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Bring Your Best Self Forward Using Power Poses

Amy Cuddy’s research into body language and power poses is some of the most well-known in the popular social science literature. Her TED Talk on power posing is the second most viewed in history, with over 38 million views. This past weekend, Cuddy’s co-author on the original study, Dana Carney, released a statement disavowing the research and its outcomes. She stated the work was flawed and power posing effects are not real. 

Now, on the one hand, this might be a big ‘Uh-oh’, especially considering the following article discusses the positive impact power posing can have on our state of mind. Rather than thinking of it as a negative, however, what Carney’s disavowal does is provide us with an opportunity to consider the complexity of human beings and the differences presented by the rational, or thinking, mind and the intuitive, or feeling, mind. 

This article is one in a series of two, and discusses the now alleged positive effects of power posing. The second will talk briefly about where the research fell short, but more importantly, provide perspective on how, even when research seemingly fails us, human complexity still influences outcomes based on our beliefs.

Power Poses and Body Language

Common wisdom suggests that how a person sits or stands telegraphs what they’re thinking and feeling. It also suggests, to some degree, how they are Bring Your Best Self Forward Using Power Poses, West Hartford Holistic Counselingresponding to their experience of us. Well, it turns out body language isn’t all that precise a measure of thoughts and feelings.It’s more an expression of something called emotional intent, which can easily be misinterpreted.

When you’re talking with someone and his or her arms are crossed, you might see that as the person being defensive, or possibly hiding something. It could just as easily signal being cold. That’s where our subjectivity and cognitive biases come into play. We may not, in general, be able to accurately gauge another person’s body language. Things can get a lot more interesting, however, when we take a look at how our body language and posture influences our own thoughts and feelings.

Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, and her colleagues, conducted a series of experiments based on two general premises.Her team looked at how we present ourselves can have an impact on how others receive us. More importantly, they explored the notion that how we present ourselves can influence our self-perception at any given moment.

Mind Body Connection

What came out of the research, and one of the themes in Cuddy’s book  Presence, is how we hold ourselves can influence how we think about ourselves. In other words, our body influences our mind. So-called “power poses”, such as The Superhero—think Wonder Woman…legs wide, hand on hips, or The Victor—think Mick Jagger…in motion, hands over head, or The CEO—think Kevin O’Leary (Mr. Wonderful) standing, hands on desk, leaning forward—gives us a sense of control and personal power. It also influences the person or persons receiving us.

Cuddy is quick to point out that power posing does not magically imbue you with knowledge or ability you don’t already possess. Psychologically, it gives you sense of personal power. Physiologically, it changes your body chemistry—increasing testosterone levels, which leads to an increased feeling of confidence, by as much as 20 percent.It also decreases cortisol, which, in turn, decreases feelings of anxiety and allows us to handle stress more effectively. Connecting the body and mind in this way allows you to bring your best self forward and show up at the top of your game.

You can use power posing in two ways. For instance, standing in a Superhero pose for two minutes before you have to make a presentation or meet with your supervisor can help you get ahead of any anxiety you may be feeling and allow you to really shine. On the other hand, you can strike a pose while in the midst of a situation, which will have the same effect as the ‘power pose prep,’ and will also have an influence on the people you’re interacting with.

Cuddy also remarks that, one of her intentions in exploring this social dynamic is helping others understand that anyone can experience a sense of personal power. This can profoundly influence our self-perception, as well as our outcomes at work, in our relationships and life in general. It may not be a magic bullet, as she cautions, but power posing can be an influential tool for those of us who may hesitate, or maybe even be a bit reluctant, around showing up as our best self.

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