So here’s what I recently heard. If you adopt a strong powerful pose like the ‘Wonder Woman’ stance above, it can actually change your brain and cortisol levels and increase your confidence and reduce stress! Really? Where’s the evidence?
Actually, there is lots of evidence to back this claim up. I went to see Ann Cuddy talk about her newest book called Presence – Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges and I have to say it was one of the most informative talks I have seen for a long time. If you haven’t heard of Ann, she is a Harvard Business school professor whose 2012 Ted Talk entitled “Your body language shapes who you are” was an internet sensation with over 30 million views. I think it was so popular because, in a very engaging way, she gave us some quick and simple strategies to feel more confident in difficult situations.
Her most well-known pose is dubbed “Wonder Woman” modeled above. She suggests that before a stressful meeting (such as an interview) you stand in the bathroom, hands on hips, feet apart and chin up for two minutes. Smile at yourself in the bathroom mirror and tell yourself you’re great. Her research showed again and again that when people adopt an expansive confident stance they actually performed better in their interview.
So why would that work? She talked about how by adopting a positive and strong body pose actually subconsciously changes the brain give us a message that we are a confident person. It also reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and so reduces stress levels.
Yes, body language tells others the way you feel about yourself but it also shapes the way you feel about yourself. Look confident = Feel confident!
I don’t think we need to limit ourselves to doing this just in job interviews. Think of any difficult situation. Perhaps you have to have a conversation with a loved one that you think is going to be tricky or make a phone call when you hate talking on the phone. Subsequent studies have shown that this works in all sorts of situations, not just highly stressful ones. Give it a try, I have and it does really work.
Cuddy talks a lot about adopting an ‘expansive stance’, she means let your body take up space. Be seen! In general, men, more than women, tend to take up space whereas women cross their arms, fold inwards and take up less space. By sitting up straight, widening your arms, you are drawing attention to yourself. This is okay! Be strong and be wide and be seen as confident and more knowledgeable.
So one of my takeaways from Ann’s presentation was that it is useful to sit tall and confidently in everyday interactions and your general demeanor will automatically become more confident. People will probably treat you differently too. It’s a positive cycle!
I have to mention that when she was talking about how body language affects the way we feel and are perceived by others everyone in the auditorium started sitting up a little straighter and unfolded their arms which made me smile.
One of the most fascinating parts of her talk last night was about the body language of depressed and anxious people. When depressed, people tend to hunch their shoulders over, arms tucked in to their bodies and chin down. Just like we all are doing when we spend hours on our smart phones!
If our body language is influencing our brain and the way in which we think (as Ann’s research has shown) will we find that as we become more of a nation of smart phone users we will become more depressed?
She also discussed how when her teen is on his phone she can tell when whatever he is looking at is upsetting him because he folds more into himself (maybe he is not getting Likes on his social media post or someone in a group chat is being mean). When this happens she suggests putting down the phone and actively engaging in an activity or a real conversation (with her preferably) when he is willing.
So at the end of the presentation I of course bought her book. I haven’t read all of it yet but it expands on all of these ideas and more and I strongly suggest it as a good read.
I will be sharing these techniques when working with my clients to help them feel more confident. During therapy sessions I use cognitive behavioral therapy which helps people identify the thoughts they have that are contributing to negative feelings. If we think we are no good at something, we hold back, look and feel less confident about it. A self-fulfilling prophecy really.
Two people can experience a similar experience, but the way they think about it affects their emotions and of course their body language. Isn’t it wonderfully simple to put the positive body language first and then have the thoughts and positive feelings follow. I’m not saying it is the only way to improve self-esteem and confidence but even if it helps just a bit it’s worth a try isn’t it!
About the blog author:
Dr. Sarah Allen is an experienced psychologist recognized by clients, peers and other professionals for her ability to quickly help people get “unstuck” and move forward in their lives.
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Here’s a link to Ann’s Ted Talk if you would like to watch it “Your body language shapes who you are”.