura in a variety of settings? How can I make my work seem more effortless, my contacts with potential romantic relationships, my overall demeanor?

What movies or books might be helpful in developing (or gaining role models for) sprezzatura? What are some fun examples of sprezzatura?

I want the calm purposefulness of Christopher McCandless of Into the Wild, the confidence of Katharine Hepburn, and the nonchalance of Jude Law. I'm quirky, but I don't want to come across like Drew Barrymore.

Btw, I'm not looking for parody here. Nothing where the person is so nonchalant that they come across as ridiculous, stuck-up, or staid.

Thank you!

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
I posted this to MeFi a few months ago, but in terms of photographic inspiration and relevant personalities: The Impossible Cool.

Good luck.
posted by pts at 2:25 PM on December 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I love that there's a word for this, so thanks for that!
posted by pts at 2:26 PM on December 19, 2009

How can I make my work seem more effortless, my contacts with potential romantic relationships, my overall demeanor?

I think a big thing that helps is to not complain. Complaining is just inviting other people to know the things you can't handle. And it will, in large doses, make you less fun to be around- nothing drives me crazier than somebody who just complains non-stop.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:41 PM on December 19, 2009 [17 favorites]

I think that one way is, in any kind of situation where you have your own desired outcome, to remain flexible, accepting, and self-possessed enough to work with any kind of outcome thrown your way. Examples: Someone you're interested in doesn't call when he/she promised to? You're fine, and probably too busy out doing something interesting on your own to notice much.
posted by teamparka at 2:50 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Er, example, singular. Also, be self-possessed and flexible enough to deal with typos.)
posted by teamparka at 2:52 PM on December 19, 2009

"... the achievement of sprezzatura may require him to deny or disparage his nature.” Consequently, sprezzatura also had its downsides, since courtiers who excelled at sprezzatura risked losing themselves to the façade they put on for their peers.

Ok, I had to look up Wikipedia to learn about the word but it confirmed what I felt when reading your question. Sprezzatura is a façade, a front, a cover-up. Real cool and confidence such as those owned by McCandless and Hepburn are based on an in-depth sense of self and are not a charade. Nonchalance means you have a casual lack of concern don't care what those around you think because you are calm in yourself. Sprezzatura is only an outward show of such things. Real nonchalance and confidence comes because you are comfortable in your own skin whereas sprezzatura is a pretence of that.

I'll stop splitting hairs over word choice now and try to answer your question. Confidence and cool come from a centre of calmness, of inner security in your sense of self. One way to achieve this is to step back and distance yourself from what other people think of you, and concentrate only on what you think of yourself. Find your inner sea of calm.

The anxiety of procrastinating and then pulling all-nighters is not going to let you garner inner calm. Look at the ways you cause yourself anxiety and learn to identify then reduce them. Learn to breathe. Learn to do more and speak less.

One of the coolest people I have met had a way about her that oozed calm. She spoke little but when she did everyone listened. I studied her and wondered how she did it. A few things came up: poise, grace, well modulated voice, only speaking when she had something worthwhile saying, and most importantly: follow-through. If she said she was going to do something, she did. And with little or no fanfare; no trumpet blowing. She was cool because she was in control of herself.
posted by Kerasia at 3:14 PM on December 19, 2009 [29 favorites]

Acceptance. Accept responsibility for creating your own reality *AND* accept whatever reality you end up creating.

Imagine if you could do what you do without attaching any meaning to it. Imagine how you would feel and behave if your emotional state was wholly separated from the outcomes of different aspects of your life.

That, I believe, is the path to sprezzatura.
posted by dualityofmind at 3:21 PM on December 19, 2009

I think that by designating this sprezzature you're setting yourself up for failure. In my mind sprezzature has nothing on the expression keeping your cool. I say this as someone with Castagliones handbook in my bookcase in a 1930s edition. It's not that I have something against rarified expressions. It's that by using that term you make it into 'the other', the exotic. Hence you're telling yourself implicitly you're not like that. Which is not what you're aiming for.
Similarly setting Jude Law as an example is not helpful either I think. Jude Law is impossibly handsome. If you're that goodlooking people will do a lot for you. Hence what people think will not be that interesting to you. Because everybody likes you anyway. But you are looking at somebody else; at Jude Law. So again you're implicitly telling yourself; I'm not like that, I wish I was.
To put it differently; you're caring to much about not wanting to care.
I think the best way of getting that attractive nonchalance is by 1. learning some good habits in taking care of yourself and assuring basic attractiveness 2. and then forgetting about that entirely and starting to focus on stuff that really interests you and do those things consistently. After a few years you'll have that allure.
But you may not realise it because you don't care by then.
posted by joost de vries at 3:26 PM on December 19, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm not super cool, but I'm observer enough that I can offer suggestions:

1. Dress well. The way you look and feel when dressed well will change your personality in the direction you want.

2. Think for two seconds before you speak. Ask yourself: "Am I really saying something or am I just making noise?" Cool people say less than other people and mean more when they do speak. Don't intentionally make bad jokes or funny faces (a compulsion shared by many of my friends - fun but uncool)

3. Relax your body. It's easy to let your posture undercut your attempt at coolness, as it unconsciously indicates your tension/insecurity/eagerness/whatever. Start noticing what you do with your body, and learn to have a relaxed control over it. Look comfortable standing still or waiting. Excise your ticks. A relaxed body displays a relaxed mind.

