In an earlier blog post I explored the huge importance of our body language and its impact on our relationships and interactions (if you missed it, you can read more here).

So let’s explore how our body language also determines how we think and feel about ourselves.

In 2011, the Economist wrote an article about this very topic – how our body language not only to a large extent determines the impression we make on others, but how it also influences our personal state. It said that “those who walk around with their heads held high not only get the respect of others, they seem also to respect themselves”. So in short, our body language determines whether we feel confident or not.

You may already recognise that when you have a good, confident day you tend to display more positive body language; smile more, walk with your head held high, straight back, chest out, determination in your steps and so on. So a good day results in positive body language.

The great thing to be aware of is that the opposite is also true. So, if you feel insecure or low, displaying positive body language improves your state. It won’t feel natural as the autopilot behaviour would be to have the body language that matches your mood, but it will help you break the low mood cycle.

The good news here is that you are in control – you choose what body language you display.

Thus, you may be way more in control of achieving your dream job, status, confidence, relationship, even life than you currently give yourself credit for.

Because our body language can really impact on how our lives unfold.

It’s universally accepted that our minds change our bodies. Stress, negativity, trauma are all recognised factors in a huge number of physical ailments and illnesses.

Does the opposite happen though – i.e. do our bodies change our minds?

The answer is yes!

So how does this work? Well, our minds are made up of our thoughts and feelings. The physical thing that affects our thoughts and feelings is hormones.

What does the mind of the powerful versus the powerless look like? Powerful people tend to be assertive and confident of course, but they’re also more optimistic. They tend to think they’ll win even when the odds are against them. Therefore they take more risks. Physiologically they are also differences – they have different levels of the dominance hormone testosterone and the stress hormone cortisone.

When you’re high in cortisone, you are stress reactive, which is a characteristic we don’t look for in leaders. We need them to be laid back and take things in their stride.

So, not surprisingly, it’s been found in the animal kingdom that the alpha male is high in testosterone and low in cortisone. The same has been found in powerful leaders in our society.

Interestingly, in the animal kingdom, if a male needs to step up and take over suddenly, their testosterone goes up and their cortisone levels go down within a few days. So, role changes result in mind changes, driven by this hormonal shift.

This has also been researched I humans, and in an experiment the participants were told to either do high power poses or low poses and then asked if they’d gamble. 86% of the former said yes, versus only 60% of the latter and when their saliva was tested for testosterone and cortisone, the levels were significantly affected by which pose they’d taken.[1] This is clearly demonstrating the power of their body language preceding the decision making.

So we can conclude that not only do we use big body language when we feel powerful, but it also induces feelings of power when we pretend and use big body language.

Another demonstration of this is the fact that we not only smile when we’re happy, but it’s also found that when we’re forced to smile (for example by putting a pen between our teeth which forces us to grimace into a smile) it makes us feel happy. This happens because when you’re smiling you activate the zygomatic muscle in your cheek, which signals to your brain that you’re happy.

So yes, our bodies really do change our minds.

The question is though whether power posing for a few minutes really can change your life in a meaningful way?

Well, another experiment tested participants in a stressful job interview situation. Some did high power poses before the interview and some did low power ones. Guess who got the job? You guessed it, the high power ones! Note, the confident power poses were deliberately displayed before the interview. So not visible to the interviewers, but clearly changed something in the interviewee that they brought into the interview. [2]

In summary,

  • Our bodies change our minds.
  • And our minds change our behaviour.
  • And our behaviour changes our outcome.

For me, a really powerful message here is that we’re not just born one way (e.g. confident or not confident). We have much greater power over how we feel and come across than that would allow for!

[1] 20% increase in testosterone in high power poses v 10% decrease in testosterone in low powered. 25% decrease in cortisone in high power poses v 15% increase in cortisone in low power poses.

[2] Reported by Amy Cuddy, Social Psychologist

Succeed with Great Self Respect

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