The Power of Body Language
Your heart is pounding, you can’t fight that knot in your stomach, and you’re continuously wiping your sweaty palms on your thighs. You’re fixated on the ticking clock, knowing that every second that passes is another opportunity for you to second-guess yourself. You feel like you’ve failed before you’ve even begun.
Sound familiar? Odds are you’re like me and can recall one too many of these moments. Whether you’re giving a presentation to a discerning panel, or preparing for a job interview, your body seems to be at odds with your mind at times when you need to be at your best.
Amy Cuddy, the second most viewed TED Talk speaker, shared a stimulating talk at SAP Palo Alto last week about her extensive research on “Power Posing;” performing dominant body language to increase confidence and mental performance. In a nutshell, Cuddy’s research shows that performing specific Power Poses, such as victoriously putting your arms above your head for a few minutes prior to an event, can reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone), boost testosterone and empower us to overcome adversity. I was fortunate enough to be a winner of the SAP Silicon Valley Power Pose Twitter Contest and met Amy prior to her talk, which drove me to share my own unique experiences.
Amy’s astonishing story got me digging deeper into my own life experiences, to understand what I did differently before successful moments in comparison to unsuccessful moments. As an athlete, I began to identify striking similarities between my behavior before many wrestling tournaments and martial arts tests. Patterns of deep breathing with my chest forward, concentrated mindfulness, mental focus, and stretching my arms up and out began to emerge. In hindsight, this makes sense because I was preparing for an intense mental and physical battle that would require me to be physically prepared, yet mentally relaxed and controlled.
Interestingly enough, as I began to analyze this behavior, I realized these preparatory actions were reciprocated during other critical moments that required no physical activity, such as speaking to an audience of over a hundred attendees at the EPSC, C-level customer meetings as an Account Executive at SAP, and even a recent speech at my sister’s engagement party. The morning of all these events involved the same behavior that I would engage in before my wrestling and martial arts bouts. I’ve even gone as far as shadow boxing and spreading my arms like Muhammad Ali at the Madison Square Garden before a cold-call. These preparations may have looked silly in the mirror, but I now understand the rationale behind my behavior. My physical portrayal of strength and confidence forced my mind to replicate the associated benefits, thus having a positive impact on my self-confidence and overall performance.
Although Amy modestly persisted that she has nothing to give us, her research allows us to understand how to practice our own unique power poses and replicate this behavior before pressured moments, so that we can unlock our full potential and be our best self. Amy is continuing her research of “Power Movements” and even taking it further to understand the effects of power posing with animals. The concept of Power Posing is fascinating in and of itself and I encourage you to research the topic further.
The next time you are successful in something or achieve victory, see what power poses naturally emerge, and attempt to replicate those in the future. Use your body to convince yourself that you truly are amazing and you will succeed. Be a poser, be a winner!
“Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances” – Maya Angelou