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

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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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

What Does Self-Conscious Mean? (And How to Stop Being It)

Have you ever walked into a room and felt like your nerves simply couldn’t handle it? Your heart beats fast, you start to sweat, and you feel like all eyes are on you (even if they’re really not). This is just one of the many ways that being self-conscious can rear its ugly head.

You may not even realize you’re self-conscious, and you may be wondering, “What does self-conscious mean?” That’s a good place to start.

This article will define self-consciousness, show how practically everyone has faced it at one point or another, and give you tips to avoid it.

What Does Self-Conscious Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-conscious is defined as “conscious of one’s own acts or states as belonging to or originating in oneself.”[1]

Not so bad, right? There’s another definition, though — one that speaks more to what you’re going through: “feeling uncomfortably conscious of oneself as an object of the observation of others.” For those of us who regularly deal with extreme self-consciousness, that second definition sounds about right.

There are many different ways self-consciousness can spring up. You may feel self-conscious around people you know, like your family members or closest friends. You may feel self-conscious at work, even though you spend hours every week around your co-workers. Or you may feel self-conscious when out in public and surrounded by strangers. However, you probably don’t feel self-conscious when you’re home alone.

How to Stop Being Too Self-Conscious

When you’re in the throes of self-consciousness, it’s nearly impossible to remember how to stop feeling that way. That’s why it’s so important to prepare ahead of time, when you’re feeling ready to tackle the problem instead of succumbing to it.

Here are a variety of ways to feel better about yourself and stop thinking about how others see you.

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1. Ask Yourself, “So What?”

One way to banish negative, self-conscious thoughts is to do just that: banish them.

The next time you walk into a room and feel your face getting red, think to yourself, “So what?” How much does it really matter if people don’t like how you look or act? What’s the worst that could happen?

Most of the time, you’ll find that you don’t have a good answer to this question. Then, you can immediately start assigning such thoughts less importance. With self-awareness, you can acknowledge that your negative thoughts are present and realize that you don’t agree with them.[2] They’re just thoughts, after all.

2. Be Honest

A lie that self-consciousness might tell is that there’s one way to act or feel. Honestly, though, everyone else is just figuring life out as well. There isn’t a preferred way to show up to an event, gathering, or public place. What you can do is be honest with your feelings and thoughts.[3]

If you feel offended by something someone says, you don’t have to smile to be polite or laugh to fit in with the crowd. Instead, you can politely say why you disagree or excuse yourself and find a group of people who you relate to better. If you’re nervous, don’t overcompensate by trying to look relaxed and casual — it’ll be obvious you’re putting on a front. Instead, nothing is more endearing than saying, “I’m a little nervous!” to a room of people who probably feel the exact same way.

On the same note, if you don’t understand why someone wants you to do something, question it. You can do this at work, at home, or even with people you don’t know well. Nobody should force you to do something you don’t want to do.

Also, even if you’re willing to do what’s asked of you, there’s nothing wrong with asking for more clarification. People will realize that you’re not a person to be bossed around.

3. Understand Why You’re Struggling at Work

Being self-conscious at work can get in the way of your daily responsibilities, your relationships with co-workers, and even your career as a whole. If you’re facing some sort of conflict but you’re too nervous to speak up, you may be at the whim of what happens to you instead of taking some control.

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If you’re usually confident at work, you may be wondering where this new self-consciousness is coming from. It’s possible that you’re dealing with burnout.[4] Common signs are anxiety, fatigue and distraction, all of which can leave you feeling under-confident.

4. Succeed at Something

When you create success in your life, it’s easier to feel confident[5] and less self-conscious. If you feel self-conscious at work, finish the project that’s been looming over your head. If you feel self-conscious in the gym, complete an advanced workout class.

Exposing yourself to what you’re scared of and then succeeding at it in some way (even just by finishing it) can do wonders for your self-esteem. The more confidence you build, the more likely you are to have more success in the future, which will create a cycle of confidence-building.

5. Treat All of You — Not Just Your Self-Consciousness

Trying to solve your self-consciousness alone may not treat the root of the problem. Instead, take a well-rounded approach to lower your self-consciousness and build confidence in areas where you may struggle.

