Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of “The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free
We all know that how we carry ourselves reflects our feelings. When we’re sad, we tend to look down and frown, when anxious we might tap our feet or shift our eyes and when happy we may smile. But how we position our bodies doesn’t just reflect how we feel, it can also change how we feel. That is, if you act confident, even when you’re not, you may begin to feel confident.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “New research shows posture has a bigger impact on body and mind than anyone believed. Striking a powerful, expansive pose actually changes a person’s hormones and behavior, and even have an impact on how you are perceived in the working world,” says Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger.
And you don’t have to change your posture or pose for long. A few minutes seems to be all you need to have an impact on your feelings. According to Shellenbarger, practicing poses, “such as standing tall and leaning slightly forward with hands at one’s side, or leaning forward over a desk with hands planted firmly on its surface-led to higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in study participants. These physiological changes are linked to better performance and more confident, assertive behavior, recent studies show.”
Amy J. C. Cuddy, Associate Professor and Hellman Faculty Fellow in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School agrees. “Strike a powerful pose (in private) before a job interview, and your performance will improve,” she says.
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In her research with Dana Carney at UC-Berkeley, Cuddy has focused on how nonverbal expressions of power, termed “power posing,” impacts people’s feelings, behaviors, and hormone levels.
When you assume these postures, even though they may feel fake, as if you are pretending to be powerful, when you actually feel quite insecure, your hormones and your behaviors change. In as little as two minutes in a pose, Cuddy’s research found increases in people’s testosterone, decreases in their cortisol, increases in their appetite for risk, and better performance in job interviews.
What are these power postures and how do you go about changing your body language? In addition to the examples above, power postures involve assuming expansive, open, and space-occupying stances.
So how do you change your body language? One method is to practice a pose in private, before entering a situation in which you want to project confidence and power. A second method is a bit like method acting. Using this second strategy, prior to any situation that calls for confidence and power, you would recall past events and situations that make you feel powerful. You might think of times when you won a race, had just the right thing to say at a crucial moment, got a good grade or faced a fear.
The take-away, from this research appears to be that if your body position is powerful, your feelings and thoughts will begin to change to match your body. What we once might have assumed was a one-way street with our feelings and thoughts causing us to take on a particular stance is now clearly a more circular process: Body position influences, thoughts, which influence feelings, which influences body position and so on.
The good news, is that with this new information, comes new and somewhat simple ways to make changes to how you think, feel and appear to others.
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