4. Be content. This could also be framed as 'don't complain,' which was posted above. Don't let little things bother you, and if something must, conceal your bother. Unburdened people appear luminous and desirable. Us burdened people want whatever it is you have.

5. Smoke.

There's something else to consider. You may be a dork. Some people just can't be cool. If you come across as cold in your attempt to be cool, it's not working. If other people can sense your effort, it's not working. Fundamentally, it's about preserving your lust for life while hiding your 1001 neuroses. That's a difficult thing. It's OK to to give up and be a dork instead... you'll have plenty of company.
posted by gonna get a dog at 3:33 PM on December 19, 2009 [16 favorites]

On second thought: I wrote that from the vantage point of being middle aged.
But looking back at how I was as an adolescent; brimming with desire and longing, I would never have been able to pull that off. So another approach for you to consider is to 'own' that you care. If you're young and feel like that maybe it's best to go through the fire and come out nonchalant at the other side.
posted by joost de vries at 3:38 PM on December 19, 2009

Confidence and cool come from a centre of calmness, of inner security in your sense of self. One way to achieve this is to step back and distance yourself from what other people think of you, and concentrate only on what you think of yourself. Find your inner sea of calm.

For people who lack that straight-from-the-womb coolness, it doesn't begin internally. The first step is to perfect the externals. Then, you look at yourself as other see you. When you see that you appear to have "a centre of calmness and inner security in your sense of self," you can actually begin to feel that. Creating a new personality from the inside out is just about the most difficult thing an adult can endeavour to do.
posted by gonna get a dog at 3:41 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Creating a new personality from the inside out is just about the most difficult thing an adult can endeavour to do.

I so totally disagree with this. The only way to really be cool and to seem nonchalant is to actually BE nonchalant. I find the concept of "letting go of the fruits of your actions" to be helpful in attaining a state of nonchalance. So the idea is work hard, plan, study, but let go of the result.
posted by yarly at 4:28 PM on December 19, 2009

Sometimes it comes up and I'm always surprised to find out that some people perceive me this way. It's true that I do cool things (which I'm not afraid to say because why would I do stuff that I thought sucked?), but it's not true that it's effortless. I put a lot of work into things that I do, and sometimes I fail.

A few people have mentioned aspects of why I think this might be. Mainly, I don't complain nearly ever. Also, I try (again with the trying hard) not to talk when I have nothing to say.

I like yarly's idea of letting go of the results, and this describes very well my last point. Make your decisions, and then let whatever the consequences may be happen. Basically, you can't gain anything from second-guessing yourself.
posted by cmoj at 7:01 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lord Whimsy has some interesting ideas. On sprezzatura:
I do think sprezzatura is sound policy. I observe it (except when I don't), but I am often annoyed that this ideal of effortless grace is misinterpreted as permission to be either an insufferable bore or a slob in expensive clothes. I feel that this lowering of expectations—this mandatory, aggressive casualness—has in itself become confining, for to dress in anything other than default attire or casual frumpwear is now viewed as "trying too hard" (even though it probably takes far more time to squeeze into a tight pair of designer jeans than it does a pair of nice trousers).

I oppose this cynical anti-aesthetic that forbids any effort at all: If one carefully maintains their appearance and is not harming a soul, what of it? Granted, one doesn't want to always overcook the ham, but dress is one of life's pleasures, and adding a touch of showmanship to one's attire can be great fun at times. It's good to artfully violate our own rules from time to time; it keeps things interesting.
posted by AlsoMike at 7:58 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had this book about 20 years ago. It was a how-to of sorts, quite funny, and should server as inspiration for what you're after. It's also very British.
posted by sourwookie at 8:45 PM on December 19, 2009

Confidence, calmness, being cool....these attributes stem from being comfortable with one's self. Some fortunate people are born with that temperament/demeanor. The irony you face in trying to attain it is that the more you try, the less you will succeed. A veneer is, after all, only a veneer.

Relax, be yourself, don't constantly judge your own actions or worry over what other people may think of you.

Cultivate two or three strong, supportive friendships with people who will enable you to be yourself, who will truly know you and who will give you appropriate and wise counsel.

