Mindful Style – Why I’m the Sexiest Dude at the Coffee Shop
Today I woke up and took a shower, trimmed my beard, ironed my favorite purple shirt, and put on my velvet coat. I checked myself out in the mirror and then walked out the door.
If you saw me coming down the street, you might have thought I was going on a first date or a job interview. But I wasn’t headed anywhere special. I was just going to a coffee shop a few blocks from my house.
A Suit Load of Crap
The reason I dress up to go to a coffee shop is because what I wear affects my mind. You’ve probably heard things like this before.
Maybe you were encouraged to dress up for your SAT or wear nice clothes to an audition even if the judges couldn’t see you. And maybe you thought it was a load of crap. Well that’s certainly what I thought.
I’ve always valued authenticity and for years I thought dressing up was just for show. Every time I put on a nice shirt and a tie, it didn’t feel like ‘me.’ I thought, “I don’t care what other people think. I’ll wear what I want!”
In college, I started donning the patchwork uniform that I wore for years. I let my hair grow long. I grew a scraggily beard. And I only put on nice clothes to go to church with my parents.
And that’s how it stayed for years until I moved into the monastery. But it wasn’t the rules of the monastery that made me change. Instead, it was a shift in my fundamental understanding of my mind.
The Mysticism of Style
One of the beliefs in Zen Buddhism is that there is no inside or outside. We often think of ourselves as living ‘in here’ behind our eyes. And we think of everyone and everything thing else, as living ‘out there’ in front of our eyes.
When we see the world like this we have to protect what we want, need, and fear ‘in here’. From what everyone else ‘out there’ wants, needs, and fears. So, we go around trying to win this game of desire and gain.
But Zen taught me that this view wasn’t accurate. It helped me see that there isn’t any separation between me and everything else. It taught me that this separation is just an illusion. That in reality, there isn’t any difference between the internal world and the external one. Both are part of the same fabric and both interact with each other all the time.
The Secret’s Secret
Often when people talk about this idea of no separation, they talk about our mind’s ability to affect the external world. Many of the ideas behind the Law of Attraction and The Secret are based on the idea that our mind’s can change our external reality. But what almost no one talks about is how the reverse is true.
If our mind and the world are part of the same fabric then doesn’t it go both ways? What we think would create change in the physical world, but the physical world would also create change in our minds.
Of course, this was all theoretical until a conversation I had with one of my Zen teachers. One day, he saw me walking down the hall and he asked me what was wrong?
I was surprised. I had been feeling down the last few days, but he hadn’t been around. How the hell could he know how I was feeling? Was he reading my thoughts? Was he doing Jedi mind tricks?
So I asked,” How can you tell?” He smiled and said, “Whenever your mind starts to slide, your appearance suffers. Your hair sticks up, you don’t shave, and your clothes get dirty.” “If you take care of your appearance you take care of your mind.”
It was such a simple exchange but it had such a big impact. From that day forward I started paying close attention to my appearance.
Whenever I’m struggling and I notice my appearance suffers, I make a change. Instead of slacking off more, I clean myself up. It doesn’t completely change my mood, but it has a noticeable effect.
Once I saw how that worked, I noticed this in other aspects of my life. If my room is cluttered, I feel more stressed out. If it’s clean, I feel calmer.
If I have a bunch of clothes to choose from, I take a long time to decide. If I have just a few outfits, I choose faster and am happier with my choice.
Eventually I realized that dressing nice, cleaning my house, and owning less wasn’t about what other people thought at all. Instead, these things were small acts of self-care and self-respect. And when I took care of my life, it took care of me.
How to Change Your Mind by Changing Your Outfit
Since the monastery, I’ve learned lots of little tricks that have helped me be happier by changing my external environment. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Take A Shower –
Often when you are sick or sad all you want to do is lie in bed and not move. But I’ve discovered taking a shower always makes me feel better.
It washes off the grime and it opens up my pores. On top of that, it helps me feel healthier. Even if the illness or my mood lasts longer then I’d like, my mind is more able to accept the setback.
So next time you feel down, make a point to shower everyday. It can work wonders on your clarity.
2. Clean Up Before You Travel –
Back when I worked as a roadie I would travel for months at a time. If I took the time to clean up before I left, coming home was a relief.
But if I left my house messy, coming home was stressful. Instead of being comforted, I felt slightly annoyed and irritated. Now whenever I travel I clean my house so I can return to a sense of peace and order.
You can do the same thing whether you are going on vacation or just out to lunch. Before you leave take a few mins to tidy up. Coming back to a clean room or a tidy desk always feels better.
3. Dress Up Nice for No Reason –
We often have to dress up for work or special occasions and this can make dressing up seem like a chore. But if you try dressing up nice for no reason at all, you can change a chore into a blessing.
