Changing Can’t into Can Do: The Power of Body Language

Is it possible that body language is more powerful than we imagined? Body language is the expression of the non-verbals we communicate to each other. Stop – right now. What are you doing with your body? Notice your arms – are they wrapped around your body or relaxed and open? What about your legs? Are they crossed or relaxed and sprawled out on the chair you are sitting on? Are your shoulders curled toward your chest  or wide and relaxed?

Amy Cudy, PhD a social scientist at Harvard University would suggest that our body language communicates how we think and feel about ourselves. For example, if we are feeling a sense of powerlessness, we make ourselves physically smaller. This smallness is evident when we curl our shoulders toward our chest, cross our legs, and wrap our arms around our midsection or neck. Such a position is a common reaction when someone who appears powerful to us is in our midst. Instead of mirroring the power pose, Cudy reports that people react by becoming physically smaller – a shrinking violet.

However, when we are feeling powerful in the moment, we hold ourselves differently. Our hands might rest on our hips or if sitting, we may fold our hands behind the back of our head and fold one leg on top of the other, almost slumping down slightly int the chair.  An iconic power position is that of a runner crossing the finish line. The runner’s arms are above his or her head in the shape of a “V” with their chin slightly tilted upward. This power pose comes naturally to us – so naturally that Cudy reports a colleague discovering that even those runners, who were blind from birth, express the same victory power pose as their sighted counterparts.

If body language communicates how we feel and think about ourselves – could it actually govern/influence what we think and feel about ourselves? Cudy and her research associates decided to find out.

What did their research discover about the power of body language?

Subjects’ saliva was taken and tested both before and after randomly being asked to strike a pose of their own design after pretending to feel powerful or powerless. They were asked to hold the pose for only two minutes. Before and after saliva samples were taken and tested for two hormones: testosterone (indicative of dominance) and cortisol (indicative of stress). Subjects, after striking the two minute power pose were found to have a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in cortisol. This might be described as a laid-back leader – someone who can take charge without getting frazzled –  think President Barack Obama. Whereas subjects, after striking the two minute powerless pose were found to have  the opposite results: a decrease in testosterone and an increase in cortisol.

What did this research conclude?

“Our bodies change our minds (thoughts, feelings), our minds change our behaviour, behaviour can change our outcomes.” When we pretend to feel more powerful – by striking a two minute power pose – we feel more passionate, positive, confident, authentic, enthusiastic, take more risks, have higher testosterone and lower cortisol. This realization means our bodies can influence our thoughts and feelings. So just before facing a difficult situation or challenge – like a job interview or even a social gathering (dinner party) – go off somewhere in private and strike a power pose. Hold it for two minutes and then walk in  with this new confidence to face the pending challenge. Your body will let you fake it until you become it!

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