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Our thoughts and feelings determine our body posture. This is common knowledge.
But to what extent can our thoughts and moods be influenced by changing our posture or facial expressions?

The “embodiment” of our consciousness is a field of research in social psychology which studies the interaction between body, actions, feelings and thoughts.
Part of this is the so called “facial feedback hypothesis”, which states that the movement of facial muscles has an influence on the experience of feelings. There was an experiment on this, conducted in 1988 by the social psychologist Fritz Strack: In it, probands were divided into two groups. While one group had to clamp a pencil between their teeth, the other group were asked to hold the pencil with their lips.
In a real smile (so-called “Duchenne smile”), there is a contraction of different muscles responsible for the mouth movement and for the eye and cheek movement. This differs from a simulated fake smile, which usually lacks activation of the eye ring muscles. If one now holds the pencil between the lips, the muscles relevant for the Duchenne smile are used and accordingly not available.
With the pencil between teeth or lips, the probands then had to watch a cartoon and then judge it. The results showed that those who held the pencil between their teeth rated the cartoon as significantly funnier than the other participants. From this, Strack concluded that even unconscious, even involuntary smiles make people more cheerful.

How can this phenomenon be explained?

First, it is necessary to understand how our perception works: We do not perceive the world objectively, but we generate ideas about it in our brain. And such ideas are always based on our physical experiences. This means that associations are always united with the physique. In this context, brain researchers were also recently able to demonstrate that the areas in the brain from which voluntary movements are controlled are connected to the adrenal glands. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are produced there. According to the study, this also explains why certain forms of exercise have a stress-reducing effect – such as Tai Chi, Pilates and Yoga.

And how can this knowledge of the interplay between posture and feeling be used effectively in everyday life?

Social psychologist and Harvard lecturer Amy Cuddy and her team investigated this question in a study in 2010. The result was that people who adopted so-called high-power poses (open and relaxed postures) felt more self-confident and approached challenges with greater risk awareness. Amy Cuddy presented this finding, among others, at a TED Talk. The video has now been viewed more than 20 million times on YouTube:

In it, she describes very vividly and extremely convincingly that “fake it until you make it” actually works – and even transforms the saying into “fake it until you become it“. Not in the sense of “putting on a mask”, but in the sense of: Internalize yourself and what you have valuable to convey and get it across authentically.
Cuddy also claims that high-power poses would increase hormone levels of testosterone and decrease those of the stress hormone cortisol. While this finding sounds conclusive, it has not been confirmed in any follow-up studies by other institutes. For this, Cuddy and her colleagues had to take a lot of criticism. The number of probands (there were only 42) was also too small for a scientific statement, the critics said.
Even if the study and its implementation are viewed critically with regards to the statements on hormone changes, it is undisputed that power posing leads to the perceived feeling of being stronger and more self-confident. The posture alone creates something strengthening in us, which is also felt by the other person.

But how do you now succeed now in implementing these findings in everyday life?

Before you go into the situation for which you want to consciously build up your self-confidence, take a short time and find an undisturbed place. There, put yourself in a posture that expresses pride, self-confidence and greatness.

The following postures, for example, are ideal exercises for practicing power posing and incorporating it into everyday life:

  • Superhero: Assume a fighting pose by standing slightly wide-legged, clenching your hands into fists and thrusting them into your hips. As you do this, lift your chin slightly, push your chest out and pull your shoulders back. In a variation, stretch your hands far into the air – as if you were a rock star wanting an encore.
  • Tree: Assume an upright posture, stand shoulder-width apart and let your arms hang. Feel the tension throughout your body. Push your chest forward. Now consciously concentrate on your breath and try to inhale and exhale evenly and deeply. While doing this, imagine yourself putting down roots into the ground.
  • Obama: Present a great idea like Barack Obama. The former U.S. president liked to sit in his chair, lean back, put his arms on the back of his neck and his feet on the table. If you don’t feel particularly comfortable with your feet on the table (or the situation does not allow it), you can also slightly modify the posture by placing your legs a little wider firmly on the floor or placing one ankle on the other thigh. As you do this, breathe deeply in and out and visualize yourself in control of everything.
  • Sprinter: While standing, lean on the table with both hands and put your feet in step position. Pull your shoulders down and push your chin up. Imagine you are in the starting position for a sprint – and nothing can stop you.

Admittedly, you can’t always do these poses just anywhere. It could possibly irritate your colleagues or your environment. However, if you want to practice in between without immediately attracting everyone’s attention, do the following: Sit up straight. Your legs are slightly staggered, as if you were about to start a run, but the soles of your feet are fully planted. Push your chin up slightly and pull your shoulders down. Your hands rest loosely on the table and you smile. This can quickly give you power and positive energy.

Power posing exercises thus help you to walk into important situations with confidence and calmness. Nevertheless, experts recommend training all three levels of communication, verbal communication, paraverbal communication (voice, manner of speaking) and extraverbal communication (gestures, facial expressions, posture and spatial behavior) together in order to optimize your own appearance and appear more confident. For example, use special breathing exercises and lower your voice. Be as you would like to be: strong, intimidating – …. or simply convincing!


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