This is going to be a bit of an interesting post. It’s a topic that we’ve approached in other posts regarding studying and preparing for a test, but we’re going to go a bit deeper this week. Specifically, we’ll be discussing how the way we treat and hold our bodies impacts the reactions of our mind.
Recently I read a book written by Amy Cuddy entitled Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. The focus of the book is on things we can do to approach anxiety ridden experiences (such as tests, presentations, job interviews, etc.) to ensure we are presenting ourselves in the best ways. Going into it, I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, the way she approached the topic was surprising. Rather than focusing on preparation, memorization, and other similar skills, Cuddy discusses how our posture and breathing lifts our confidence and capabilities when going into stressful situations. And it’s all research based.
Despite my surprise, I found myself very intrigued by what she had to say. Having social anxiety myself, it’s extremely difficult for me to feel confident going into social situations. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, I just find that my brain freezes when going into a conversation and I struggle to not compare my own abilities to others. So I put some of these tips into practice. To be honest, I have not done it regularly. I’m still working to incorporate them into my daily life. However, I have noticed an impact that further backs up the research findings of Cuddy and her colleagues. As such, I thought I’d share two simple yet powerful tips with you this week. Whatever your stress in life, give these tips a try. You will be surprised by the effects.
In her book, Cuddy discusses a study in which researchers were seeking to develop new and more effective ways to treat individuals with PTSD, specifically veterans. In this study, two groups were created. The first participated in a talk-therapy session once a week for several weeks. The other participated in yoga for the same amount of time. The conclusion was that those who did yoga had much greater and longer lasting symptom relief. Many even found that the symptoms never returned.
While yoga in general is a positive practice, according to other studies, the primary stress relieving aspect revolves around focused breathing. Cuddy suggests taking at least two minutes before an anxiety inducing situation to breath slowly through your nose. Such breathing focuses your mind, slows your heart rate, and lifts your mood, all of which leads you to bring your best self to the stressful situation.
Hold an Expansive Pose
Cuddy also discusses several experiments she and others have conducted that explore different body postures and how they impact confidence. They’ve found that more expansive postures (such as holding your hands in the air or on the hips with the elbows out, keeping feet apart, expanding the chest, and lifting the chin) lead to feeling more confident and powerful. In contrast, pulling your body in (slumping, crossing arms, sitting on hands, etc.) lead to more feelings of powerlessness.
She expanded this research to see if simply holding a particularly powerful pose for two minutes before entering a stressful situation would impact how an individual does in that situation. And the conclusion was that it did. Not only did participants feel more confident, those watching them viewed them as more capable.
I have tried this recently myself and have found that I have felt much more at peace and competent when I did so. It’s honestly been incredible how quickly it has worked and I hope to make it more of a habit as time goes on in order to consistently bring my best self to my challenges.
So, give it a try! Before entering your challenge (test, performance, interview, etc.) find a private place where you can perform what Cuddy refers to as a Wonder Woman/Superman pose. Place your feet parallel with your shoulders. Expand your chest and either lift your hands in a victory pose or place your hands on your hips with your elbows out. Then lift your chin. Hold this pose for about two minutes. For best results, involve slow breathing with the pose. This may feel awkward at first, but that’s why you do it alone! Like many others, you’ll find that your confidence and capabilities will improve dramatically.
Though it may seem odd, these simple tips really do work! Many have taken Cuddy’s findings and implemented them successfully into their lives. For those who are curious about how this works, pick up the book yourself! It really is a fascinating and inspiring read. For those who may not feel motivated to read an entire book, below we have linked Cuddy’s TED talk from several years ago which discusses some of her findings.