There is a lot of empowerment to be found through the ways in which we express ourselves creatively and physically. Some find empowerment by altering their body language, but how exactly can we do that?
The first thing we tend notice about a person is what we see: Facial expression, style of dress and of course body language and posture. First impressions can be compared to book covers. You know the saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” While many feel one should not, most people do because we are provided so much information at first glance. The same goes for what we assume of others. With just one look we seek to conclude who he or she is: “She isn’t smiling so she is probably mean or moody,” or “He is not making any eye contact on this date so he must be shy or just doesn’t like me.” If a woman is slouching with her face down, someone who does not know her might assume she is timid or even self-conscious. But the more time I have spent thinking about it, and the more I have researched, this scenario can be perceived very differently. She may be slouching because she is self-conscious OR she is self-conscious because she is slouching. There is also the possibility that this person is a very strong, confident, and independent woman but due to circumstance barely got any sleep the night prior and can’t help but slouch, because she is tired. What we assume versus what the reality could be are polar opposites, just like a book with a cool cover could be the dullest story you’ve ever read, and would fail to be interesting, even if Morgan Freeman narrated it. (And that says a lot.)
In Amy Cuddy’s TedTalk entitled “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” we learn that body language affects how others see us, and can also change how we feel about ourselves. Research has shown how we can see the difference body language makes physiologically. When it comes to testosterone, people in high power poses show a 20 percent increase from their baseline, compared to 10 percent in low power poses. Cortisol, which regulates stress reactivity, was found to decrease a whopping 25 percent in power poses, while in low power poses cortisol actually increased by 15 percent. Just how strong is body language? These findings alone show that tall and strong power poses do not just affect us externally, but internally. Our body’s whole chemical response to a situation can vary, based on a physical distinction such as whether we chose to imitate Superman for a few minutes prior or not. Alphas stand taller and have their shoulders spread apart, while those who are seen as inferior, thus not feeling very powerful, may be more inclined to slouch as a result. I use to slouch and keep my shoulders inverted up until about my third year of college. I slouched because I did not feel powerful, nor feel good about myself. This all changed after I started going to the gym. So can going to the gym result in better performance in things such as taking exams, going through interviews, and even performing surgery? Actually, yes. In one study participants who engaged in high resistance exercise produced greater amounts of salivary testosterone while resting. If we compare higher testosterone levels from exercise to the same boost you get from doing a power pose, we can conclude that performance would be enhanced in high stress situations. So whether you opt for a power pose or any physically beneficial activity such as exercise, testosterone will increase and cortisol will decrease.
My favorite line in this Ted talk is where Amy says “Fake it until you become it.“
Upon hearing this I was reminded of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which the neurosurgeon Amelia Shepherd did a superhero pose prior to performing surgeries, because she knew of the research that proved it to be helpful.
I also believe that you can only become it after faking it because one must believe in something if they hope to make it real. The human ego starts developing much earlier in life than most people think, and by the time they realize it, they need to work on making themselves “become it”.
Erik Erikson, a German-born American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst, is credited with being one of the originators of Ego psychology, which stressed the role of the ego as being more than a servant of the id. According to Erikson, the environment in which a child lived was crucial to providing growth, adjustment, a source of self-awareness and identity.
Building confidence and expressing it using nonverbal language from an early age could benefit how individuals perform in school, within relationships, at work and how they perceive themselves. Whether or not you’re wondering if these power poses can help you in your life, why not try them? Regardless if you’re preparing for an interview, a date, a big presentation, an exam or just because you want to test the theory and see how others will perceive you (and how you will feel after), give it a shot. It’s not like you have something to lose. Wake up and do some jumping jacks. Find some personal time in your day, even if it is just for a few minutes, and unleash your inner superman or superwoman. Don’t automatically assume, or decide before trying, that you won’t succeed in something, or that you cannot become someone you wish to be. Faking it may not sound ideal at the moment, but when you become it, you won’t even remember your bluff. Self-efficacy can develop with time and practice. You could potentially fake your way into a CEO position or simply start feeling like a more confident and successful person.