17 October 2017

Body Language, Cortisol, and Confidence

Wonder woman power pose

Your Mom was right when she repeatedly told you to “Stand up straight!”  Here’s why — and  it’s not just about your appearance.

Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy’s extensive research reveals that changing our body posture — in the moment — changes our mental state. Check out her Ted Talk if you haven’t already.

Think of the body posture of someone who has just scored a touchdown or won an Olympic gold medal event: arms outstretched or raised above the head or hands on hips, back straight, head high, shoulders back.  We associate this body language with the experience of winning, understanding on some level that the win produces the body language.

But Cuddy has discovered that the process can be reversed.  When you assume a victory pose (or “power pose,” as Cuddy calls them) and sustain it for a full minute or two . . . your body chemistry assumes the body chemistry of someone who has just won Wimbledon — or at least of someone with great self-confidence and sense of personal power.  For more descriptions of power poses, see this transcript of an NPR podcast with her.

But that’s not all it does, as one of my Linked In connections reminded me in a response to my blog post, You and Your Lizard Brain. Body language also impacts the level of cortisol — the stress hormone — in your body.  When you spend as little as two minutes in a power pose, your stress level (cortisol level) decreases. High stress levels have been shown to impede work: we work more effectively without high levels of cortisol coursing through us. And we certainly feel better.

As Amy Cuddy herself says in this NY Times article, “Let your body tell you you’re powerful and deserving, and you become more present, enthusiastic and authentically yourself.”

A Huffington Post article sums it up nicely: “Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shares an easy way that anyone can change not only others’ perceptions of them, but the way they feel about themselves — spending two minutes ‘power posing’ with their arms or elbows out, their chin lifted and their posture expansive. Cuddy’s research, done in collaboration with Dana Carney, has shown that adopting the body language associated with dominance for just 120 seconds is enough to create a 20 percent increase in testosterone and a 25 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. In other words, adopting these postures makes a person feel more powerful.”

Full disclosure, there’s also evidence that her findings are based on flawed research, and that power poses do not deliver these results.  See what you think.

But here’s what I suggest: try it for yourself.

The next time you’re about to have a difficult conversation, present to an audience, or do something else that’s a challenge think about your body posture. Before you pick up the phone, walk into the meeting, or walk out on stage, spend 2 minutes in a power pose.  Do it somewhere private so you don’t have to explain it to anyone —  even a stall in a bathroom will do.  It may feel ridiculous but it will send “good chemicals” coursing through your body — chemicals that are your friend for the next challenge.

Or better yet, start your day with a power pose every day for a week and see what happens. I promise it will not turn you into a jerk.  But it’s likely to reduce your stress levels and allow you to experience more self-confidence.