Friday, 24 May 2013

The Power of Posing

I can remember at the age of around thirteen, my mother gently encouraging me not to slouch, to take my hands out of my pockets, to stop dragging my feet on the pavement and to stop frowning.  I’m sure her motivation was to stop me looking like a grumpy teenager as I stumbled alongside her down the street. Grudgingly, I would give in to her wishes and adjust my posture accordingly only to find that after a few minutes a profound change would take place in me. I would find that I steadily became more energetic, then, weirdly, I would develop an urge to chat to my mother about my day. I also felt more confident and - even more surprising - I felt happier. It was from such incidents at this point in my life that I learned to appreciate how our body language affects our mood, our behaviour and our sense of self-belief.

People tend to think of body language being a one way street in that it is a reflection of how we are feeling at any moment in time. For instance, when we are feeling depressed our body language reflects that feeling; we look down at the ground, we hunch our shoulders, we grimace and shuffle along unsteadily. Conversely, when we feel confident, we stand tall, we hold our heads up high, we push our shoulders back, we smile and bounce along with a spring in our step. What I came to realise, as a teenager, is that it also works the other way round. If you adopt a particularly body language for a few minutes, you start to feel the way you look. It is as if the body stores particular algorithms and you put the right algorithms together and you get a positive emotion as a result and if you put the wrong algorithms together you end up with a negative emotion.

Psychologist Amy Cuddy, and her team at Harvard Business School have done studies into this area and have come up with some very interesting results that support my early casual observations. They found that by carrying out a series of what they refer to as ‘power poses’ – essentially these involve making the body bigger such as when athletes raise their arms when they win a race – it actually impacts on the hormones released in the body. By adopting a power pose for as little as two minutes they found a significant increase in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone). As a result it brings about an increase in energy, confidence, assertiveness, calmness and the ability to think clearly.

This has significant implications for sports performance. When a sports performer’s head drops it has the opposite effect of the power pose as it feeds a person’s negative emotions leading to doubt, fear, lethargy, tunnel vision and a tendency to self criticism. As the saying goes, “fake it ‘til you make it”. If you want to be confident, clear thinking, calm and determined, just act as if you are and very soon you will be.

Andy Barton
Wider Vision Ltd