Yes, you! Before I start my topic, let me ask you a question: How are you sitting right now? Are you crouched in your chair, your shoulders hanging down, possibly your hand on your neck while you read this? Then let us try something: Please imitate for two minutes the poses shown in the pictures below. (Come on, don’t we all want to be Wonderwoman or Mick Jagger sometimes?)
Done? Perfect! How are you feeling? According to Amy Cuddy, an American social psychologist, you should feel more confident, powerful, and less stressed right now than just two minutes before. You are possibly wondering how that could be, from just 2 minutes of imitating some pose? Then let us dive into the fascinating topic of the connection between your mind and body.
It is well known that our body language shapes how other people perceive us. Research has shown that non-verbal communication and mostly body language have a much larger influence on how others see us in a conversation, than the content of what we are actually saying.
You have probably also noticed, how your mind can influence your body: Just think about how your heart starts beating faster and your hands get sweaty when you get nervous.
Thus, we know that our body language can strongly influence other people’s perception of ourselves, and also, that our own mind can influence our body.
Now Amy Cuddy investigated the question of whether it can also be the other way around: Can our body influence our mind? She set up and experiment (similar to the one we just did when you started reading this): Participants had to strike a powerpose for 2 minutes, while a control group had to imitate a low-power pose. After this, she asked the participants how powerful they felt, and measured different hormone levels. Here is what she found out:
The first hormonal change found concerned the testosterone level of participants. Testosterone is a sex hormone, often called the „dominance hormone“. Sometimes it is mistakenly referred to the male sex hormone, as men have a higher concentration of it than women. Yet, it is prevalent in women and men. High testosterone levels have been linked to higher risk taking, higher confidence levels, more dominance, and even ruthlessness. People who striked the high-power pose had a 20% increase in their testosterone levels, while „low-power-pose“ participants had a decrease of 10% in their testosterone level.
The other hormonal change was found in cortisol, a stress hormone. Again, the power pose had a positive influence, and the concentration of cortisol in the blood was decreased by 25% for the high-power-pose group. For participants striking the „low-power-pose“, it actually increased by 15%.
In general, high-power pose participants reported feeling more confident, powerful and competent. When you think back about the session on Emotions, this is actually proof that our displayed emotions/actions could change the ones we truly feel. Though surface acting can lead to emotional dissonance, which over long time can be harmful to your mental health, the experiment showed that surface acting can also have the capability to align your internal feelings with your displayed emotions!
How can we apply what we just learnt to our real life and organisations?
Personally, I can say that power poses work amazingly well. When I was in Washington DC for the case competition, our whole team made a point in walking around with a straight posture, smiling, and striking power poses before the presentation. What at the beginning seemed rather odd and sometimes even ridiculous to ourselves, soon began to work. We were told several times that we seemed confident, happy, competent and calm. But most important here was how we began to feel about ourselves. I could feel how I was calmer after striking a power pose and how I started to believe more in myself. By now, I actually incorporate power poses into my daily life, for example before presentations, or when I simply feel anxious or nervous about something.
Of course, this not only works for your personal life, but also in your work life.
It was shown that in a job interview, participants who striked a 2-minute power pose before, were significantly more likely to be selected for the job, regardless of the content of their interview. It was their overall presence that seemed more attractive and competent to the interviewers.
Moreover, by firstly knowing how you can signal others using your body language, you can use it to send positive signals to your coworkers, to seem more confident, and to underline the message you want to send. Secondly, by striking a power pose before an important presentation you can feel better about yourself and will also make your boss perceive you as more competent.
Try to incorporate the power pose into your daily life! Begin by checking, every now and then, whether you could adjust your body language to how you want to feel at the moment (straighten your shoulders, smile). It might feel a little awkward at the beginning, but I promise you, it will be worth it!
Go here to watch the „Ted Talk“ of Amy Cuddy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc
Examples of high-power poses:
Cockcroft, L. (2009). Women with high levels of testosterone ‘take riskier jobs’. The Telegraph. Retrieved
Cuddy, A., & Talk, T. (2012). Your body language shapes who you are
Erdman, L. (2013). Hormones: The Hidden Leadership Tool You Are Overlooking. Huffingtonpost. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laurie-erdman/hormones-the-hidden-leadership-tool-you-are-overlooking_b_3742660.html
Wenner, M. (2009). Smile! It Could Make You Happier. Scientific American. Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/smile-it-could-make-you-happier/