I'm reading a fascinating book by Social Psychologist and TED talk star Amy Cuddy: "Presence - Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges."
It's all about using your body to boost self-confidence.
There are two things in particular from the book that struck me we must all do to enhance our wellbeing: Power Posing and Smiling. Two startlingly simple actions which help us take control of our emotions, improve our experience of events, and also influence how others respond to us.
Did you know that adopting a power pose like this for just two minutes will make you more relaxed and confident? (This applies to men and women by the way.)
And conversely, that curling in on ourselves, chest slumped and shoulders rolled in, leaves us feeling small, literally and figuratively?
Why? Well, how we hold ourselves affects our hormones. When we power pose or make ourselves big, we simultaneously encourage helpful hormones and reduce less helpful ones. Our cortisol (stress hormone) reduces, and our testosterone (dominance hormone) rises. So, instead of freaking out under pressure, we are able to be present in the moment, to respond calmly and to make good decisions. We are able to behave in a way that is genuine and true to ourselves. We present our best, authentic selves and people naturally warm to us.
Pretty useful for that high pressure interview, or work presentation. And equally helpful for coping with life’s day-to-day challenges.
How cool is that for just two minutes of power-posing?
SMILING MAKES US GLAD
Because we spend so much time with our own thoughts, we tend to believe that emotions happen first before physical sensations. The famous 19thCentury American psychologist William James asserted the opposite: that our bodies cause emotions, not the other way round. “I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing” he wrote.
A later study looked at how facial expressions affect our minds. It found that participants felt angry when holding an angry expression, and happy when holding a happy expression.
In other words, frowning makes us angry and smiling makes us glad.
Time to look in the mirror. After close examination, I now know that my ‘resting face’ involves a gentle frown, a kind of ‘I’m concentrating on something’ look. The proof is in the lingering grooves between my eyebrows.
Now, thanks to Amy Cuddy’s book, I understand that this habit is not only giving me wrinkles, but it’s also bringing me down. Literally making me grumpy. So I’ve decided to lighten up. I’ve taken to smiling when I am on my own. Smiling when I’m walking. Smiling when I’m emailing. Smiling - not frowning - when I’m concentrating! It definitely feels a bit weird smiling to myself all the time but the more I do it, the more normal and nice it feels.
I’m also finding it can positively alter my experience. Here I am, thighs on fire during a tough squat section in Pod PT Katie’s session. Instead of default frowning (which only compounded the hurt), I forced a smile and felt lifted enough to push through to the end of the set!
It made me think of the famous WWII song “We’ll meet again”. I wonder if the songwriters knew there was a deep psychological truth to their lyrics: 'keep smiling through, just like you always do, til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away'.