Whenever I put on nice clothes I feel grateful that I have nice clothes to wear. I feel grateful that I have clothes I look good in. And I feel grateful that I care enough about myself to put on something nice.
So the next time you have a day off, put on your nicest suit or dress and go buy a tea or coffee. It may help you feel like the happy confident person you’ve always wanted to be.
4. Smile –
This isn’t about clothes or clutter but it may actually be the most powerful one on the list. For one month when I was at the monastery, I took on a smiling practice. Basically, that meant that I tried to smile all the time for one month. Now this wasn’t a huge joker smile, but a small friendly smile.
I asked for help from the other residents, so whenever someone saw me and I wasn’t smiling they would smile at me. At first it sucked. I felt like I was faking this stupid smile all the time. But after a month, smiling not only became my default expression. I was happier too.
Some studies show that smiling has a biochemical effect that may actually make us happier. On top of that, if we smile other people tend to smile at us and that feels awesome.
If you’re curious, try this practice out for a week. Ask your family and coworkers to help. And put reminders around your house and on your phone. You might be surprised how much smiling can change your mind.
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11 thoughts on “Mindful Style – Why I’m the Sexiest Dude at the Coffee Shop”
I’ve been defiant of the idea of dressing up for the sake of dressing up for a long time…even in a professional environment. For me, I remember growing up with, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” ingrained in my head, so it seemed like it was highly hypocritical–almost sanctimonious–for the professional world to require “professional” dress, because it felt like it was always for someone ELSE’S benefit. And that would leave me wondering: What happened to all that “don’t be a judgmental douchebag” stuff? I mean, isn’t judging someone else based on the clothes they wear EXCEEDINGLY shallow?
But I’ve started to come around about how it has much more to do with how you view and feel about yourself than with worrying about how OTHERS will see you–and this post just helps reaffirm this point.
I’m totally with you about the don’t judge a book thing. I thought the same way too and I agree that while it’s laudable idea appearance does have an effect both on ourselves and those around you. The awesome thing is that this goes both ways. If you tend to be overly fastidious then dressing down might be helpful as well. Thanks for the comment.
I’ve been noticing this effect, and you’re right. Now that you put it so clearly I feel like it should have been easier to identify how the self-care actually improves my internal world and enables me to pour through life more smoothly. Thanks!
My favorite insights are those that seem obvious in reflection. Often the deepest truths are the simplest. Also I love the imagery of pouring through life more smoothly. Thanks so much for that.
Love this article! There are so many amazing teachings around this idea. I immediately thought of some words of Trungpa Rinpoche
“Your body is an extension of basic goodness. It is the closest implement, or tool, that you have to express basic goodness, so appreciating your body is very important. The food you eat, the liquor you drink, the clothes you wear, and getting proper exercise are all important. You don’t have to jog or do push-ups every day, but it is important to take an attitude of caring about your body…. In the name of heaven and earth, you can afford to make love to yourself.”
“For the warrior, clothing actually provides an armor of discipline, which wards of attacks from teh setting-sun world. It is not that you hide behind yoru clothes because you are afraid to manifest yourself as a good warrior, bur rather that, when you wear good, well-fit clothes, your clothing can both ward of casualness and invite tremendous dignity…. The modern approach is often free and casual. That is the attraction of the polyester leisure suit. You feel stiff if you are dressed up. You are tempted to take off your tie or your jacket or your shoes. Then you can hang out and put your feet on the table and act freely, hoping that your mind will act freely at the same time. But at that point your mind begins to dribble. It begins to leak, and garbage of all kinds comes out of your mind. That version of relaxation does not provide real freedom at all. Therefore… wearing well-fit clothing is regarded as wearing a suit of armor. How you dress can actually invoke upliftedness and grace.”
Also think you’ll enjoy this article:
There’s a brainy-sounding term for this phenomenon: “enclothed cognition.” Just today I saw a little video about it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtPPaCBJdw0
Nice post, Toku. Thanks!
I love that you write about the simple things in life that can have a big impact on our minds. I agree that dressing up just for yourself can change how you feel about yourself. I often work off a color that it feels like I need for the day. Might need some energy so I put on red. Or I might need to be soft and quiet and wear blue or green. It helps my mind. And cleaning before going on a trip is a must. Traveling can be stressful so to come home to a clean house, clean sheets and some order is comforting. Thanks for your thoughtful posts. Seems like you’ve been paying more attention to your posts. They are definitely cleaner. I appreciate that you take time with them.
Such a true article… My mom has borderline personality disorder and I can always tell her mood and what I’m in for based on how she’s dressed. I know personally that how i dress is likely to affect my sense of well being as well. Great ideas!
Huh I never thought of it as a prediction of other people’s mood. Great point. Thanks for your comment.
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