That said, a few other things apply:
Always look good when you go out, whether to work, to grocery shop, to walk the dog, whatever.
Smile often, talk to everyone, laugh a lot. These behaviors may not seem "cool" to you, but other people will appreciate them; you will become sought-after, and sought-after people are always cool.
posted by ragtimepiano at 1:08 AM on December 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

A physical grace, wherein the body exhibits a steadiness of intent, an overall slowness of movement. Each action should be clearly of a conscious and deliberating mind. Also, an internal stability so strong that it is manifest in the smallest motion.
posted by past at 2:04 AM on December 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Cheesy movie quote: "A lady or gentleman is one who makes everyone around them feel as comfortable as possible."
Yes, cheesy, but I tell you what - I sat up and listened to that. Yes, appearance, dress and poise are important, but there are others out there as well. Does it really matter if you have the world's most stunning dress/suit if all you can think about is how you look in it? I am by no means suggesting that you or anyone who has posted answers here thinks like that, but what I am saying is that people who are truly "cool" are those who consider others before themselves and make others feel cool as well. Maya Angelou: "People never remember what you did or what you said - they remember how you made them feel."
posted by lucky25 at 2:48 AM on December 20, 2009 [7 favorites]

Take dancing lessons. It works in the movies!
posted by Erasmouse at 3:19 AM on December 20, 2009

As others have mentioned, there's a prerequisite of self-admiration, self-understanding, and grounding. And, it's most-definitely internal.

If you can't rattle off the 5 or 10 basic concepts that rule your existence, you're likely going to seem in utter conflict with the world, and that will come across like a lantern.

Practice this self-understanding process. Examine your days, your actions. Ask yourself why you do what you do. Then ask why you do those. Keep tracing back until you come up with your core.

This is a laborious process that will take a long time. But, eventually you'll distill down to a handful of core beliefs. Look at those beliefs every morning. Remember who you are.

Once you understand yourself, you'll know that everything else either fits or it doesn't. At that point you'll have the calmness to understand that everything is possible. The things that seem impossible are things that don't fit.
posted by TheOtherSide at 5:56 AM on December 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

There's almost nothing else to like about the musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," but you could try singing to yourself "You have the cool, clear, eyes of a seeker of wisdom and truth" and the rest of the lyrics from "I believe in you" (here's a direct link on Lala to Frank Sinatra's version). Doing this has the advantage of seeming ironic, even if you're doing it seriously.
posted by Mngo at 10:45 AM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Say less. Often the nitty gritty details are unimportant in the overall story. You did cool stuff? Yay, thats great, no need to go on about how haggard you were during it. You should also be very proud of the fact that you managed to get all that stuff done in such a short period of time. So what if you procrastinated? You did it!

1. Wear stuff that makes you look good and feel confident. This takes trial and error.
2. Don't talk so much. Omit details unless they're funny.
3. Suck up the pain. Deal with shit that happens. Don't whine but do make sure its not going to happen again.
4. Enjoy your successes and congratulate others on theirs.
5. Don't take yourself or others too seriously, but be serious in you do.

You want the cool without the apathy.
posted by captaincrouton at 2:15 PM on December 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

in *what* you do
posted by captaincrouton at 2:16 PM on December 20, 2009

Somehow fitting that while the word for taking pleasure in someone else's misery is from the German, the word for cool nonchalance is Italian. I guess if the Inuit have 50 words for snow...
posted by condour75 at 5:11 PM on December 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Strive for authenticity, as I think others have noted.

I was moved to respond by this by your apparent sincerity, which I respect.

I read the question as:

'How do I acquire, through study or emulation- certain behaviors or composure by which others will think that I'm cool?'

That strikes me as a deeply misguided, if not impossible project. What will have the rapt adoration of one crowd, another will find distasteful. The sprezzatura that serves you well at lunch could very well render an evening out with friends boring and distant.

I find the question is oriented the wrong way. Instead of 'how do I impress others with continental sprezzatura?' perhaps you should explore why this is important to you.

'How do I maintain a balanced detachment, regardless of surroundings?' on the other hand, is an extraordinarily deep and meaningful question.
posted by mrdaneri at 3:38 PM on December 22, 2009

I read the following in the Analects which might be relevant:
There are nine things the gentleman turns his thought to: to seeing clearly when he uses his eyes, to hearing acutely when he uses his ears, to looking cordial when it comes to his countenance, to appearing respectful when it comes to his demeanour, to being conscientious when he speaks, to being reverent when he performs his duties, to seeking advice when he is in doubt, to the consequences when he is enraged, and to what is right at the sight of gain.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 6:07 PM on December 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

« Older Automatic song identification/tagging?   |   Wii group games? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.