The Power of Posing
Kickstart an instant mood makeover simply by changing your posture or your facial expression - find out how easy it can be!
- story by L.B. Kovac
Cuddy has spent much of her career researching just what effects posing has on the mind. And she thinks that nonverbal cues “govern how we think and feel about ourselves.” In other words, looming mob bosses like Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” or the Kingpin in “Daredevil” not only look confident and intimidating to others, but they make themselves feel confident and intimidating by assuming what Cuddy calls a “high power pose.”
Her research supports that nonverbal cues — physical signals that we humans (and some animals) use to communicate — are just as important as verbal and auditory ones when configuring ideas about the person’s sense of self. During a study conducted at Harvard, Cuddy and her team found that people who assumed high power poses for as little as two minutes experienced a sharp spike in their testosterone (aggression hormone) levels and a big drop in their cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
The “high power” of a pose is determined by how much space the assumer is taking up. Think about mob bosses again; Vito Corleone and the Kingpin tend to take up a lot of physical space. They keep their knees apart, their shoulders squared, their chests out, and their elbows pointed.
These poses are “about expanding, about opening up,” says Cuddy. And they’re so ingrained in our culture that even people who have been blind their entire lives assume them when they are celebrating a personal victory.
On the other side of the coin are “low power poses,” ones where the assumer takes up as little space as possible; these types of poses can have the opposite effect. Cuddy’s team found that when people assumed hunched, curled up, or defensive positions, their testosterone levels fell and their cortisol levels spiked.
Before Cuddy’s team’s research, another team at the University of Cardiff had already proven that forming your facial muscles into a smile did make participants feel happier, even when the action of forming the smile was incidental.
So the general consensus of our best scientific minds is, if you want to feel more confident and more successful, the key is faking it until you make it. Once your body is in the right pose, your mind will fill in the hormones that make you feel that way.
With this knowledge comes great responsibility! By which I mean, you can use it to your advantage the next time you are, say, going in to interview for a job you really deserve. “When our body language is confident and open,” Cuddy proposes, “other people respond in kind, unconsciously reinforcing not only their perception of us but also our perception of ourselves.”
An article published on Inc.com recommends “the Obama” when talking to potential hirers: “Rest your arm on the back of your chair, keep your knees apart, and recline.” This position will project confidence to the interviewers, which might be the difference between landing the position and sending out another round of resumes.
And even minor changes to things like how you sit at your desk can have lasting repercussions. The hunched back, a hallmark of many common low power poses, can “have ill effects that radiate throughout the body, causing back and neck pain, muscle fatigue, breathing limitations, arthritic joints, digestive problems and mood disturbances,” said Jane Brody in an article for the New York Times.
So simply moving your laptop to a flat surface or sitting with your shoulders over your hips can prevent chronic pain.
And even if that doesn’t work, smile. It’ll make you happier.