With over 38 million views and counting there’s good reason that this is one of the most popular TED Talks of all time. Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are by Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy is engaging, persuasive and eye opening. In an accessible tone Cuddy expertly combines her research on body language with her own life experiences to weave a story about the way body language shapes who we are.
So, for example, we smile when we feel happy, but also, when we’re forced to smile by holding a pen in our teeth like this, it makes us feel happy. So it goes both ways. When it comes to power, it also goes both ways. So when you feel powerful, you’re more likely to do this, but it’s also possible that when you pretend to be powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful. – Amy Cuddy
This research comes from a business school, but it has a lot of implications for self improvement. Amy Cuddy’s findings confirm an intuitive truth; we can improve our mental states by improving our bodies. It’s not just because looking better makes us feel better. It’s because our bodies and minds and linked at a neurological level.
In the spring of 2016 I found myself standing on a bridge in Amsterdam suddenly aware of the weight of my coat. I felt how it held me down. My body was curled forward, shoulders hunched into my chest. It was like I was collapsing on myself. I could feel the weight on my face too. Like I was straining under a heavy load I couldn’t put down. When I tried to stretch out, I couldn’t. At least not fully. At least not at first.
Years of self-consciousness and poor self esteem had imprinted on my body. With Amy Cuddy’s words in mind, I realized something very important that day. We carry our feelings in and on our bodies. My posture was just a reflection of my feelings. The most unnerving part was that I realized that poor or powerless posture could cause long term damage that I couldn’t just fix instantly by standing up straight.
Over time the muscles we don’t use weaken and atrophy. Research on exercise and the brain suggests that the corresponding brain areas may also atrophy. The silver lining is that if we start to use those muscles again it may reactivate parts of the brain linked to confidence and feeling powerful. It’s that simple.
So when I tell people about this, that our bodies change our minds and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes, they say to me, “It feels fake.” Right? So I said, fake it till you make it – Amy Cuddy