Even professional counselors are embracing this holistic type of treatment[6] because they feel that the health of the mind and body are inextricably linked. This approach combines physical, spiritual, and psychological components. Common activities and treatments include meditation, yoga, massage, and healthy changes to diet and exercise.

If much of this is new to you, it will pay to give it a try. You never know how it will impact you.

If you’re feeling self-conscious about how your body looks, a massage that makes you feel great could boost your confidence. If you try a new workout, you could have something exciting to talk about the next time you’re in a group setting.

Putting yourself in a new situation and learning that you can get through it with grace can give you the confidence to get through all sorts of events and nerve-wracking moments.

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6. Make the Changes That Are Within Your Control

Let’s say you walk into a room and you’re self-conscious about how you look. However, you may have put a lot of time and effort into your outfit. Even though it may stand out, this is how you have chosen to express yourself.

You have to work on your internal confidence, not your external appearance. There’s nothing to change other than your outlook.

On the other hand, maybe there’s something that you don’t like about yourself that you can change. For example, maybe you hate how a birthmark on your face looks or have varicose veins that you think are unsightly. If you can do something about these things, do it! There’s nothing wrong with changing your appearance (or skills, education, etc.) if it’s going to make you more confident.

You don’t have to accept your current situation for acceptance’s sake. There’s no award for putting up with something you hate. Confidence is also required to make changes that are scary, even if they’re for the better. Plus, it may be an easier fix than you thought. For example, treating varicose veins doesn’t have to involve surgery — sometimes simple compression stockings will take care of the problem.[7]

7. Realize That Everyone Has Awkward Moments

Everyone has said something awkward to someone else and lived to tell the tale. We’ve all forgotten somebody’s name or said, “You too!” when the concession stand girl says to enjoy our movie. Not only are these things uber-common, but they’re not nearly as embarrassing as you feel they are.

Think about how you react when someone else does something awkward. Do you think, “Wow, that person’s such a loser!” or do you think, “What a relief, I’m not the only one who does that.” Chances are good that’s the same reaction others have to you when you stumble.

Remember, self-consciousness is a state of mind that you have control over. You don’t have to feel this way. Do what you need to in order to build your confidence, put your self-consciousness in perspective, and start exercising your “I feel awesome about myself” muscle. It’ll get easier with time.

When Is Being Self-Conscious a Good Thing?

Self-consciousness can sometimes be a good thing[8], but you have to take the awkwardness and nerves out of it.

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In this case, “self-aware” is a much better term. Knowing how you come off to people is an excellent trait; you’ll be able to read a room and understand how what you do and say affects others. These are fantastic skills for people work and personal relationships.

Self-awareness helps you dress appropriately for the occasion, tells you that you’re talking too loud or not loud enough, and guides a conversation so you don’t offend or bore anyone.

It’s not about being someone you’re not — that can actually have adverse effects, just like self-consciousness. Instead, it’s about turning up certain aspects of yourself to perform well in the situation.

Final Thoughts

When you’re self-conscious, you’re constantly battling with yourself in an effort to control how other people view you. You try to change yourself to suit what you think other people want to see.

The truth, though, is that you can’t actually control how other people view you — and you may not even be correct about how they view you in the first place.

Being confident doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens in small steps as you slowly build your confidence and say “no” to your self-consciousness. It also requires accepting that you’re going to feel self-conscious sometimes, and that’s okay.

Sometimes worrying that there is a problem can be more stressful than the problem itself. Feeling bad for feeling self-conscious can be more troublesome than simply feeling it and getting on with the day.

Forgive yourself for being human and make the small changes that will lead to better confidence in the future.

More Tips for Improving Your Self-Esteem

Featured photo credit: Cata via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Merriam-Webster: Self-conscious
[2] Bustle: 7 Tips On How To Stop Feeling Self-Conscious
[3] Marc and Angel: 10 Things to Remember When You Feel Unsure of Yourself
[4] Bostitch: How to Protect Small Businesses From Burnout
[5] Psychology Today: Self-conscious? Get Over It
[6] Wake Forest University: Embracing Holistic Medicine
[7] Center for Vein Restoration: What Causes Venous Ulcers, and How Are They Treated?
[8] Scientific American: The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Aware

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