How One Small Change in Your Body Language Can Significantly Improve Your Performance

It turns out that, you can literally fake it until you make it. Changing the way that you act not only influences other peoples’ perception of you, it also changes your own perception of yourself!

Professor of social psychology and researcher at Harvard University, Amy Cuddy, explains that by changing your body language for just two minutes, you can affect your physiology in a way that changes how you feel, and in turn, how you behave, and how you perform. The key lies in moving to change the chemical balance inside your body that’s influencing how you feel and how you act.

The Power Pose

Recent experimental psychology from Harvard University shows that the best leaders, those which are both powerful and effective, actually share similar hormone levels. Specifically, powerful leaders tend to have higher levels of testosterone, which is linked to decreased fear, a desire to compete, and a heightened sense of confidence. On the other hand, they also have low levels of cortisol, which is linked to decreased anxiety.

The experiment goes like this:

Two groups walk into a room. They’re both asked for a saliva sample. The individuals in one group are then asked to hold a ‘power pose’ for two minutes; a position that requires expansion, stretching out, lifting their arms, taking up as much space as possible. The individuals in the other group were asked to do the opposite for two minutes; to make themselves small, cross their arms and legs, perhaps look down. A saliva test was then performed on the individuals in both groups.

The tests showed that the individuals in the ‘power-pose’ group experienced a 20% increase in testosterone and a 25% decrease in cortisol. On the other hand, the individuals in the ‘non-power-pose’ group experienced a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 15% increase in cortisol. Just two minutes after holding a particular pose, the individuals in one group had become more assertive, confident and less stress-reactive, whilst the opposite was true in the other group.

And it didn’t stop there. The individuals were then asked to go into a five-minute interview, with actors that were trained to remain completely expressionless. You probably guessed it — it was those individuals in the ‘power-stance’ group that were ‘hired’. The interviewers explained that it had nothing to do with what the individuals said; those in the ‘power-stance’ group just had a different ‘presence’, they radiated a confidence that reassured the ‘prospective employer’ that they’d be able to do the job well.

I’m not suggesting that you sit in a star-fish position in your next job interview, but these findings could prove to be a powerful tool the next time you’re facing a situation where you want to radiate confidence and shut down your anxiety. Maybe it’s a social situation where you’re about to meet a new group of people. Or maybe you have to speak in public or pitch an important business proposition, or maybe you do have a job interview. I didn’t know it then, but this tool certainly served me well a few summers ago.

This One Time at Summer Camp

I was in the final year of my bachelor’s, more excited than ever by the prospect of a long summer; no more library, no more books, no more rainy weather. My friends and I had gone for a coffee break in the student common room, and I was about a third into my cappuccino when I saw a poster on the wall. It a job advertisement for a ‘Camp Councillor’ position working for a UK organization that organizes activity camps for teenagers during the holidays. How fun! — I thought.

So, I applied, and, I was selected. The fear didn’t kick in until I was there, facing a group of thirteen teenagers who were only about four years younger than I was; they looked moody, unenthused, nobody knew each other, and nobody wanted to be there. Including me; I was petrified.

Whilst the organisation’s mission to increase social mobility seemed honourable at first, in reality, this meant that the teens in my group were coming from a range of different backgrounds; from posh private schools to the more ‘rough’ neighbourhoods of London. They were totally different kids! How was I supposed to make them bond?

All of the other camp councillors had previous experience; they knew the drill, and they had tricks up their sleeve. I had nothing. I had zero experience. I felt like a complete fraud; like I wasn’t supposed to be there at all. These kids’ parents had trusted me, and I was going to let them down.

But then realised something: they don’t know that I don’t have any experience, or that I’m only a little older than them. For all they know, they could have been my tenth group instead of my first. So, I decided that I was going to fake it until I made it. And I did.

I decided to ignore the stagnant atmosphere they had created and bring in a new energy. I confidently and boldly introduced myself and I made them do the same. I stood up and walked around, I took up space, and I made jokes. I introduced them to a few ice-breakers (courtesy of Google the night before) that made them do the same; they had to get up and move around, raise their hands, make eye-contact…and I found that gradually, their energy began to match mine.

Not only had I changed how I was feeling about myself, but I had also changed their perception of me; and, by forcing them to act a certain way, I had changed how they felt in themselves. It turns out that, those were probably some of the happiest weeks of my life. I loved my group; we had the best time. And I thought to myself how differently it could have gone; I’m so thankful that my fear didn’t paralyze me from acting altogether, because I would have missed out on an incredible opportunity.

So next time you’re faced with a situation where you need to be confident, where you need to perform your best, try the power-pose. Instead of sitting in the waiting room before your next job interview, or before giving a speech, try standing up, or go into the bathroom and power pose for two minutes; spread out, stretch and take up room. Because remember –

“Our bodies change our mind, and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes” — Amy Cuddy.

So just like me that one time in summer camp, fake it until you make it.

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