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A Booster Shot for Confidence:  Power Posing

Wonder Girl

Power Posing. That’s what I’ve been teaching my daughters this week.

Super Woman. Hands on hips. Chest forward. Shoulders back. Chin up.

The irony of it all? Posing like a super hero releases testosterone, the male hormone. It also lowers cortisol, the stress hormone. In fact, just two minutes of such posturing before a stressful event —a class presentation or a public talk or a job review — can make a huge difference in the outcome. So says Harvard Business School social psychologist Amy Cuddy. Her motto:

Our bodies change our minds and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes.

She demonstrates the hands-on-hip pose and the winner’s “V” pose, with both arms raised above the head and taking up as much space as possible, as examples of poses that elicit a powerful cocktail of confidence-building hormones. Even if a person doesn’t believe it, the postures alone will trigger a physiological change that others pick up on. In other words, you can fake it until you make it.

I’ve written about this as a neat trick for teenagers on BodiMojo. But I was recently reminded about it after hearing Ann Cuddy’s talk on public radio. I had seen her TedxTalk (Cambridge Thrive 2012) and her TedGlobal talk (over 17M views). As many of my readers may know by now, I’m big fan of science that links the mind and the body. Cuddy and her collaborators tested out the question: Can changing just your body language make you feel more powerful?

The answer is a resounding, yes.

So my daughters have been doing what they usually do when I inform them of an advantageous coping skill. They mock me. They’ve been striking power poses before asking for things. A new dress for the 8th grade social. A drive around the driveway circle alone behind the wheel (my 14 year old). A new used car (my 16 year old). A tattoo. You get the idea. They are preempting my “No’s” with power poses.

All the power to them. If emulating Wonder Woman might improve their chances for success (sans the girdled bodysuit and wristbands), then they can mock me all they want. They can fake it all they want. What I did notice is that their posturing around the kitchen seemed to get them to clear the table and put the dishes in the sink without me asking. From my yogi perspective, these postures are also heart-openers. My girls were actually having fun. There were no complaints. No fighting. No stress. Lower kitchen drama, indeed.

Amy Cuddy’s advice is both simple and elegant. Think about what stresses most people out? Talking to a boss; having to meet with a teacher; facing the mean girls at lunch. A two-minute power pose can make all the difference. Raising testosterone — the “dominance” hormone in the animal kingdom — and lowering stress levels, makes for more a balanced leader.

Calm. Cool. Collected. Confident.

A small tweak can lead to a big shift. Of course, Cuddy is not suggesting that a person walk into a situation looking like a super hero. It’s more about practicing the posture in private before you enter into a social or evaluative situation. It’s also about pairing the posture with the intention of stepping up to the plate and to envisioning one’s success.

It’s low tech and doesn’t require a life coach.

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See an image of power poses here.

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