Hey guys! Karen Greenoe here. Today we are going to be talking about the power of positive body language. Now before you picture your uber proper grandmother snapping at you to sit up straight at the dinner table, hear me out. In this episode, we’re going to be talking specifically about boosting your self-confidence through powerful body language. Not only does powerful body language affect how you feel about yourself, it can also impact how the outside world perceives you. It is a powerful tool to keep in your arsenal for both your personal and professional lives. With higher levels of confidence, both real and perceived, you put your best foot forward which and lead to booking more jobs, having more meaningful relationships with yourselves and children and downright feeling better about yourself!
I’ve made a bit of an unofficial study of the power of positive body language throughout my adult life. Through my years in dance, my college studies in sociology, my sales career and now my entrepreneurial journey, it is incredible how much positive and powerful body language has impacted my life. And I want to share what I’ve learned with you. Fun story, in the 8th grade, I was cast in the role of the queen in our school Christmas play simply because I had the most “queenly” posture in my class!
I will go ahead and say that I’m not sure how much of this has to do with being an introvert versus an extrovert. To be completely honest, I don’t even know which I am! I feel comfortable in both spaces but definitely feel tendencies towards one or the other based on my environment. Based on the summary of my life experience, I think I am more of an extroverted introvert than anything. But, like I said, it depends on the day! What we will talk about today has nothing to do with socializing or even presenting yourself verbally as I know that can truly be a challenge to those who tend to be more on the introverted side of the spectrum. We are going to focus simply on how you carry yourself and how that impacts how you feel about yourself and how the world perceives you.
Before we get started, I want to do a little bit of a mental exercise. I want you to picture two women who look exactly the same physically. They could be twins if you want! They are wearing the same thing, their hair is fixed the same way, everything about their appearance is exactly alike. The only difference is their body language. One has hunched shoulders, her eyes are down cast, and she appears to be closed in on her self. Her expression looks defeated. The second is standing upright, her shoulders are rolled back, her gaze is fixed straight ahead and she has a pleasant expression on her face. What conclusions do you immediately draw about these two women? What do you assume about them? Is the first woman having a tough day? Are things are not going well in her life? Maybe she just lost her job? Maybe she is going through a destructive relationship? What words come to your mind? Sad? Unsuccessful? Maybe depressed? In general, I would think that this woman is not happy with the current state of her life.
By comparison, the second woman seems to be exactly the opposite! Maybe she just booked a big job! Maybe her child just got into an Ivy League school! Maybe she just had an incredible girls weekend with her closest friends! Of course, these are all assumptions, but it truly is incredible how something as simple as your body language can tell the world so much about you and how you feel about yourself. So why wouldn’t you make a conscious effort to lead people towards a positive conclusion?
We’ve all heard the saying don’t judge a book by its cover but the truth is, we do. It’s just human nature! So why wouldn’t you use every tool in your arsenal to convey the power that is within you? Because, let’s face it. You are capable. You are strong. You are an incredible human being who has so much to offer the world.
The foundation of positive body language is your posture. I am willing to bet that their difference in posture is the first thing you recognized about the two women in our mental exercise. Strong, positive posture speaks volumes about you without you having to utter a single word. But, there are some things about strong posture that I bet you didn’t know! Did you know that it can reduce tension in your neck and shoulders? I don’t know about you, but whenever I am stressed, this is where I feel it! Something as simple as rolling your shoulders back, sitting up straight and taking a few deep breaths can help that! Strong posture can also increase your energy, improve your circulation and boost your lung capacity! Amazing, right? Conversely, slumped posture can lead to back pain, soreness, mental stress and even your general mood.
My first official experiment with the power of positive body language started in college. I was a sociology major and I had a professor who loved pushing us out of our comfort zone. We would go out to various heavily trafficked areas of campus, like the middle student union, and create what she called “exploraments.” Basically they were experiments that pushed the boundaries of social norms to see how people around us would react. Thankfully, it typically takes a lot to embarrass me so I was one of the first to raise my hand and volunteer! During one of the exercises, we stood in the center of the food court of the student union in different body poses and observed how people reacted to us. The first was a hunched over pose where our eyes were down cast. The second was a more confident pose where our back was straight, our shoulders were rolled back, and our eyes were lifted up. What we found time and time again was that when we stood with our shoulders hunched in a less confident pose, people did not even notice us. They passed very close by, but never even looked our direction or made eye contact. In contrast when we stood full of confidence and with powerful posture, the crowds of people literally parted around us and virtually everyone made eye contact. It was incredible! Other than being the weirdo standing still in the middle of the student union, it was quite the exhilarating experience!
