I am a super-fan of Amy Cuddy, I’ve been following her work ever since her Ted Talk on how body language shapes who we are. I can often be found charging up by Power Posing in a loo, or at home, or anywhere really, I wave my arms in the air like I just don’t care.
Whenever I need a confidence hit, I get into shape. I don’t keep this to myself either. I can often be found on a stage getting an entire room of people up and packing the power-punch of Superman, or the strong clenched hands on the hips of Wonder Woman – if only I could get away with those hot pants, then I would be wearing the outfit too – believe me.
A couple of weeks back I had the huge honour of doing exactly this with a room full of young women on the eve of their careers in the STEM industries. I closed the talk by getting everyone to power pose; it’s so powerful that you can literally feel the energy in the room explode. Leaving on a high I flew out of that room and over to the other side of London to see the High Priestess of Self-Confidence Amy Cuddy herself deliver a talk on how to expand our power and be more present in our lives.
Amy shared some of the findings of her years of research working as a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, which have gone into her new book, Presence; Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, and I am sharing the main take outs with you alongside my perspective from a Practical Magic point of view to enable you to feel the power of being present through mindful body language.
What it means to be present
Amy sets out a simple equation; when we approach challenges with fear, carry them out with anxiety and review them with regret then we are living life without being present. It’s as though everything is happening outside of ourselves. We have a lack of faith when it comes to high stake situations.
Conversely, if we approach situations with composure, carry them out with calm confidence and can appreciate the feeling of happiness in the fact that we’ve done everything we could, then this sense of satisfaction allows us to be connected and present. Cuddy shares that being present means we believe in our story, we convey confidence without arrogance and communicate harmoniously.
“Arrogance is a smoke screen for insecurity.” Amy Cuddy
We are constantly carrying messages
It’s a well-quoted fact that only 3% of our communication is done through words alone. This means that a massive 97% is done through non-verbal communication. A lot of that is made up through body language and the way we carry ourselves. This body language conveys to the outside world how we are feeling at any given moment. Want to look dis-interested, defensive and withdrawn? Easy - sit back, slump your shoulders, fold your arms, keep your head down. Want to look vital, engaged, assertive and interested? Sit forward, keep your body language open and upright, spread your fingers apart (called steepling).
It’s all biological
This doesn’t start and end with us humans. There’s dominant and submissive body language everywhere in the animal world too. To assert power animals will make themselves look bigger by increasing their physical size and stature; they hold their arms up, they stand up on their hind legs, even their hair will stand on end so as appear bigger in size. On the flipside, when being submissive animals will cower to the ground, put their head down lower that the dominant animal, tuck their tails in - become smaller and shrink into the ground.
Expansive vs. contractive affecting how we talk
Simply put, when we are feeling power-full we expand in every sense – not just in body language, but in tone of voice. In power we slow down our speech, we increase the volume and become clearer in intonation of how we present our words. When power-less we speak faster wishing to get our words out as quickly as possible so that we can get to shutting up faster. We also quieten down the volume in the hope that we don’t get heard.
The male-female divide
There’s a direct correlation between these power patterns between men and women. Men are much more likely to take up more space with open, wide body language. I mean, why else would guys need to sit with their legs so wide apart on the bus, tube or train?! On the flipside women tend to be more closed making themselves appear smaller by crossing arms, legs and ankles.
But it doesn’t start out this way; think about kids in a playground - at our earliest ages both girls and boys will run around the playground in open displays of body language – arms aloft, no volume filter, just pure un-abandoned flow. The starts to change for girls as they hurtle into puberty. From the age of 12 onwards, girls start to cover up using arms, visibly shrinking to make themselves as small as possible – in an attempt to disappear. I have a theory that this has a direct relation to growing breasts and hips. Makes sense right? These burgeoning body parts are embarrassing enough to us, let alone when it’s pointed out as something to be mocked in the playground too. It’s not surprising we start wanting to hide our good stuff from the world. It’s an unfortunate hangover from the affects of thousands of years of patriarchy. The dominance of male over female has a physiological impact on how we present ourselves.
The mind-body connection
Through years of research Cuddy and her team have found an intrinsic link between how our physiology directly impacts our mind. In 100% of their clinical studies they found that those who adopt expansive body language had increased levels of testosterone and reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol. When we expand we feel more powerful, more confident and more assertive. On the other hand, when students were told to adopt constrictive body language the result was reversed – testosterone reduced and cortisol flooded the body. They recorded feeling power-less.
Here’s the killer - there’s a direct correlation between body language and devices. In studies Amy and her team found that the device size is related to our body language and the way we feel. This makes obvious sense - the smaller the screen size the more we are physically hunched over and displaying constrictive body language. As devices get bigger there’s less impact and as such there’s an increase in assertive behaviours and levels of confidence. But, whatever the screen size, there’s always an influence, so it’s super important that we consider this when we are spending so much of our days hunched over a phone, tablet or laptop. Simply setting a reminder every hour to take a break and check in with our posture will have a positive impact on our sense of well-being.
Powering up positivity
The simple act of shifting body language by sitting up can increase positivity, allow recall of happier memories and reduce depression. Linked in with the act of looking up this changing of physiology is a super-power when it comes to changing from a negative to positive state.
Power always reveals
As if you needed any more convincing then think about this; being present by adopting positive body language allows us to be more creative and authentic. It allows us to fully express ourselves in our full essence. We’re able to concentrate for longer and our productivity increases. Yes please.
Fake it until you become it
A final note for how to pro-actively use power-full body language. Prepare for situations, such as job interviews, or presentations; anywhere you need to power up with BIG postures, present with open postures, curb your small device usage and remind yourself to check in on your posture throughout the day.
This isn’t just about the old adage of faking it until you make it. This is faking it until you become it.
“Stand up straight and realise what you are, that you tower over your circumstances. Stand up straight.”
About Kate Taylor
Kate Taylor from Up Coaching is a creativity coach and everyday magician. What does that mean? Well simply put, she practices what she has coined ‘Practical Magic’; a powerful combination of coaching, Neuro Linguistic Programming and connecting to the wisdom of our bodies through exploration of self.
Sometimes she’ll be here with tools to help you go on an inner adventure so that you unleash your creativity and live life on your own terms. Other times she might be writing poetry, or musing on the beauty of the world. And then on other occasions she might very well be dropping F bombs like confetti and challenging you to a dance off in her virtual living room. One thing is for sure… She will never be without her trade mark red lipstick and statement necklaces, and will always be ready to greet you with a smile. Find out more about Kate and her work on her website Up Coaching and hang with Kate in these places... Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.