Freeze. Don’t move.
Now, make a mental note of your posture at this very moment. How are your arms and legs positioned? What’s the state of your body? What about your head? Now, what’s your state of mind? Are you feeling powerful, or powerless? Are you energetic, or lethargic? Do you feel ready to take on the world, or would you prefer to just crawl back into bed?
Studies have long shown a significant connection between our posture and our mental state. How we hold ourselves physically influences the way we think and, by extension, how we act. We can literally change our mood and influence our future behavior simply by adopting the right type of posture.
I recently came across an experiment in which researchers identified actual changes in body chemistry caused by posture. A group of people were asked to participate in what they thought was a study of ergonomics. Half of them were asked to adopt “closed postures” for a period of two minutes. The other half were asked to assume “open postures.”
Closed postures are those in which the body is made small. Arms and legs are drawn in close to the body. Shoulders are hunched and the head is dropped. From the outside, these postures communicate a feeling of insecurity and weakness. People with closed body language are perceived as being less capable in their jobs and less likely to be in a position to help others.
Open postures, on the other hand, are those in which the body takes up more space. The elbows are held further from the body and feet are spread apart. The chest is expanded and the head is held high. From the outside, these postures communicate confidence and strength. People with open body language are perceived as being at the top of their game and more successful.
Have you ever seen Superman? To hide his identity, he pretends to be Clark Kent. This mild-mannered alter ego is shy, insecure, and hardly a hero. His walks with his head down and his shoulders rounded over. To those he meets, Clark is a nice guy, but hardly someone you can count on in a pinch. But the transformation from Clark to Superman is significant. His head rises and his chest swells. His shoulders pull back and you feel the hero’s strength and confidence radiate outward.
Christopher Reeve played Superman in a series of movies starting in 1978 and he perfectly captured the difference between the wimp and the hero. In fact, there’s a scene where Clark goes to see Lois Lane, the object of his affection who’s smitten by Superman. Clark decides to reveal his true identity to Lois. Simply by altering his posture, Reeve morphs before our eyes into Superman. No cape or tights – just a shift in body language.
Think about the way you perceive other people you encounter at the mall or the airport. As you pass by strangers at the grocery store, what does their body language communicate? Without knowing them, or even speaking to them, don’t you get a sense of who they are? We form first impressions of others in seconds, using only the visual clues presented by their body language. Now take a look at your own posture. What signals are you sending out? When people look at you from a distance, what do they see?
What’s interesting is that the impact of body language isn’t just seen on the outside. In the posture experiment I read about, participants had their saliva tested both before and after they assumed their assigned postures. By testing the saliva, researchers were able to determine the levels of testosterone (a hormone associated with power) and cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone) being produced by the body. I bet you can guess the outcome.
People adopting the closed posture poses for only two minutes showed a marked decrease in the amount of testosterone and an increase in the amount of cortisol. They literally became less powerful and more stressed. Those who sat or stood in power poses (the ones with open body language) had the opposite reaction. Their testosterone production increased and their cortisol levels dropped – after only two minutes.
How do you want others to feel about you? How do you want feel about yourself? If the answer is “more powerful,” “less stressed,” and “more capable,” then you might want to think about your posture. How you think impacts how you act, but the opposite is also apparently true. It’s time to act the way you want to feel and the way you want to be perceived. It’s time to be the hero. Adopt the right posture, and make it so.
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