The Power of Posing
- story by L.B. Kovac
Amy Cuddy, associate professor of Public Health at Harvard University and a researcher in the field of social science, has a statement so simple and innate you will wonder why you never said it yourself: the way you stand can make you feel a certain way.
During her June 2012 TED talk Cuddy explained, “When you feel powerful, you’re more likely to [assume a powerful pose]. But, it’s also possible that, when you pretend to be powerful, you’re more likely to feel powerful.” In other words, you can trick yourself into feeling more confident simply by assuming a confident pose.
Mind, Body, Spirit
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.”
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.