“I don’t sing because I am happy. I am happy because I sing”. William James Hall
“Sit up straight!” Your Mother
The Body Shapes the Mind
Would it not be great to be able to measure up to life’s important moments? To be able to make a favourable impression when needed? To make your presence felt and make yourself seen and heard when you wanted to?
Most of us have often felt we missed a chance to manifest ourselves and walked away from a situation feeling inadequate. Later you will go over the situation again and again, thinking “if only I had…..”, and you have added another situation to a list of many where you proved yourself not good enough.
In her book ‘Presence’, Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy describes a similar moment of her own and goes on to talk about that elusive feeling of “…being attuned to and comfortably expressing our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential”. We also have all experienced being there: moments where we felt seen and heard, situations where we felt able to project ourselves and walked away feeling good. It is the effortless feeling of mastering the situation - lucid, calm and not dependent on the behaviour of others.
Famous for having presented the second most popular TED (www.ted.com) talk of all time, Amy Cuddy in her book expands on what presence is, what it is not and how to bring it about.
The good news is that real presence cannot be faked. Enthusiasm, passion and confidence must come from within you. If you’re faking it, people can tell from body language and non-verbal cues that there is someone who is trying too hard and actually not actually buying what he is trying to sell.
You might be surprised that I call that good news… Well, here is even better news:
“A significant body of scientific research offers insight into the psychological and physiological mechanics of this sort of transitory presence. And here’s the best thing: we can adjust these mechanics. Through self-nudges, small tweaks our body language and mind-sets, we can achieve presence. We can self-induce presence. To some extent, this is about allowing your body to lead your mind- …..”
“It’s about what! Letting your body lead your mind?” The fact that we communicate to other people more with our body-language than with our words, is old news and the subject of numerous books and courses. Now under the scrutiny of social psychologists is how much our body and posture is influencing how we feel about ourselves.
How you carry yourself - your facial expressions, your postures, your breathing - clearly affect the way you think and feel about yourself and thus also affect your behaviour.
Your mother was right when she told you to “sit up straight”. Why? As it turns out even subtle changes in posture can change how you feel. By measuring changes in cortisol (stress-hormone) and testosterone (power-hormone) Amy Cuddy and her team determined that adopting powerful poses will actually make you feel present and powerful. On the other hand, sitting or standing in a way which indicates insecurity or submission, will eventually make you feel as such. And that after two minutes!
The researchers let a group of people assume a powerful position for two minutes before a job-interview while another group of people did a power-less position. The results were clear: the applicants who did the powerful posture were much more likely to get the job than the group who did the insecure, doubtful pose.
Psychologists are now suggesting that teaching depressed patients “to change…dysfunctional posture or movement patterns…might attenuate negatively biased information processing” and that “training depressed patients in mindful body awareness might be useful because it fosters an intuitive understanding of the interplay of bodily and emotional processes”. Science has already proven that by moving the body regularly you can treat depression more effectively than with medication, and that with none of the side-effects caused by psycho-pharmaceutical pills.
In research on people with depression, when walking more upright, open and buoyant they were more able to interpret memories from their life in a positive way.
In a recent Stanford University study on war veterans with Post Traumatic Stress disorder (PTS) they were put through three hours of breathing-based yoga on a daily basis for one week. Given the well-documented resistance of PTS to treatment, the results were stunning: even one year after doing just one week of bodywork, “the veteran’s symptoms of PTS were still dramatically reduced”.
A mountain of evidence shows that our bodies are pushing, shaping and even leading our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
All this information gives a tremendous boost to body-oriented therapy. Changing behaviour is difficult, because our brains and our bodies are wired to repeat what we know. What works better than big changes in attitude and behaviour is to subtly nudge people in a healthful direction. Small modifications to one’s body language and posture will eventually add up and lead to authentic, lasting transformation.
In my own experience, adopting a daily ritual of posture enhancing exercise (Egoscue) will go a very long way. With the increase in body awareness you get from these daily nudges and reminders, you will be more able to apply subtle positive changes in your daily life. Combine that with a 2-minute power-pose and not only will you feel better about yourself but you will also be more able to relate to others from a position of personal power and in the here-and-now.
The point is that change is within your reach. All you need is an open attitude, some patience and a minimum effective dosis of daily reminders in the way of postural input. The instant positive effects on your feelings and behaviour will motivate you to continue and eventually it will be who you are. “Don’t fake it till you make it, fake it till you become it” - incrementally nudging yourself to become who you want to be.
“Presence emerges when we feel personally powerful, which allows us to be acutely attuned to our most sincere selves….When we feel present, our speech, facial expressions, postures and movements align…We are no longer fighting ourselves, we are being ourselves.
Cuddy, Amy. (2015). Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges.
New York: Little, Brown and Company
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