Body language, or non-verbal communication, is a lot more important than most of us think. Researchers say that more than half of all meaning in human interaction comes from non-verbal messages. Because of the close connection between mind and body, our bodies always signal the thoughts and emotions we’re having inside, even if we are not aware of it. So when we are happy, our body responds by smiling and laughing; and when we’re sad, our body signals our feelings by frowning or crying. In this way, the mind changes the body. That is, our thoughts and emotions have a direct effect on our body, and that becomes a large part of what we communicate to others.
Now here’s an interesting question: if the mind-body connection is so strong, and the mind can so easily change the body, wouldn’t the reverse be true? Can the body change the mind? That is, can we use the body as a tool to change our thoughts and feelings? According to social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, the answer is yes.
Dr. Cuddy and her colleagues studied the body language of powerful and confident people and compared it with the body language of submissive, unconfident people. She found that the body expression of confident people was open, big, and took up lots of space, something she calls power posing. Whereas the body language of people who lacked confidence was the opposite: small, shrinking, and closed. She also compared hormone levels of these people and found that confident, powerful people had higher levels of testosterone (associated with power and energy) and lower levels of cortisol (representing low stress). Whereas people who lacked confidence had lower levels of testosterone and higher levels of cortisol (meaning they felt stressed).
But here is the fascinating part: Dr. Cuddy found that by putting a random person in a power pose for 2 minutes, their testosterone went up, their cortisol went down, and they felt much more confident and less stressed. And by putting another random person in a submissive pose, their testosterone levels fell, their cortisol went up, and they felt less confident and more stressed. What she showed was that by changing our body position, we can actually change our thoughts and feelings, a phenomena* we discussed earlier related to the breath.
So what does this mean for us? Well, it means that we can become more confident and powerful in minutes, just by changing our pose. So the next time you have a job interview, or give a speech, or need to speak English in front of others, start by doing a power pose for 2 minutes. You can do it in your office, or in the bathroom, or behind closed doors, and it really can make a difference in your performance. And this goes for all emotions and states of mind. If you want to feel happy, smile; and if you want to feel confident, put your body in a confident position: arms up in the air, or hands behind your head, or even sitting with your feet up on the desk. The point is, you can use your body to change your state of mind.
Watch Dr. Cuddy talk about the influence of the body on the feeling of power and confidence:
*Correction: this should be ‘phenomenon’ (the singular form). ‘Phenomena’ is plural. This is a common mistake people make with this word.