I took what I learned from that social experiment and started using it in my daily life. When I walked through a store or down a crowded street, I would roll my shoulders back, stand up straight, and gaze straight ahead with a slight smile on my face. It was incredible how much more attention I attracted and how many pleasant, half smiles I received by strangers passing by. Not only had my confidence made me feel better about myself, it also appeared to be doing the same for the people around me. It was a beautiful cycle that continued to propel me upward in my confidence.
My second experience with powerful positive body language came through dance. I took up dance seriously in high school and continued through my young adult life. I was one class short of my dance minor in college but that was because, after spending a year abroad in New Zealand and coming back halfway through my senior year, the final class for my major and the final class for my minor were only offered in the same timeblock. I’ve heard that you kinda have to have a major to graduate, so I ended up not having a minor.
My favorite dance processor in college was my ballet professor. She was a tiny spit fire of a woman with a personality ten times larger than her body. She couldn’t have been over five feet tall and probably weighed 90 lbs soaking wet, but she commanded a room unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. When she walked into the room, we all stood at attention. Even the football players in my classes, who could easily bench press her with one arm, zipped their lips and stood up straight when she started class. It was actually pretty amusing to see these big, powerful athletes snap to attention when she walked in.
As you’d expect from a ballet class, we spent a lot of time working on our posture, balance and poise. One of the best illustrations she gave us was to imagine that we had two threads, one attached to each of our collar bones that were gently pulling us towards the ceiling. With that picture in mind, our shoulders automatically rolled back, our posture was straight and we stood with confidence.
Of course, in my dance career, I spent a lot of time on stage. And I can tell you right now, stage fright is a very real thing, no matter how long you’ve been on stage. The butterflies in your tummy, the nervous energy, the fear of messing up in front of all of those people may get more manageable, but it is always there. And it doesn’t have to be a literal stage to cause those fears. I could be figurative too. It could be the nerves of starting a new job, a big presentation, or even speaking in front of a mom’s group. We all experience stage fright in some way. I think that ballet gave me the best tool to deal with these feelings. As a dancer is waiting in the wings to go on stage, they spend a few moments moving their body (wiggling, stretching, jumping up and down) but then, right before their cue, they stand with their collar bones opened up, their shoulders rolled back and take a deep breath. And of course, don’t forget to smile!
The other day, I found a little pearl of wisdom in a very unexpected place that I think will help you too. I was reading Liane Moriarty‘s book Nine Perfect Strangers and one of the characters said some thing that I thought was incredibly insightful. He was chatting with another character who was nervous about a presentation and, to calm his nerves, he said that “the difference between fear and excitement is the exhalation.” Think about that for a minute. The feelings of fear and excitement can be so similar. The butterflies, the sweaty palms, the rapid heartbeat. But, if you take a moment to take a deep breath and exhale slowly, you can quickly change that fear into excitement.
The last thing I am going to leave you with is a little homework assignment. I want you to go watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on Power Poses. I’ll link it in the show notes so go to BizBalancePodcast.com/bodylanguage to get the link. It is definitely worth the 20 minutes to watch. But, I’ll go ahead and give you the summary here so you can start implementing her strategies today.
Amy is a professor at the Harvard Business School and has theorized that our body language not only impacts how others perceive us, but also how we see ourselves. She and a fellow professor analyzed how standing in a powerful stance vs. a weak stance can impact our outcomes. A powerful stance would be something that makes you bigger or opens you up. Think Wonder Woman with her hands on her hips and her chin held high. A weak stance would be something that closes you in and makes you small. Powerful would be expanded, weak would be contracted.
Each of their test participants were asked to stand in one of these poses for two minutes. Before and after they held their respective postures, Amy and her team took saliva samples to compare hormone levels. What they found was that levels of testosterone (the confidence hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone) are triggered or depleted based on your body language. Individuals that held a powerful pose tended to be chemically more confident and less stressed than their counterparts that held a weaker pose.
Bottom line, there is a real, chemical reaction happening in our brain that is directly connected to our positive body language. The big take-away here is that our bodies change our minds our minds change our behavior and behavior changes our outcomes. Wouldn’t you want the best possible outcome for yourself? Set yourself up for success and practice your positive and powerful body language.
So practice your power pose. Whenever you are nervous or are about to enter a stressful situation, take a few moments to make yourself feel big, to feel powerful, to feel dominant. You will be amazed how much stronger and more confident you feel. With practice, your baseline will become more confident. You’ll naturally feel more competent. You will have the power to take on challenges head on that you never would have dreamed of before. Don’t fake it til you make it. Fake it til you BECOME it.
There you have it. I hope this episode inspired you to stand up a little straighter, roll your shoulders back and tackle your day with confidence. I know you can conquer any challenges that are in front of you with a little boost of your inner power. Start by showing yourself what you are capable of and the rest of the world will follow!
November 8, 2019