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Harvard Psychologists Suggest Simple Body-Language Tweaks That Instantly Boost Confidence

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Harvard Psychologists Suggest Simple Body-Language Tweaks That Instantly Boost Confidence

What can  – in an instant – elevate your sense of power? The answer isn’t winning the lottery or getting that big promotion. It’s a “power pose” and research suggests it can effectively enhance your confidence.

A power pose is an open, expansive posture used to convey power in animals and humans alike. It’s the iconic pose of Wonder Woman and every Marvel comic book superhero out there. It’s also the pose of an Olympic gold medal winner, arms extended to the sky in a sweeping gesture of celebration.

Power poses represent confidence, security, and dominance. It’s the stance of success. Leaders have it, and the rest of us want it.

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The idea of a power pose was introduced by a group of researchers at Harvard in their 2010 study. They compared what they called “high-power” poses (aka power poses) to “low-power” poses, which are closed-off, contractive positions. Think cowering animals, the kid sitting humbly in the back of the classroom, or that downtrodden employee hunched over his desk.

In the study, the high- and low-power pose groups were told to hold two postures (high- or low-power poses, respectively) for 1-minute each before they completed a gambling task, provided a saliva sample, and answered some questions. Data showed that the power pose mattered. The high-power pose group experienced enhanced feelings of power and increased tolerance for risk, and those in the low-power pose group showed the opposite.

A simple tweak in body positioning, held for only a few minutes, influenced how people perceived themselves and the risks they were willing to take.

The effect of the power pose went beyond subjective feelings, however, all the way down to the biological level. Those in the high-power pose group experienced an elevation in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol. Why is this noteworthy? Because high testosterone and low cortisol are the markers of a powerful and effective leader – dominant and yet calm in the face of stress. Those in the low-power pose group showed the opposite pattern. Not only did they feel less powerful, but their hormone levels indicated lower dominance and higher activity to stress.

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How did a mere change in body position create such a difference? In her 2012 TED talk, one of the authors of the original study, Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy, argued that tweaks in body positioning can send a message to the brain that a person is more capable or powerful than they might assume. In essence, it’s faking it until you make it.

Cuddy also described a subsequent study whereby two groups of people – a high-power pose and low-power pose group – were subjected to a stressful job interview. Again the subjects assumed high-power poses or low-power poses for only a few minutes before the interview. Evaluators who were unaware of which interviewees had performed a high-power versus low-power pose concluded – across the board – that they would hire those in the high power pose group.

In this case, the power pose would have paid off – with a new job.

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Although a subsequent 2015 study didn’t replicate the biological findings, they still reported increased subjective feelings of power in those adopting power poses. And other research on “expansive postures” shows that it can influence different facets of behavior as well as how others respond to us.

Body language reflects not only how you feel about yourself, but also influences how others react to you.

Consider this – how do you respond when you see someone hunched over, arms hugging their midsection, head down? What about when you see a person stand tall, feet apart, chin up. We make immediate judgments of others based on body language and adjust our behavior towards them accordingly.

How do we use this knowledge to enhance our day-to-day life?

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It’s simple. Start your day with a power pose – or perhaps quickly go through a series of two power poses prior to a big meeting, a speaking event or other stressful situation. See if it enhances your confidence. Even if you don’t feel an immediate change, keep doing it as the posing may be influencing you in subtle ways you can’t detect. Over time, you may notice changes not only in your self-confidence but also how others react to you. The more confidence you convey, the more people will respond to you accordingly. And that’ll just help to drive up your confidence and feelings of dominance, sparking change in all facets of your life.

We all suffer from lack of confidence at some point in our lives. The power pose may be one way to not only “fake it till you make it,” but to fake it until you become the confident person you were always meant to be.

Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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