This is not a magic pill or a get rich quick scheme. The next few minutes could change your life.
First, take a moment to register your posture as you read this. Are you closed in with hunched shoulders or are you standing with your hands on your hips like Wonder Woman?
Next, how do you feel? Is life under control or are you seriously contemplating escape to avoid confronting your mother-in-law’s next visit? The answers to these questions are apparently linked in a fascinating way.
Our nonverbal body language is connected to how people perceive us. When a runner leaps victoriously over a finish line they look up, throw their arms open and communicate a nonverbal message of success. When a wallflower wants to hide or feels shy they close in, look down and nonverbally signal they want to be left alone. So we know that how we feel about a situation makes us change our posture. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy at Harvard Business School wanted to know if the opposite could be true. “My main collaborator Dana Carney, who’s at Berkeley, and I really wanted to know, can you fake it till you make it?” If we feel weak or unsuccessful, can we change our posture to change our minds?
Our minds are governed by hormones such as testosterone that relates to dominance and cortisol, induced by stress. A person who takes risks, copes with stressful situations and garners respect from others has high levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. This mixture of dominance and the ability to remain calm allows them to be truly powerful and feel in control. The opposite is unfortunately true in many women with lower testosterone levels, as well as people who have high cortisol. They feel out of control or powerless in situations. They are less confident so less likely to gamble as they assume they will lose.
In her quest to empower the timid, Amy measured the hormone levels of her subjects after they adopted either high power ‘Wonder Woman’ poses or low power, folded positions for two minutes. Her results are astounding and if you aren’t sitting up straight yet you soon will be.
After two minutes of standing like a winner, the high power posers experienced an increase in testosterone of 20%. They had a decrease of 25% in their cortisol levels and 86% of them were willing to take a risk when asked to gamble. The low power posers who had spent the last two minutes folded in on themselves experienced a 10% decrease in testosterone, an increase of 15% in cortisol and only 60% of them felt confident enough to take a risk.
Take a look at those figures. Amy’s study proves your posture can change your mind. “Two minutes lead to these hormonal changes that configure your brain to basically be either assertive, confident and comfortable; or really stress-reactive, and, you know, feeling sort of shut down. And we’ve all had that feeling, right?”
Her studies went on to show that people who adopted power poses before a job interview were more likely to be hired than people who had been curled up in a timid ball. So what now? Do we walk into a job interview like we just won the Olympics, shouting “I”m here everyone, ready to gamble and totally in control!” Amy says no. “This is not about you talking to other people. It’s you talking to yourself.” That’s the magic part. Her study subjects weren’t directed to adopt specific poses during the interview. They took two minutes beforehand to pose and the hormonal changes affected how they behaved and were therefore perceived.
We can change our posture and change our minds. So before a nerve-wracking situation, take two minutes to stand with your arms open and your head high. When you are waiting for an intimidating appointment or job interview, don’t sit with the other candidates folded in on yourself checking your phone. Take two minutes in the bathroom to stand like Wonder Woman and change how you will feel and behave when you enter the room. “That’s what you want to do,” says Amy. “Configure your brain to cope the best in that situation. Get your testosterone up. Get your cortisol down. Don’t leave that situation feeling like, oh, I didn’t show them who I am. Leave that situation feeling like, oh, I really feel like I got to say what I wanted to say and show who I am.”
Amy is generous with her findings. “I don’t have ego involved in this. Give it away. Share it with people, because the people who can use it the most are the ones with no resources and no technology and no status and no power. Give it to them because they can do it in private. They need their bodies, privacy and two minutes; and it can significantly change the outcomes of their life.”
Is that all it takes? What about when you get the job, then feel like you faked your way in the interview and don’t deserve it after all? The truth is as you continue to open up, change your hormonal levels and adapt, your body internalizes the shift and it becomes permanent. You will feel less stress and more optimism. You will be able to think in more abstract ways to problem solve as you aren’t drowning in cortisol. You can actually fake it until you make it. So next time you find yourself wanting the ground to swallow you whole, remember it takes two minutes to change your life.
Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on her study can be found at http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html