How Body Language Shapes Who You Are

How Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Social physiologist, Harvard Professor, author and public speaker Amy Cuddy delivered a widely popular TED Talk, in 2012 that now has over 34 million views, sharing how body language not only affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves.

“We make sweeping judgments and inferences from body language, and those judgements can predict really meaningful life outcomes, like who we hire or promote, who we ask out on a date,” said Cuddy.

Cuddy’s research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions—and even our own body chemistry—simply by changing body positions.

“When you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful.”

Cuddy talked about the relationship between power and posture using images of everyone from Oprah to world leaders and famous athletes. “So what is your body language communicating to me?  What’s mine communicating to you?”

Cuddy goes on to explain how her studies show that if you stand in a power pose, think like a superhero (hands on hips, feet wide, chin up, and shoulders back) privately before going into stressful situation, like a job interview,  there will actually be hormonal changes in your body chemistry that causes you to be more confident, and in-command. “Before you go into the next stressful situation, for two minutes try doing this in the elevator, in a bathroom stall, at your desk, behind closed doors,” she said.

One experiment was piloted to test how changing one’s nonverbal behavior before a high-stakes social situation could improve performance. The participants in this experiment took on high-power poses or low-power poses (slouched shoulders, contractive positions) and then prepared and delivered a speech to an evaluator as part of a mock job interview.

Not surprisingly, those using high-power poses outperformed the low-power poses.

Cuddy points out that power posing can’t magically give you knowledge or abilities that you don’t already have. “It’s personal power,” she said. “It’s about bringing your best self forward, [and] having the keys to unlock that best self and show it.”

Something Cuddy knows a lot about. Her personal and compelling story involved encountering a serious head injury from an automobile accident at age 19 which resulted in her I.Q. dropping by two standard deviations (30 I.Q. points).

She described how she had always identified herself as smart, and the head injury left her feeling powerless. She was faced with the incredible challenge of rebuilding her skills and self-image as she pursued her educational goals. “They kept telling me that, ‘You’re not going to finish college. Just, you know, there are other things for you to do, but that’s not going to work out for you.’”

She powered through but always felt like she had a secret. In the midst of her graduate studies at Princeton, she struggled with feeling like a fraud, fearing she would be “found out” as an “admissions mistake.” During her first year as a Ph.D. student, she told her advisor she was going to quit school because she felt inadequate and unable to speak up in the classroom.

Her advisor wouldn’t allow her to accept defeat and told Cuddy to fake it, knowing she would eventually get her confidence back by continuing to fake it until it became second nature. And that’s exactly what Cuddy did.

Cuddy shared how years later she helped a Harvard student with similar fears:

“She came in totally defeated and she said, ‘I’m not supposed to be here.’ And that was the moment for me. Because two things happened: one was that I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t feel like that anymore, I don’t feel that anymore, but she does, and I get that feeling’; and the second was, ‘She is supposed to be here,’ like she can fake it. She can become it.
So I was like, ‘Yes, you are! You are supposed to be here! And tomorrow you’re gonna fake it, you’re gonna make yourself powerful!

She comes back to me months later, and I realized that she had not just faked it till she made it, she had actually faked it till she became it. So she had changed. And so I want to say to you, don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.”

You can watch Cuddy’s Ted Talk here. And read more about her research in her new book Presence, Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges.