Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our posture can affect our minds

We've all heard that our non-verbal communication - our body language and posture - says a lot about ourselves.  A person with an "arms crossed at the chest" posture reflects a person who is not interested, is closed-off from a discussion and lacking in self confidence.  Our posture not only is a direct reflection of what we're thinking but when negative, can affect our performance or outcomes of an interchange.

So if our mind shapes the posture we present, can that work in reverse?  Can our body, or posture, shape our minds?  That's exactly the question that Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor, researched and came to the conclusion that yes, it can.

What does your body language say in a meeting?  Do you sit knees close together, arms crossed at your chest or lying in your lap - trying to make yourself as small as possible to not touch the person next to you?  That's a very typical posture, especially for women, but also a very weak and not self-confident one.

A powerful body language or posture is one where your knees are apart, your arms are back over your head or you have one arm leaning on the chair next to you.  Think of it as being more spread out instead of contracting.

Research showed that when men and women exhibited a more powerful posture, the hormone levels of testosterone (associated with power and dominance) were elevated, but when either sex was in a contracting position, the hormone cortisol, which is associated with low self-esteem, was high.  The mind was affecting the body.

Cuddy wondered if these results could work in reverse. Could the body affect the mind? 

Through a research study, she had study participants strike and hold two different high power positions (i.e. hands on waist, hands behind neck while leaning back, or knees spread apart) for two minutes - one pose per minute.  Alternatively she had participants strike two low power poses (i.e. knees together, body contracting) for two minutes.  She tested their testosterone and cortisol levels before and after the posing and found that just two minutes in a power pose makes the testosterone levels rise significantly and cortisol levels drop significantly.  The reverse is true of low power positions participants. Their cortisol levels raised and their testosterone levels decreased.

In a second study, she again split participants into two groups - one doing the high power poses two minutes before the study and the others doing two minutes of low power poses. She then subjected them to a trigger-social stress test where she told the participants that they had five minutes to write a speech.  The speech was to be about their dream job  and they were to convince two evaluators why they are best for this dream job but they couldn't lie or misrepresent themselves.  The two evaluators then evaluated them in real time while they were concurrently being filmed.  The participants were told the film would be used for others to evaluate them later.  If that weren't enough stress, the two evaluators were trained to show no feedback whatsoever during the speeches- no non-verbal communication, no head nods, nothing.  They simply sat and stared, listening, but showing no emotion or acknowledgement.  

What Cuddy found was that the evaluators wanted to hire the participants that did the power poses prior to the speech.  Conversely, the ow-power poser participants received the lowest marks and the evaluators did not want to hire them.  Body had affected mind which in turn affected performance.  In essence, Cuddy learned, we can configure our brains to become more powerful which affects performance. 

So how can we use this in everyday situations.  Well, whether you have a big presentation with your employer, a job interview, a venture capital pitch or just need to take a break from a difficult task and need to regroup, you can significantly change your performance in just two minutes of effort.

Right before you "go on," take two minutes to strike power poses.  If you're in your office, put your feet up and spread out.  If you are in a more public setting, go to the restroom and stretch out or lean back and rest your arm along an adjacent chair - just be sure to spread out.  

Not only will this change your hormones but it will affect your performance.
 And best of all.. .this is something that you can do that's absolutely free!

Want to learn more about Cuddy's research?  She was featured on The Today Show this week or watch one of her YouTube videos.

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