I’m often asked what one, easy thing people can do to feel better throughout the day and my answer is always the same: check your posture.
One of the foundations of my work is that the body leads the mind. While science used to think the brain was isolated, controlling everything on a “top-down” basis, we now know differently. The brain and body are part of one single, integrated system.
Our bodies are constantly communicating with us. They tell us how and what to think and feel. The way we hold our bodies even determines our psychology. William James, a Harvard psychologist and the first professor to teach a college level psychology course in the late 1800’s, founded the theory that bodily experiences lead to feelings and emotion, not the other way around. Modern day science is now proving him right.
Postures that are inherently powerless (think hunched over, collapsed, tightly held) amplify our feelings of powerlessness. Powerless postures lead to loss of confidence and ambition and increases in anxiety, stress, and disengagement. When stuck in a powerless position, we prime our brains to perceive threats, not opportunities.
Holding more powerful postures also impacts our hormones. This then directly influences our nervous system state and our levels of confidence. Studies done by Amy Cuddy, Dana Carny, and Andy Yap at Harvard University, found that our postures directly correlate to how powerful or dejected we feel.
Expansive postures increase our felt sense of confidence and capability by increasing testosterone levels and decreasing cortisol levels, dramatically. Holding a single, expansive pose for a short duration increased testosterone 19% and a 25% decrease in cortisol. Those who held powerless postures for a short duration had the opposite effect, a 10% decrease in testosterone and a 17% increase in cortisol.
Expansive postures lead to feelings of calm confidence. Contracting postures lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress.
How can you apply this information?
If you have a presentation or pitch, try to find somewhere where you can stand in a powerful posture (think Wonder Woman – hands on your hips, feet shoulder-width apart) and breathe deeply for a minute or two. This will put you in a state to feel more confident and present, ie: drop your cortisol (stress) levels and increase your testosterone (confidence) levels.
Side note fun fact: if you can’t physically do the posture, visualizing the powerful pose has the same affect on our systems (Sharma, N., & Baron, J. C., 2013). Close your eyes and Wonder Woman up.
Feeling really stressed and rushed? Check your posture. Are your shoulders tense? Are you slouching or slumping? Sitting upright expands your body, drops your blood pressure, and slows your breathing.
Good posture increases our sense of being energized, making it easier to get things done (Peper, E., & Lin, I. M., 2012).
You get to control the messages your body is sending to your brain so you might as well make those messages positive. Grandma was right. Sit-up straight.
Cheers to better living -
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