“Don’t slouch.” “Stand up tall.” We’ve all heard these nagging words, but there may be more to good posture than simply musculoskeletal health.
Before we get in to it, let’s play a quick game. Wherever you are, slouch. Um, what? Yes, that’s right, slouch. Round your shoulders, cave your chest, drop your head. How do you feel? Now imagine a voice saying “you’re never going to amount to anything” and “you’re a failure.” Do you believe that voice? In this position, you just might. Now, roll your shoulders back and down, lift your sternum, and bring your chin parallel to the floor. Imagine that same voice. Chances are that in this position those words just rolled off your back or bounced off your chest.
Why do we feel more confident when we sit up straight? Turns out it’s due to chemical changes in the brain. Harvard social psychologist, Ann Cuddy, described a fascinating phenomenon in her TED talk. Cuddy and other researchers measured cortisol, the stress hormone, and testosterone, the dominance hormone, after people assumed either a high-power or low-power pose. A high-power pose, for example, is standing tall with your hands on your hips, while a low-power pose is standing hunched over with your arms in your pockets. Remarkably, people who stayed in a high-power pose for 2 minutes had a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in cortisol. The results were reversed for the low-power pose people. So, only 2 minutes in a powerful body position can actually change your brain!
Convinced yet? The cool thing about body language is that it’s entirely under your control. It is YOUR body after all! Want to convey confidence to yourself and others? Follow these 3 simple steps:
1. Just notice
- To change your body language, you must first develop body awareness.
- Start paying attention to your posture under different circumstances: How do you walk in to work? How do you walk in to a cocktail party where you know no one?
2. Get big
- Whether you’re sitting, standing, or walking, GET BIG. Inhale and feel your breath expand your lungs, lifting your sternum and extending the crown of your head toward the sky. Now keep that expansion as you breathe normally.
- Think about taking up more space. If you get small, you look weak.
- There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. If you have great body language, but furrow your eyebrows and harden your face, you may come off as a pompous jerk. Try turning up the corners of your mouth and you’ll exude the quiet confidence that people respect.
Body language affects people’s perceptions of you, but also your perception of yourself. Practice all of the above so that next time you’re about to face an evaluation (e.g. job interview), you’re prepared to stand powerfully and be confident. Now go rock your body (language)!
Daya Alexander Grant, Ph.D., M.S., is a neuroscientist, sport psychology consultant, and certified yoga instructor. She helps athletes and weekend warriors work the mental game to achieve peak performance. She also works with the LoveYourBrain Foundation to make yoga accessible for people with traumatic brain injuries and to empower everyone to live a brain-healthy lifestyle.