Amy Cuddy: We know our minds change our bodies, but can our bodies change our minds?

Humans have always been fascinated with body language, said social psychologist Amy Cuddy, the best-selling author of Presence and a main speaker at the Nordic Business Forum 2018 in Helsinki. For better or worse, body language is also a key indicator of our self-confidence.

It all comes down to presence, she said. Presence is about being able to access and express your authentic best self. It reveals itself in several ways: first, when we truly believe in our story, we convey confidence without arrogance. Next, when we are truly present, we communicate harmoniously. And this is where body language comes in.

“When people are present and being authentic, something interesting happens with their body language. It synchronizes with what they are saying, across the channels: what their faces are doing, what their hands are doing, and what their tone of voice is doing. They all come into alignment; they work in concert. And that’s because when you are telling the truth, you don’t have to choreograph those separate pieces. You are just there being yourself,” she said.

Cuddy pointed out how when we feel powerful, our bodies expand. We are hard-wired to throw up our arms in the air and lift our head high when we are triumphant, and according to Cuddy, the opposite is also true. If you expand your body, you will feel more powerful. By literally standing strong – the Wonder Woman power pose, with your back straight and your hands on your hips – you can be your boldest self.

Imagine you are in some kind of wait area before a big job interview, she said. You might find yourself giving your best self a pep talk to get you into the right frame of mind mentally, but what are you doing physically? Chances are you are sitting there with your legs crossed and your bag in your lap, or you may even be hunched over your phone.

Try this instead: go into a washroom or a private space and raise your arms and stand with your legs apart for two minutes first. Cuddy said that dozens of studies have shown that this short exercise will make you feel as if you are ready to take on the world.

Cuddy showed a quintessential example on the screen during her presentation: the New Zealand rugby team’s Haka, the traditional war challenge of the Māori people that the All Blacks have adopted as their pre-game ritual. Anyone who has seen this menacing routine would say that the players do it to intimidate their opponents, but Cuddy said the All Black players deny this. They say they do it for themselves – in order to bring their strongest and boldest self to the match. No wonder they are the dominant team in rugby, she said.

But can you fake it ‘til you make it? Cuddy maintained that you certainly can. She encouraged everyone to move one step farther even: To fake it until you ultimately become it. Be bold and stand strong long enough until you internalize it, and actually become what you aspire to be.

In the meantime, Cuddy said expanding your body by making yourself larger and moving within a bigger box will make you feel more powerful, confident, assertive, happy and in charge. Or in the words of the beloved author Maya Angelou: “Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.”

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